The power forward becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 5, and though he says it's out of his hands, Horton wants to stay in Boston - and his General Manager, Peter Chairelli, wants him to as well.
“I hope so,” said Chiarelli, during his season-ending press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve told him that I’d like him to come back. We’ll see how it goes.”
Horton's time with Boston came after six seasons with the Florida Panthers, in which he did not make any playoff appearances.
Horton, however, quickly showed that he was primed for the bright lights of the Stanley Cup playoffs upon his arrival in Boston prior to the 2010-11 season. He tallied eight goals and nine assists in 21 games during the Bruins’ championship run two years ago, scoring overtime winners in Games Five and Seven against Montreal in the first round, and the winner in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The winger was sidelined for the remainder of that postseason after he took a crushing blow from the Canucks’ Aaron Rome in Game Three of the Cup Final. Horton then missed all of the Bruins’ playoff series against the Washington Capitals last season due to another concussion.
But when the 28-year-old, who scored 13 goals and nine assists in 43 regular season games, got another chance at playing in the postseason this year, he didn’t disappoint. Horton teamed up with linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci to form the most dynamic line in the league during the postseason.
Horton was tied for second in the league – with Lucic – in points during the playoffs, with 19. That trailed only Krejci, who led the NHL with 26. Horton was also an eye-popping plus-20 in 22 games. The next highest was Krejci at plus-13. The last time a player recorded a higher postseason plus/minus total was 1984-85; a plus/minus higher than 20 had only been recorded four times previously.
“I've played with Nathan now for 10, 11 years almost. I know him pretty well. I have a lot of respect for Nathan as a hockey player, as a person,” said Gregory Campbell, who was a teammate of Horton’s in Florida. The two were traded together to the Bruins prior to the 2010-11 season, in exchange for Dennis Wideman.
“He's been a great fit for this organization and this city, and he's a lot more talented than me. It's even a better mix. He's a very positive person, so he's had some setbacks in his career, but he's always handled them with class. He's always been a driven individual.
“He's a calm person in a sense that nothing really bothers him, so he might come off sometimes that his heart's not in it, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He's a heart-and-soul guy. He carries himself with so much poise, sometimes it's misconstrued as he doesn't care, but that's not Nathan at all.”
The performance by Horton is all the more impressive considering that Horton played with a bad shoulder for most of the postseason. The shoulder popped out numerous times during the Bruins’ playoff run, and Horton was forced to leave during the first overtime of Game One against the Blackhawks. He returned for Game Two and did not miss any games.
“It popped out in Game One and I wore a brace for the whole rest of the playoffs,” Horton confirmed to the media Wednesday afternoon, prior to packing up his equipment for the summer. “It didn’t feel too good but there’s a lot of guys playing through injuries and I was just one of them.”
General Manager Peter Chiarelli and B’s Head Coach Claude Julien confirmed that Horton will need offseason surgery to repair the shoulder.
While Horton will be recovering in the offseason, his teammates are hoping that his recovery leads to him being back in the spoked-B come September.
“It’s no secret that I have a relationship with him and we’ve become real good friends over the last three years not just on the ice but off the ice as well,” said Milan Lucic, who has skated on the same line as Horton for almost all of the last three seasons. “I think he showed in these playoffs how important he is to this team as well.
“He’s a great hockey player and he’s a big part of this team, and we’d love nothing more than to see him back here next year. I’d love nothing more than to have him back on our line next year.”
Horton did not want to delve too much into his future, but expressed how much he loves Boston and his teammates.
“I have enjoyed my time here, obviously,” he said. “Two out of three years I’ve been here we’ve been in the Stanley Cup and we’ve won one time. And I said a million times, the guys in the room are amazing. It’s been a lot of fun and I really enjoy everyone and every player on the team.
“I love the guys. The team is great, it’s a fun place to play. Other than that, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I couldn’t tell you throughout the year that was going to happen, I don’t know and we’ll see what happens.”