That was the difficult decision the Bruins had to make with Nathan Horton on Wednesday when general manager Peter Chiarelli announced that the power forward would be shut down for the entire postseason as he continues to suffer the lingering effects of a concussion sustained back in January.
The club will dearly miss his size and scoring ability, but his long-term health is far more important.
"We felt it just wasn't in the long-term interest of Nathan to be having the specter hanging over him of trying to come back during this playoff season," Chiarelli said. "He's made one step forward, and then two steps back and we just made the determination, upon consultation with our doctors, with Nathan, that it would be prudent to shut him down for the playoffs and continue to rehab for next year."
It's a decision Horton's teammates support unequivocally.
"You never want to see a teammate, a friend go through something like that," Bruins center Chris Kelly said. "Right now we're concerned about his health and his well-being, and hockey's another matter. We just want to see him get well and eventfully be himself and come back to play."
David Krejci, who has centered Horton for most of the winger's first two seasons in Boston, echoed those thoughts.
"I would love to have him back, but his health is more important than anything," Krejci said. "I just hope he's going to get better soon and he's going to get ready next season, that's all we can hope for."
The other member of that line, Milan Lucic, couldn't help but think of both linemates he's lost to concussions in recent seasons with center Marc Savard missing this entire season and unlikely to play again after sustaining two serious concussions in less than a year.
"It's sad to see," Lucic said. "Obviously it sucks not having him here and both guys not in the locker room and playing in the NHL, but the most important thing is somebody's personal health and making the right decision and being cautious. Hopefully they can make a full recovery in the near future."
With Horton and Savard now both out, plus Patrice Bergeron missing the bulk of the 2007-08 season, the Bruins have become far too familiar with the devastating effects of head injuries in the NHL.
"I feel like an expert now," Chiarelli said. "I don't really want to be an expert at it, but you just get a sense now of having seen how these guys progress in their rehab and you pretty much know where they are. I can't be certain, I have to consult with doctors, but we've been very good at dealing with these things and I feel, dating back to when Bergy first got concussed and we decided to shut him down, you just have to be cautious and that's what we are with Nathan."
Bergeron could serve as an inspiration for Horton. It was a long road back for the center, who was also held out of the 2008 playoffs despite resuming workouts late in the season. He slowly worked his way back to his pre-injury level, returning to his stature as one of the top two-way centers in the league who should be in line for the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward this season after arguably his finest campaign yet.
Savard sits on the far end of that spectrum. After being brutally knocked out by a Matt Cooke cheap shot in March, 2010, Savard returned for the second round of the playoffs that spring. He clearly wasn't his old self, though, and suffered a relapse of post-concussion syndrome symptoms that summer that delayed his return the following year, then was concussed again in January, 2011 and has not played since.
Chiarelli remains confident that Horton will be able to make a full recovery and return to play next season, but admitted that nothing is ever certain when it comes to concussions.
"I am, but who knows?" Chiarelli said. "I, going into two weeks ago you had asked me him playing this playoffs, I'm like, 'You know, there's a chance.' And then he had a couple of setbacks and then you have to take a step back and kind of look at the whole thing and that’s what we did."
Horton's current symptoms include occasional fogginess, headaches and what Chiarelli described as "sometimes he wouldn't feel right." Chiarelli added that these issues stemming from the Jan. 22 hit by Philadelphia's Tom Sestito were "totally unconnected, and the symptoms were completely different" from the serious concussion Horton suffered on a late hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome in last year's Stanley Cup Final.
Horton will continue to rehab, but will do most of that work in off hours away from the team and may take a couple of weeks off now that he can relax a bit knowing the pressure to try to return for the postseason is gone.
"I think he was relieved," Chiarelli said. "You know, he obviously thought that it was best. He ultimately would have to agree with it and he did. I think with Nathan, he gets within the group and he looks back at his contributions this past year and the last playoffs and he starts getting anxious and that probably compounds it, too. I think he felt a sense of relief."
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