BOSTON -- Former Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton was an important part of the team's 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
But now, at age 29 and a as member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Horton's career could be over. He hasn't played in a game since last April, was placed on the team's injured non-roster list on Oct. 5 and is out indefinitely due to a degenerative back injury.
In a detailed report by Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch last week, Horton described the "near constant" physical agony he's dealing with. If he decides to have surgery, it could end his career.
His former teammates, along with the entire Bruins organization, are distraught over the news. With the Bruins in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets on Friday night, Bruins president Cam Neely, coach Claude Julien and several players discussed Horton's situation Thursday.
"I feel for him. I feel for anybody that potentially has their ability to play taken away from them," said Neely, who saw his own career end prematurely due to injuries. "It's very sad. You get to this level, an elite level, it's what you want to do, you want to play."
Neely can empathize with Horton. The Hall of Famer dealt with thigh and knee injuries and attempted comebacks but was forced to retire in September 1996.
"It's very difficult to come to a conclusion," Neely said. "Ultimately, you get as much information as you can from doctors and the medical staff, then you probably don't want to believe what they're telling you and think you can get back to playing. Then it becomes really about quality of life."
Horton spent three seasons in Boston and helped the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning in 2011.
"It's too bad," Julien said. "He's still a young player, and as everyone knows, he was a great player for us here.
"It's too bad to see a young player like that have to make a decision on his career at such a young age with so much potential. You feel for him."
"You obviously feel for the guy. He's a really, really great player, and a good friend, as well," Krejci said. "It must be tough for him."
After the 2013 season, Horton signed with the Blue Jackets as a free agent and landed a seven-year deal worth $37 million. He was limited to only 35 games last season.
"The financial part is nice, but that's not what brings you happiness," Julien said. "Right now there's no doubt, for a guy like him if he doesn't come back and play, what do you do at the young age of 30, saying 'I'm not able to do what I've done my whole life.' It's a pretty big blow to a young player like that."
Bruins assistant captain Chris Kelly suffered a season-ending back injury last April and needed offseason surgery to repair a herniated disk. When he arrived at training camp healthy and ready for the season, he talked about how the back issues interfered with his ability to perform normal daily routines. He couldn't pick up his kids and had trouble eating and sleeping, which are the kinds of things Horton is experiencing.
"That's extremely difficult what he's going through," Kelly said. "Obviously, he wants to be playing. Everybody wants to be playing hockey when you've done it your whole life, and when it's taken away from you like that it's a difficult thing."