The Boston Bruins have more experience than they would care to have when it comes to understanding the risks of multiple concussions.
Right Wing - BOS
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 32
SOG: 90 | +/-: 0
The Bruins have seen both sides of the spectrum when it comes to concussion recovery, with center Marc Savard still unable to play more than two years after he was originally hurt by a blindside hit by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke, and Patrice Bergeron making a very successful return from a concussion that cost him the better part of the 2007-08 season.
Now, Boston is eagerly waiting to see how Nathan Horton will bounce back from suffering his second concussion in a span of six months when he was hit by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Tom Sestito on Jan. 22.
The Bruins announced in July that Horton had been cleared for contact by team doctors, so now they just need to wait and see how he reacts to being hit in training camp against live competition.
"Our medical staff says he'll be ready to go when we start playing," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said at a July 23 news conference to announce coach Claude Julien's multiyear contract extension.
Horton began last season with the same uncertainty as this one. He was recovering from a concussion that occurred in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and he admitted last season that his slow start was a direct result of his injury.
"The start of the season, definitely the concussion was an issue," Horton told ESPNBoston.com on Jan 12. "I definitely wasn't myself and didn't feel the way I wanted to. It wasn't, like I said then, like post-concussion syndrome or something like that I think, but more me just trying to get my timing and confidence back and, yeah, maybe being a bit hesitant with my physical game. It was definitely tough, but as the team started to win, and in like November and into December, I felt better, and I feel much better now."
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At the time he made those comments, Horton had scored five goals in his past four games – matching his total from his previous 22 games in less than a week.
"I think, just like most guys, I play my best hockey when I am not thinking too much and hesitating on plays, and I'm doing that now," Horton said that day. "It seems like right now that's how it's going for me. I'm more comfortable and I'm just having fun out there. I also think technically I wanted to start shooting more. I was getting only like one shot a game and now I'm just shooting whenever I can and then getting to the net for rebounds. If you shoot, anything can happen, and I'm thinking more that way now."
Just 10 days later, Horton was back on the shelf with another concussion that would cost him the rest of the season and the playoffs.
The impact of Horton's absence on the Bruins' offense is very plain to see – the team averaged 3.54 goals per game in the 46 games prior to the injury and 2.69 goals per game after he was hurt. In terms of wins and losses, the Bruins were 31-13-2 before Horton was hurt and 18-16-2 afterward, followed by a seven-game elimination in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Washington Capitals.
If Horton can avoid the slow start he experienced last season, it will allow Julien to at least try to reassemble his line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, giving the Bruins two potent scoring lines and re-establishing the balanced attack that makes the team thrive.
But if Horton struggles out of the gate again, Julien may be forced to improvise, which would have an impact on the other forward lines on a team that comes back virtually intact from last season.
Indeed, Horton will be under an intense microscope through training camp and the beginning of the regular season to see which avenue the Bruins will need to take.