A good day for Thomas, but what about the B’s?
|04.03.09 at 10:04 am ET|
So Tim Thomas is now in the fold for four more years at roughly $5 million per season.
It’s certainly more than justified on several levels after two straight All-Star seasons and a likely Vezina Trophy-worthy piece of work this winter that’s primed the Killer B’s for a run at the Cup. The 34-year-old goaltender is, after all, a rousing success story after kicking around anonymous hockey spots like the unforgettable Detroit Vipers of the IHL and Karpat in the Finnish Elite League. Thomas spent more than five years riding buses and team-hopping before finally getting his “shot” with a Boston Bruins club that wasn’t much more than a pile of hockey wreckage in 2005-06. Thomas flourished amid a generally lousy situation, though, and he hasn’t looked back while entertaining Bruins Nation with his athletic, unyielding , original style between the pipes. Thomas is a blue collar Flint, Michigan product through and through, and he fits the Big, Bad B’s mold to a ‘T’.
But there’s obviously a big “but” in there, and we ain’t talkin’ the Larry Fitzgerald kind either.
In the brave new salary cap world of the NHL it is dangerous to dole out big cap numbers to players based primarily on past performance rather than future yield, and Thomas is approaching his 35th birthday this month. That seems to have been the impetus behind the deal, as inking it before his April 15 birthday allows the Bruins to potentially buy out the pact if Thomas suffers a serious decline in performance over the next three seasons — or suffers a chronic injury that saps away at his ability to function as the franchise-type goaltender he’s now being paid to be.
Many “hockey pundits”, myself included, thought that something in the $3-4 million range was reasonable and good value for a soon-to-be 35-year netminder that’s finally found a home — and a payday — after essentially serving as the posterboy for the “Have Pads, Will Travel” set over the last decade. But a three-year deal in the $5 mill per annum range blows that “good value” figure out of the water, and puts Thomas in some pretty rarefied air within the world of goaltenders. Thomas will have to continue performing at an elite level until he’s 38 years-old to “earn” the cap hit.
Thomas is now much more than a simple rousing underdog story after packing up and moving into the same neighborhood as puckstopping elite like 32-year-old Mikka Kiprusoff ($5.8 per year), 33-year-old Marty Turco ($5.7 per year). 32-year-old Tomas Vokoun ($5.7 per year), 36-year-old Martin Brodeur ($5.2 per year) and 33-year-old Evgeny Nabokov ($5.3 per year). All perennial All-Star goaltenders in their thirties, and all of them without highly-paid, touted backups like Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. $5 million goalies don’t need highly paid backups and certainly don’t split time with their understudy, and a hockey team really can’t function fiscally with two moneybag netminders clogging up the cash flow.
So while Thomas now has the fiscal security and job guarantee that he’s never before enjoyed in his multi-uniformed hockey career, the contact extension raises as many questions as it does answers with regard to the post-playoff run Bruins of next year.
Thomas and Manny Fernandez combined to earn roughly $5.3 million this season as a goaltending duo, and it was expected that the B’s might be able to save and scrimp on their goaltending account going forward with so many pivotal contract questions heading into the offseason. The current $56.7 salary cap is expected to decrease by more than $2 million next season, and now the Bruins potentially have as much as $8 million plus tied up into goaltenders next season if both Thomas and Rask ($3.25 million if he hits all contract bonuses) are suited up in Spoked B sweaters and on the books.
Simply put, you can’t sink that kind of money into goaltending and then hope to sign restricted free agents like Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick — and keep the current Cup-worthy team intact for another run at it again next season.
Something has to give.
This is why Phil Kessel’s name was mentioned in trade discussions prior to the March trade deadline, and this is why you’ll hear some shocking names — those of Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew most assuredly — available this summer before salary cap hell commences over the next two seasons. It’s also why you may hear Rask’s name enter the trade talk fray with restricted free agency approaching after next season, and the B’s now making a pretty ironclad commitment to Thomas.
It’s not a given that — given the salary cap climate and the current state of both the American and Canadian economy — Thomas would have received a three-year, $5 million plus offer out on the open market — a place where it appears that a market correction may be in the offing as it was in the world of baseball this offseason. If the B’s had waited until this summer, it’s possible that they could have saved themselves as much as a million on the all-important salary cap hit.
Instead the Bruins locked in the Tank and have chosen their franchise goaltender for the foreseeable future. The question now is: What is the team around him going to look like beginning next season follwing this spring’s blissful playoff run?
It ultimately might not be an answer that Bruins Nation wants to hear.