Columbus, Ohio – Another piece to the puzzle in Columbus was added during the first day of NHL Free Agency.
The newest player to don the Union Blue is forward Nathan Horton, formerly of the Boston Bruins. Horton, who signed a 7 year/$37.1 million deal today, comes to the Blue Jackets as a proven power-forward with 43 games of NHL playoffs experience and a Stanley Cup ring (won with Boston in 2010/2011).
Columbus’ President/Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen had targeted Horton as number one on their list going into Free Agency.
“We went into the market looking for a scorer, a proven scorer, that can bring offensive skill and power forward type to our team.” said Kekalainen. “We found the number one guy on our list and got him signed.”
Kekalainen emphasized that Horton’s youth and playoff experience made him appealing to the team.
“He scores the goals right way. These days you need to get into the hard areas to get it done,” said Kekalainen. “He’s scored in the games that matter most. Great playoff performances with the Bruins when they won the Cup and this year when they fell a little short. Still a young guy at 28 years old, just coming into his prime as a hockey player. He brings experience of what it takes to win the Cup and what it takes to win in this league.”
Horton does have a shoulder injury and wants to have the surgery done in the very near future, as it will sideline him for four to six months. Kekalainen said that the surgery will not preclude the club going out and finding a short-term answer to fill the void as Horton recovers.
Nathan Horton is saying all of the “right” things, with his record to back it up. “I want to bring what I can to the team,” he says. “I think that scoring goals, battling, bringing pucks to the net, like a power forward does, that’s what I want to do. But again, I’ll do anything it takes, wherever I’m slotted and wherever the coach wants me to be, that’s where I’ll play and I’ll be happy to do it because I want to get back and be in the playoffs obviously and everyone else does. I think we’ve got the team to do it. I think that’s why we’re so excited here. There’s a buzz going around and I’ve felt it since I got here.”
That “buzz” that he’s seeing/feeling is a fan base that has waited (sometimes, not so patiently), for a quality team that will have a legitimate chance to contend in the playoffs. “The run at the end of last year that they had, the buzz that was going around the city… I’ve only been here a day and I still feel it. Now that I’m here, I’ve gotten texts from almost all the players. It feels like a family and everyone seems to be getting along and that’s what you want and that’s what it takes to win. You want to play for the guy next to you and I found that out in Boston. You’ve really got to come together to get to the ultimate goal and it seems like that’s the way it is here.”
He’s also finding out that this city has much to offer, especially for families. “It’s perfect for me and my family,” he says. “It’s quiet, but it’s nice and so friendly.” Asked if he was looking at the Blue Jackets as a potential destination going into Free Agency, Horton answered “I think, early on, I was just focused on Columbus.” He goes on, “After seeing the city, it became pretty clear to me that this is the place that I wanted me and my family to be. As soon as I saw it… it feels like “home” to me, already.”
GM Jarmo Kekalainen was asked during the press conference introducing Nathan Horton if he was done, or if there were other deals he’s working on. “We’re never done. That’s my favorite answer to that. We’re always looking for ways to improve. Obviously we’ve got the salary cap situation that we have to take into consideration. We still have room there, so we’re working on different options to improve our team. But we’re close to being done before the season starts, but it’s an ongoing process.”
It hasn’t taken very long for Davidson and Kekalainen to put their stamp on this club. Jarmo made a bit of an early splash with the trade for Marian Gaborik in April. Now they have identified what they need to make the club better and are taking the steps to acquire those assets. Both have very strong, positive reputations in the world of hockey.
The acquisition of Nathan Horton by the Columbus Blue Jackets totally fits with the image and style of play of this club that emerged in the last half of the 2013 season. “Those are big things that we’ve always talked about,” said Kekalainen, “the character aspect of the players that we want to have on our team. Nathan is a competitor. He goes to the right areas to score goals in today’s game which is right on that blue paint. You’ve got to go into the hard areas to score goals. Tips and rebounds and taking the beating in front of the net is part of it. He’s a big guy that is hard to move from those areas and he’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. I think he fits all those things. Obviously we’ve done our homework on what type of teammate he is and what type of character he brings to our group and all those things checked in very positive. That’s why he was the number one guy on our list. We went after our number one guy and got him, and so we were very, very pleased.”
Even though Horton will miss the beginning of the 2013/2014 season, this was a very good signing for the Columbus Blue Jackets. More so than numbers, character plays a large part in Free Agent signings. Horton fits the image and style of this blue-collar club like a glove. With him under contract through the 2019/2020 season, the fans have every reason to be excited. The first four years of his contract include a “No Movement Clause” and the final three years include a “Limited No Trade Clause”. This should allay whatever trepidation that some might have. All in all, this was an excellent signing by the powers that be within the Columbus organization.