NHL Playoffs 2012: Boston Bruins Should Just Sit Nathan Horton out

Al DanielCorrespondent IIApril 10, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins waits for a faceoff during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on January 4, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli recently declared Nathan Hortona long-shot” to see any action in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

It should be no shot, even if the Bruins are back in the Cup final six-plus weeks from now and even if Horton’s healthy and his game look 100 percent replenished at that point.

For the sake of Horton’s health, first and foremost, as well as his long-term value to the team, the Bruins need to prove they have learned from the Marc Savard debacle of 2010. They need to demonstrate patience and prudence and instill both of those qualities to their valued winger.

When Boston advanced to the second round of the playoffs two seasons ago, Savard was cleared to return to extramural action barely eight weeks after a blindside elbow via Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke gave him a Grade Two concussion.

And despite slugging home the overtime winner in the series opener against Philadelphia and adding three assists in subsequent games, Savard was clearly not himself.

Furthermore, and not so shockingly, his rapid return to activity set back his recovery. He would not suit up again until December of last season and has not played since Jan. 22, 2011, when he sustained his second confirmed head injury.

Eerily enough, Horton’s second concussion, coming after the one he absorbed in last year’s Stanley Cup final, occurred on the one-year anniversary of what was likely Savard’s final NHL game. Horton only recently took his first strides since Philadelphia’s Tom Sestito sent him back to the injured reserve during a Jan. 22 game earlier this season.

Barely 10 months have passed since Horton’s problems began when he was leveled by Vancouver’s Aaron Rome. Barely 10 months passed between the beginning of the end of Savard’s career and the actual ending, namely a hit from Colorado’s Matt Hunwick.

In short, Horton should not be left under the slightest impression that he will be permitted or expected to suit up at any point in the 2012 playoffs. If he restricts his activity to non-contact skating or less between now and the next training camp, he will have had a good eight months to heal his head.

Right now, the last thing his head needs from a physical standpoint is anything strenuous. The last thing his head needs from a psychological standpoint is pressure to return to action prematurely.

Any of the above will only trip up his long-term return to normalcy and risk forcing the Bruins to render another leaned-on forward nothing more than an honorary member of the team.

Conversely, by continuing to rely on those who have stepped in and stepped up in Horton’s absence, Boston will be that much deeper and stronger once Horton resumes regular activity next season.

For now, barring another injury that would necessitate incorporating an active spare or a Black Ace, head coach Claude Julien should have his postseason lineup rigidly configured. And his pupils should be bent on pursuing Part II of the “Win it for Horton” mentality.