COLUMBUS, Ohio – Had the Bruins negotiated with Nathan Horton earlier, perhaps before the lockout or during the 2013 season, it’s possible the right wing could have remained in Boston.
But when the offer Horton wanted was late in coming, it helped him decide it was time to go elsewhere.
“All year, nothing happened,” Horton said. “I waited for a long time. It just came down to, at the end, for my family I wanted a place where my kids could be outside. That’s kind of what it came down to. I heard a little bit about Columbus. It’s not the Columbus that everyone knows. Columbus is up and coming. They’ve got a great team and great people in charge. It’s kind of what I was looking for.”
The Bruins did not intend to let Horton walk. In the two postseasons when Horton was healthy, the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. The muscle of Horton and Milan Lucic, blended with David Krejci’s creativity, gave the Bruins one of the NHL’s toughest lines to handle. The Bruins were willing to live with some of Horton’s regular-season dips because he had a history of playoff elevation.
The sides negotiated after the season. The Bruins believed their offer was good enough to bring Horton back. But on June 29, Horton, via agent Paul Krepelka, informed general manager Peter Chiarelli he was not interested in returning. Six days later, Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1 million blockbuster with Columbus.
“You wait until the last minute, you’re not going to wait around,” Horton said. “But I’m happy with everything the way it turned out.”
The Bruins were fortunate to find Horton’s replacement. The same day Horton signed with Columbus, the Bruins locked up Jarome Iginla to a one-year, $6 million contract. Iginla recorded his first Bruin assist Saturday. He leads the Bruins with 14 shots.
While Iginla is riding with Lucic and Krejci, Horton might not be in uniform until December or January. He underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair damage, ironically, caused in a fight with Iginla. Horton is unable to lift weights. He doesn’t expect skate until next month.
“It’s different,” Horton said of adjusting to a new team. “For me, coming in and not being able to play, you meet the guys the most when you’re on the ice. I’m at the rink a lot. I’m around the guys as much as I can. It’s still not the same.”
In Boston, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron are the three primary players. Horton was an important but complementary piece.
In Columbus, the Jackets will expect more from Horton. They are expecting a powerful 1-2 punch on the right side from Horton and Marian Gaborik. Columbus is also anticipating Horton’s playoff experience to spread throughout the room. He never played in the playoffs during his six seasons with Florida.
“It taught me a lot about hockey,” Horton said of his postseason runs with the Bruins. “There’s no better feeling than being in the playoffs and having a chance to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the stuff you don’t forget.”
Matt Bartkowski, who called Columbus home for two years, made his season debut in his college town.
Bartkowski, a two-year player at Ohio State (2008-10), replaced Dougie Hamilton on the second pairing. Dennis Seidenberg, who had played on the left side with Hamilton, switched to the right side.
Bartkowski had three shots and two hits in 14:47 of ice time. The Bruins told Bartkowski on Friday he would be in the lineup against the Jackets.
“You could see he hadn’t played in a while,” said coach Claude Julien. “He was like a lot of our other Ds. They were fighting it a little bit. We know how good he is and how well he skates. That’s the reason you don’t want to let those guys sit too long, because it only gets worse.”
Hamilton had three shots in 20:34 of ice time in Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Colorado. He was not on the ice for either Colorado goal. Hamilton played 2:13 on the power play, where he was the point man on the No. 2 unit. Seidenberg replaced Hamilton on the power play Saturday.
Barring injuries, Bartkowski, Hamilton, and Adam McQuaid will contend for the final two blue-line spots. It helps that Seidenberg feels at home, and might even be more effective, playing on the right side. None of the other defensemen is comfortable playing his off side.
“If anything, I think about, ‘I want to play well enough so they can’t take me out,’ ” Bartkowski said. “It’s a different mind-set than worrying about being taken out.”
Soderberg sits again
Carl Soderberg (ankle) missed his fourth straight game. He participated in a full practice Friday for the first time since suffering the injury Sept. 27. Soderberg skated on his own at Nationwide Arena Saturday morning. “We’re talking about days now,” Julien said of Soderberg’s available target date . . . For the second straight game, Iginla was part of the Bruins’ penalty-killing rotation. Iginla played 1:23 on the PK. He was not a regular penalty killer in Calgary. Iginla was on the ice for Jack Johnson’s first-period power-play goal . . . Shawn Thornton fought Jared Boll in the first period. It was Thornton’s third fight of the season . . . Krejci served as alternate captain for the first time this season. He will wear the “A” on the road for the first half of the year . . . Soderberg (28 years old) and McQuaid (27) celebrated birthdays Saturday.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.