Dale Tallon has completed an unprecedented string of player acquisitions this off-season, bringing in seven free agents for the NHL roster and trading for three more. Some additional prospect and minor-league signings brings the potential for over half of this season's Panthers roster to be composed of players new to the team. To accomplish this, Tallon first needed to engage in a sometimes painful process of breaking down the Panthers roster he inherited from former General Managers Randy Sexton and Jacques Martin. This series will look at the players the Panthers let go between Tallon's hire and the end of the 2010-2011 season.
There may be no player Panthers fans are more divided on than Nathan Horton. Horton, drafted third overall in 2003, never quite became the player that was expected. Since 2003, he has only one 30 goal season. The blame has been laid everywhere from the various coaches he played under, to the tutelage of former Panthers captain and linemate Olli Jokinen and to Horton himself being "lazy" and "unmotivated."
What is sure is that Horton wasn't happy here. His leaving was inevitable following the 2007-2008 season. That year, Jokinen attempted to lead a dressing room revolt against Coach/GM Jacques Martin. Martin lost his job as coach but kept his job as GM. Jokinen's crusade divided the dressing room, with he and Horton on one side and most of the rest of the team on the other. The saga ended with Martin hiring coach Pete DeBoer and then trading Jokinen to Phoenix for Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. The rest of the team tried to bring Horton back into the fold, but the damage was already done. When Dale Tallon came in as General Manager, he asked every player if they wanted to be a Panther and Horton asked for a trade. He was traded almost immediately to Boston along with Gregory Campbell for Dennis Wideman and two draft picks.
If there are two things any fan hates, it's a player who they think doesn't work hard enough and anyone who asks for a trade. Therefore, many Panthers fans were dismayed by Horton's performance in the playoffs this season. They had trouble reconciling his at times lazy performance with the Cats with his heroics, like his second overtime game winner in the series between the Bruins and Canadiens. The first, in game give, gave the Bruins their first lead of the series. The second sent the Bruins to the Eastern Conference Final.
This kind of performance is not unprecedented. Horton had his share of highlight reel goals for the Panthers as well, including this shorthanded goal late in the 2009-2010 season.
Playoffs aside, when one looks at his season in full, nothing really stands out.
This year, like most of his years in the league, Nathan Horton played over 2/3 of the games in the season, had between 20 and 30 goals, and between 45 and 60 points and scored about 6 power play goals and had 2 or 3 game winners. He had what was an average season for him and then after a couple nervous games in his first outing in the playoffs, really turned it on, scoring two overtime game winners in the series against Montreal and generally playing very well before being concussed in Game 3 of the Final. Horton always showed flashes of being that kind of a player here and there was never any indication that he wouldn't have played as well in his first playoffs as a Panther. The Bruins ended up with the same Nathan Horton that we had here in Florida, which is more than Calgary or Phoenix can say about Jokinen.
As for who "won" the trade, that's still a tough call. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup and both Horton and Campbell played well for them in the playoffs. The Panthers, for their part, replaced the two players with a whole bunch of prospects. The original trade was Horton and Campbell for Wideman and Boston's first-round pick in 2010 and third-round pick in 2011. The first-round pick (#15) was traded to Los Angeles for their first-round pick (#19) and the Flyers' second-round pick (#59). That pick was traded to Minnesota for their third (#69) and fourth-round (#99) picks. Wideman was traded to the Capitals for their third-round pick in 2011 and minor-league forward Jake Hauswirth.
The final list of players the Panthers received from the Horton/Campbell trade is: Nick Bjugstad (2010, #19), Joe Basaraba (2010, #69), Joonas Donskoi (2010, #99), Jonathan Racine (2011, #87), Kyle Rau (2011, #91) and Hauswirth. Ultimately, the trade will have to be judged on the merits of a group of prospects. If two of them develop into top-6 forwards or top-4 defensemen, then the trade worked out well for both sides. In the meantime, Nathan Horton had a nice change of scenery and won the Stanley Cup, which has left a lot of Panthers fans with a bitter taste.