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Numbers Game: Horton heads to Columbus

Scott Cullen
7/5/2013 11:21:23 PM
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The Columbus Blue Jackets made a big move in free agency, committing to a long-term deal for a power forward who is about to undergo shoulder surgery.

Numbers Game looks at Columbus' signing of Nathan Horton.

The Blue Jackets Get: RW Nathan Horton.

Horton, 28, has been a part of one of hockey's better trios in Boston, playing with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. While they haven't been as consistent as some other high-powered lines, they have been crucial to the Bruins' run to the Cup Final twice in the last three seasons. In Horton's case, he had 36 points and a plus-31 ranking in 43 playoff games during the 2011 and 2013 playoffs, has had strong puck possession over the last three years and his 2.65 shots per game last season matched his previous career-best.

Those were high points, however, and Horton has endured a number of challenges in recent seasons. Horton was a blossoming power forward who could score and scrap, if need be, but a concussion caused him to miss 36 regular season and seven playoff games in 2011-2012 and that, coupled with a chronic shoulder problem, may have taken away some of the bite in his game (22 penalty minutes in 43 games in 2013 was a career-low PIM rate).

Going to Columbus will present challenges for Horton, not least of which is finding linemates with whom he will have the same chemistry that he did with Krejci and Lucic. Horton's shoulder surgery should leave him out for four-to-six months, so he could miss half of next season while he recovers. If he returns to the lineup prepared to take a leadership role, go to the hard areas to score and bang bodies, then Horton can be a valuable addition.

The concern anyone will have is the term which the Blue Jackets have committed. Seven years and $37.1-million (a $5.3-million cap hit) is a major investment in a player whose scoring rates last season (0.30 gpg and 0.51 ppg) were his lowest since his rookie year.

Horton's young enough that he could be a productive scorer for the majority of the deal, but that's going to depend on who the Blue Jackets end up playing him with, because Horton doesn't carry the puck a lot; he does some, and he can dangle, but his game is predicated on being a big body forward who can go to the net and score from in close. If the Blue Jackets have a playmaker that can get Horton the puck in position to score, he very well could be a 25-to-30-goal scorer and if a healthy Horton is more a more physical presence, all the better.

Surely part of the Blue Jackets' reason to sign Horton so seven years is that it helped make the salary cap hit more palatable, but a healthy Horton scoring goals will be what provides value to Columbus. A team that ranked 25th in goals last season (2.40 per game) made a move to help address that shortcoming.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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