Perhaps the enduring image of Nathan Horton came two years ago in Vancouver. The injured Bruins right wing stood on the bench before Game 7 and poured TD Garden water on the Rogers Arena ice.
Hours later, the Bruins celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
Now Horton is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent, one of the few members of the Bruins core not locked up. But given the way general manager Peter Chiarelli talked about it on Wednesday, re-signing Horton remains a priority.
“I hope so,” Chiarelli said. “I’ve told him that I’d like him to come back.”
There is one thing that’s certain, though. Horton will need offseason shoulder surgery — the only Bruin, Chiarelli said, who is certain to go under the knife.
Horton has a dislocated shoulder, which popped out in the first overtime of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago. Horton immediately skated off the ice and did not play for the remainder of the game, though he did return for the final five games of the series. He wore a brace on the shoulder for the rest of the playoffs.
“It didn’t feel too good, but there’s a lot of guys playing through injuries,” Horton said. “I was just one of them.”
Part of the issue for Chiarelli will be fitting both a contract for Horton and a contract for goaltender Tuukka Rask under the salary cap.
Horton declined to talk about his contract situation, referring all questions to his agent, including whether he would take a discount to remain in Boston.
“We just play hockey and that’s all we worry about,” he said. “Sooner or later it’s going to get taken care of and we’ll all find out what it’s going to be. I don’t know yet, so I can’t tell you.
“I love the guys. The team is great. It’s a fun place to play. Other than that, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Horton arrived in Boston from the Panthers three years ago — traded by Florida along with Gregory Campbell — and the Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup Final in two of his three years.
A large part of the reason the Bruins went that far this season was Horton’s line. The top trio became a force in the postseason, led by David Krejci’s 26 points. Horton and Milan Lucic collected 19 points each, with each scoring seven goals.
But the line tailed off in the last games of the Final, with Krejci saying that so-so hockey wasn’t good enough. Horton had just two assists in the Final, one in Game 1 and another in Game 4.
Horton had 22 points in the shortened regular season, including 13 goals. He had 53 points, including 26 goals, in the Stanley Cup year of 2010-11.
Asked if the playoff performance affected his plans for Horton, Chiarelli said, “When you make a decision to try and bring back guys that are on the eve of free agency, you’d like to think you can make the right decision before the last possible moment. Usually that’s what I try and do.
“There’s so many balls in the air this year, and then with the cap going down, I try to be proactive on stuff and I try to get ahead of stuff, and this year it was too hard.
“Specifically on Nathan, I put him in with the rest of the group. They’ve been moving targets and I’m going to try to push through it now. It’s not the ideal way, but I’m going to try to push through it now.”
While Horton said that he can’t predict what will happen, he did say that he had “enjoyed my time here, obviously.
“The guys in the room are amazing. It’s been a lot of fun and I really enjoy everyone and every player on the team.”
And they feel the same about him, with multiple players voicing support for Horton to remain a Bruin.
“We’ve become really good friends over the last three years, not just on the ice, off the ice as well,” Lucic said. “I think he showed in these playoffs how important to this team he is as well. He’s a great hockey player. He’s a big part of this team.
“You’d love nothing more than to see him back here next year. I’d love nothing more than to have him back on our line next year.”