The NHL's new two-day interview period has given teams an opportunity to meet with free agents before the signing period begins on July 5, Friday. One team that was known to take advantage of that on Wednesday was the Columbus Blue Jackets as they hosted former Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton.
Horton, one of the top free agents available this summer, toured the Nationwide Arena according to his agent, Paul Krepelka (via Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch).
The Blue Jackets have a pretty big need for offense after falling short of the postseason for the fourth straight year in 2013. They put together an impressive second-half surge to remain in contention until the final weekend of the season only to fall short of one of the Western Conference's eight playoff spots.
The problem for Columbus is that a lot of that second-half success came on the back of a Vezina Trophy performance from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets finished the season 25th in the league in goals scored (2.40 per game) and 27th in shots per game (26.7), so they obviously need more punch offensively. During their second-half surge, they averaged just 2.5 goals over their final 27 games, a number that would have still been in the bottom third of the league had they averaged that over a full season.
Obviously, offense is a huge need.
Horton probably isn't going to be cheap given the lack of impact players on the free-agent market and the fact he is the type of big, power forward that NHL general managers seem to love. He's also pretty productive. He scored 13 goals in 47 games this past season and can usually be counted on to score at a pace that would give him 25-30 goals over 82 games.
As of Wednesday evening, the Blue Jackets were $7 million below the NHL's salary cap for the 2013-14 season.
Earlier on Wednesday, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun mentioned on Twitter that he believed Horton would end up in a "non-traditional hockey market" because he wants a quieter life than the one that he had in Boston.
Horton informed the Bruins this week that he would not be returning to the team. His agent said the reason wasn't financial but simply a decision to move on.