COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets made a major move on Friday to shore up their lagging offense by signing free-agent right wing Nathan Horton away from the Boston Bruins.
The 28-year-old playoff-hardened forward, who visited Columbus earlier this week, signed a seven-year deal worth $37.1 million — with $29 million of that coming in the first five years.
“This is a team on the rise with great players and I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” Horton said of the Blue Jackets. “We felt at home as soon as we visited here and it was pretty clear to us that this is where we wanted to live. This is a great fit for me and my family.”
He was to be formally introduced at a Friday afternoon news conference.
Horton, who still needs offseason shoulder surgery which will delay the start of his season, provides the Blue Jackets with punch it lacked a year ago when it just missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Columbus finished finishing 25th in the NHL in goals. Horton has averaged 23 goals over the last eight seasons.
“Nathan Horton was the player we identified as a perfect fit,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He is an elite power forward who brings size, skill and a great desire to compete to our lineup. He is also a person of great character and someone who will fit in very well with our team.”
The Blue Jackets’ are built around Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who recently signed a two-year contract. The club badly needed a scoring threat to go with Marian Gaborik and several rising young forwards.
The signing was one of the biggest free-agent moves ever by the franchise, which made a surprising leap into playoff contention after dawdling near the NHL cellar for the first third of last year’s abbreviated season. The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just once in their 12 seasons, and were swept by Detroit in that one trip in 2009.
Kekalainen, creating his first major buzz since taking over last winter, said after the season that he hoped to add a hard-working forward who could score goals. Horton fits the mold on both counts.
Horton’s new contract will result in a $5.3-million cap hit.
A skilled player with an edge, he was a central figure in the Bruins winning the 2011 Stanley Cup and in their trip to the finals this past season.
He injured his shoulder in this year’s playoffs and surgery will likely cause him to miss training camp. Horton held off getting the operation until his new team’s doctors were involved. He also had a concussion in January 2012 that caused him to miss the remainder of that season. He also missed the last four Stanley Cup finals games in 2011 because of a concussion.
One of his new teammates, defenseman James Wisniewski, posted on his Twitter account: “I would first off like to personally welcome Nathan Horton! (hash)winning”
Horton has also been valuable in shootouts, with one of the best goal percentages in the league.
There is no disputing Horton’s effectiveness in the postseason, particularly for a club striving not only to make the playoffs but also to win there for the first time. This past season, he had the seven goals and 12 assists — and a remarkable +20 plus/minus rating — in the Bruins’ 22 playoff games that ended with a six-game loss to Chicago in the finals.
During Boston’s run to the title in 2011, he had eight goals and nine assists in 21 games before being injured.
He put up 13 goals and nine assists in 43 regular-season games with the Bruins during the truncated 2013 season.
Horton was a first-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2003, the fourth pick overall, and then was traded just over three years ago to the Bruins. It was not a coincidence that Boston suddenly became a Stanley Cup contender soon after, with Norton a valuable leader of the club.
He has totaled 198 goals and 204 assists with 543 penalty minutes and a cumulative plus/minus rating of +57 in his 591 career NHL games.