When Nathan Horton suffered a concussion in Game 3 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals series against Vancouver after taking a nasty hit from Aaron Rome, Boston had to find a way to persevere without him.
And it looks like they'll have to do it all over again this year.
The forward will miss the entire postseason due to the lingering effects of a concussion he suffered on January 22. Horton has missed all of Boston's 36 games since taking the blow from Philadelphia's Tom Sestito.
Keeping Horton out of the playoffs may hurt the Bruins' offense a bit, but it's the right move for Horton. This, after all, is a Bruins team that had to watch the demise of leading scorer Marc Savard after he suffered two concussions in one year.
The first was a brutal hit at the hands of Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke, and it was one Savard was able to come back from—but not for long. Twenty-five games into the following season, he took another hit, this time from ex-teammate Matt Hunwick, that prompted his retirement.
Savard was 33 years old when his career ended. Horton is 26. It is far too soon for his career to reach an end. Horton has the potential to be one of the top scorers in the league, and he needs more time to fulfill that potential, even if it means missing another Stanley Cup run.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who watched what happened to Savard, said that keeping Horton out of the postseason is in his best interests. He told Boston.com's Fluto Shinzawa:
It just wasn’t in the long-term interests of Nathan to have the spectre hanging over him of trying to come back during this playoff season. He’s made one step forward and two steps back.
We just made the determination, upon consultation with our doctors and with Nathan, that it would be prudent to shut him down for the playoffs and continue to rehab for next year.
If Horton attempted to rush back for the playoffs and suffered another concussion, he'd likely suffer the same fate as Savard. The Bruins may be sacrificing his production for the short term, but in the long run, it is the right move, even if Horton was the key to the Bruins' offense during last year's title run.
In Game 7 of each of Boston's playoff series against Montreal and Tampa Bay in 2011, Horton scored the winning goals that kept the championship dreams alive. Now, it will be up to Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic to keep Boston rolling this year.
The Bruins have the offensive talent to get by—more than get by—without Horton. Bergeron, several years removed from a concussion that nearly ended his own career, is finally starting to play with some consistency year after year, and his 64 points are second on the team.
Seguin has had another year to develop, and in his sophomore campaign, he led the team with 29 goals and 67 points. Krejci had 12 goals and 23 points in 25 postseason games last year, and Brad Marchand—though he cooled off a little bit after a very hot start—finished second on the team with 28 goals.
Just like Horton stepped up last year in the postseason, someone else will have to do it this year. Fortunately, Boston has lots of likely candidates who can fill in while Horton tries to keep his career moving forward simply by sitting out.