Brian Burke's Busy Summer: Making the Case for Nathan Horton
In the sporting world, I'm a nobody. I've no clout, no connections, no insider information—but, hey, I have my opinions. That said, I've been talking about Florida Panthers' center Nathan Horton being a good fit in Toronto since the fall of 2009.
He comes in at around 6'2" and 230 lbs. He's not afraid to throw his weight around or drop the gloves from time to time. He has recorded four seasons of 20 or more goals, and has one season wherein he broke the 30-goal mark.
According to Brian Burke's prototype of a desirable player, Nathan Horton is a sweet package.
The Maple Leafs are a young team, everyone knows this by now. Horton is just turning 25 (in a few days of this being written). The Leafs have something now that they've been painstakingly slow at developing since the lockout—team speed. Horton, for a big guy, can skate very well.
As an American, some understanding is at hand when I hear others talk about the allure of playing for the Maple Leafs when so many Canadian players grew up Leafs fans. I'm positive that there's a little more to attracting players to don the Blue and White than that, but with rumors suggesting that Horton is unhappy playing in the Sun Belt, why wouldn't the Welland, Ontario native want to come play closer to home?
Other news has reported that Horton doesn't get along well with elements of the Florida coaching staff. This is not to say that he and the head coach to not get along, but there have been reports of on-ice tiffs between Horton and assistant coaches during practice.
His biggest detraction is that he has been labeled as an inconsistent performer, but how many years can a guy toil for a team that has seemed to be spinning its wheels for a decade? As part of that deep 2003 draft, Horton has been playing with the Panthers since the 2003-04 season, and the Panthers have amounted to squat since then.
What he brings to a team like the Maple Leafs is scoring, size up front, "truculence" and leadership (having donned the 'A' in Florida before).
He can play center, though he has been known to struggle in that role; however, the Leafs do have some up and comers at the position. Still, Mikhail Grabovski's faceoff percentage had improved dramatically during his second season with the Leafs—perhaps the same could be done with Horton?
Even if he ended up playing on the wing, he's a first line player that gives Toronto scoring options. It'd be a hard sell to allege that Horton and Phil Kessel would not make 2/3 of a formidable line in T.O. With 37 assists last season, Horton doesn't seem like a shoddy pass.
Now comes the part I hate—how to acquire Nathan Horton from the Florida Panthers.
He's still under contract, but the Panthers have been reported to be planning a blowup of their roster with Horton being a very possible candidate to be traded. Who, from the Leafs, goes?
Tomas Kaberle is a given as far as players go who could fetch Horton for the Leafs, but Florida is likely not on Kaberle's list of teams that he would accept a trade to.
Mikhail Grabovski is another name. He might thrive in an atmosphere like Florida where the pressure is off (to say the least). There's hardly any chance of Grabovski netting Horton in return in a straight up trade, so other assets would be needed.
I don't think that the Leafs are going to be giving up more picks anytime soon, but perhaps a player plus a prospect deal could be worked out. If that were to come about, I would count on Grabovski or Kulemin to be part of any deal that brings Horton to Toronto.
That's all that I will speculate on the trade issue—who would have thought the Leafs would have landed Freddie Sjostrom and Dion Phaneuf for the package that they did? Nik Hagman was by far the biggest asset that the Leafs gave up in that trade, and he's only a 20+ goal scorer. Ian White was good, but he's no Phaneuf, or Schenn, or Komisarek, or Beauchemin, or Kaberle, or...
Brian Burke has worked out some deals in his past. I don't think that he and Dave Nonis would be hard pressed to find a way to land Horton in a trade, but I'll leave that up to them if it ever comes to fruition. Remember, Burke got rid of Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala on the same day—in the same trade!
Horton simply pays instant dividends. He's the player that Mark Bell wishes Mark Bell could be. About the inconsistency in his performance, and this is my opinion, his reputation for a lack of effort would likely turn around if he was put on a team that is making the moves to actually do something sooner rather than later.
Burke has come to the helm of the Maple Leafs in a pretty aggressive way. Whether it's the Kessel deal, nabbing two out of the top three NCAA free agents, successfully chasing the best goalie outside of the NHL, or throwing a bag of pucks at the Flames for Dion Phanuef, it definitely gives the impression to other players that the Leafs, despite their second-to-last finish in 2009-10, are serious about becoming contenders once again.
I think that that can go a long way in motivating any player who comes to town; we're not talking about Nik Zherdev here.
Nathan Horton as a Toronto Maple Leaf would be a good thing. For a big guy who can put in 25-30 goals and skates well, perhaps he could be the badly needed body that carries the puck up the ice for, and dishes it to, Phil Kessel.
A lot has been said about Kessel being the last guy who should touch the puck during a play up the ice because he's a one-shot scorer. Though he's a competent puck-handler and an underrated passer, Kessel was brought in for that wrist shot of his, not toe-drags or drop passes at the blueline.
Having a guy like Horton in the top six would also create more room for players like Kessel, Bozak, Kadri, Kulemin, Stalberg or whatever the final roster turns out to be.
I just cannot see Horton in the Blue and White as a bad thing. This is a guy that I hope Burke chases, but only time will tell.
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