Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli isn’t expected to have much of a summer vacation, as he’s got quite a few things on his plate this offseason, and he won’t have a ton of time to make those decisions.
One of the most important personnel decisions the GM will be met with is what to do with unrestricted free-agent winger Nathan Horton. The forward, who was traded to Boston in 2010, just finished a six-year, $24 million contract he signed with the Florida Panthers in 2007. The Bruins have about a week until Horton officially hits the open market with free agency set to begin July 5.
Chiarelli and the rest of the Boston front office certainly have their work cut out for them. Never mind the fact that goaltender Tuukka Rask is a restricted free agent in search of a long-term contract, the B’s also have to decide what to do with Horton. He’s easily a top-10 free agent this summer, and hes’ arguably the best power forward of the class, although a healthy Ryane Clowe might try to say otherwise. So it’s not like there won’t be interest for Horton around the league. There are plenty of teams that could use Horton’s services, especially considering his postseason experience (and success) as well as what he brings to a team off the ice in the dressing room.
The Bruins would have to figure out if those positives outweigh any perceived issues with re-signing Horton, especially if it involves some sort of bidding war. He’s set to have shoulder surgery this offseason, which would hopefully fix an ongoing problem he’s had there. He also has a history with concussions now, something that will likely be factored in any team’s decision when it comes to Horton, or any other player for that matter. There’s also the issue of inconsistency, which has always been the knock on Horton. He comes and goes far too often. When he’s on his game, he’s a dynamic player, but when he’s struggling, he essentially disappears for stretches.
After weighing all of that, Chiarelli is saying he’d like for the winger to return.
“I hope so,” Chiarelli yielded when asked if he’d re-sign Horton this summer. “I guess I’ll answer the question, I’ve told him that I’d like him to come back. We’ll see how it goes.”
Horton made $4 million per year under his old contract, meaning he’d likely be in line for a raise this time around. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the salary cap is $64.3 million. While that number will go up eventually, that fact doesn’t make matters any easier for Chiarelli, who has to get under that number while also trying to find a way to re-sign players like Rask and Horton. According to CapGeek.com, the Bruins currently sit just $5.8 million under the new salary cap, and that’s simply not going to be enough to sign both Rask and Horton.
That means Chiarelli may have to get creative. Chiarelli has already said he won’t use either of the team’s two compliance buyouts, so it would seem that any sort of cap alleviation would have to come via trade. Chiarelli says that he’d like to keep the core of the team — the same team that has reached two Stanley Cup Finals in three years — intact, and he’s going to do what he can to ensure that happens.
“There’s a challenge with the lower cap and I think you’ll see that challenge throughout the league,” he said. ”We’re no different than anyone else, but we feel confident that if we have to move a player or two or not sign somebody, we feel confident with the core we have that we’ll be able to find players or have players in the mix already that can fill that spot.”
It’s safe to assume we’ll find out how vital Horton is to that core very soon.