|A Bruins Five-Point plan for taking down the Habs||04.14.09 at 11:53 pm ET|
If hockey was played on a simple sheet of lined paper, the Bruins would wipe the frozen ice floor with the eighth-seeded Canadiens in a four- or five-game laugher of a series. The high-powered B’s have seven players with at least 20 goals, the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL, a likely Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes that feels like he’s got something to prove in the postseason and — last, but not least — they have a home ice advantage that gives them a Game 7 in the Bear’s Den otherwise known as the TD Banknorth Garden.
That might not be essential or that big an advantage in the early games, but it’s pretty close to everything in a Game 7 as Boston saw firsthand at the Bell Centre last season.
The Black and Gold have been the class of the Eastern Conference for nearly the entire season, and they’ve easily handled the hated Habs to the tune of a 5-0-1 regular-season record. More than the results on the scoreboard, the B’s have repeatedly pounded the Canadiens with their penchant for the physical play, and fans will remember this season’s indellible images for years to come: Milan Lucic tangling with Mike Komisarek at center ice and completely manhandling the Habs defenseman before raising his hands and smacking them against the penalty box glass in Gladiator-like victory; Tim Thomas exploding from his crease and decking Andrei Kostitsyn in front of the net after a questionable collision with Aaron Ward in the corner; Georges Laraque chasing Lucic all over the Bell Centre frozen sheet amid catcalls and boos from the partisan crowd of Habs fans, and Lucic turning around and scoring a game-changing goal amid the fury.
It’s been an eventful six-game regular season set after a memorable playoff series last spring, and the upcoming series is one the Big Bad Bruins could and should win.
But the Canadiens shouldn’t be underestimated and simply waved off with a “Bah, they’ll fold in five games” type attitude. This series won’t be played out on paper.
Bruins players and coaches got a good glimpse at how the Canadiens are going to attack this series during that fist-filled visit to Boston last Thursday, and the upcoming series will involve embellishing, diving, turtling and invoking any and all thespian skills that will put the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge on the PP.
Over the last six week, Alex Kovalev has decided to start playing, and he makes the Montreal man advantage deadly. Carey Price has regained some of the confidence that he lost midway through the season, and won’t be the liability that some believe him to be in a playoff series. Andrei Markov, a 60-point defenseman during the regular season, could be back midway through a series from a knee injury, and would give the Habs a big momentum push if they’re hanging in the series.
The Habs aren’t as bad as the eighth seed would indicate them to be (after all this is a good portion of the same hockey club that earned the No. 1 seed the year before and looked to be the class of the Eastern Conference), and this series will be a bit too close for comfort. With that in mind, here are five keys to victory if the Bruins hope to take care of business, knock the playoff futility monkey off the organization’s back that’s been growing big and strong over the last 10 years and retain the goodwill that’s been built up through such a noteworthy regular season.
1. Win Game One. At all costs. With the No. 1 seed and a fan base that’s come to expect the worst when the postseason is involved, it’s vital the Bruins get on top of the Habs early and refuse to let the slippery skaters out from under their grasp. If the Bruins drop a bomb in Game One — or even lose a tight, well-played one-goal game — then uncomfortable questions begin to crop up. Questions about the fact that the B’s haven’t been able to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1998-99. Questions about how badly it will set a resurgent franchise back if they stumble again in the first round this season.
Questions that nobody wearing a Spoked B sweater wants to start answering, and questions that will start building pressure within the Bruins dressing room. All of that potential toil and trouble can be completely wiped off the plane of existence if the B’s do something in Game One that they’ve already done 53 times this season — and done with regularity against anybody donning a CCH sweater this winter: simply play well and win.
2.Milan Lucic, a guy who will clearly be tested by Montreal Public Enemy No. 1 Mike Komisarek during the upcoming series, probably put the next “key to victory” best when I asked him about how different a playoff-style game will be from last Thursday night’s donnybrook-filled homage to “Slapshot.” In short, Big Looch won’t be chasing his defenseman nemesis down from behind and slapping the sleeper hold on Komisarek while rag-dolling him to the ice.
“For us, we need to play toward our strength and our advantages if we want to have success,” said Lucic. “It’s difficult, but for me personally it’s easier (to reign) it in because there’s more at stake. When something happens that you didn’t like, it’s easier to bite your lip and take it like a man (in the playoffs). There’s more at stake and there are times you’re going to have to take one for the team to give your team the advantage.
“It’s hard because the fans go up a notch, the game goes up a notch and everything else goes up a notch (when there’s a fight), but then again it’s easier because there’s more at stake. You could be hurting your team taking a stupid, retaliatory penalty.”
So that’s a big check next to the box marked “Turn the other cheek and refuse to retaliate when Messrs. Komisarek, O’Byrne and Kostoupolos come calling and looking for power play opportunities”.
3. One of the biggest keys to victory in the entire series will be stopping Kovalev, the moody Russian superstar who absolutely killed the Bruins last season with power-play score after power-play score. This season, perhaps pouting on the ice due to philosophical differences with Guy Carbonneau, Kovalev seemed to be asleep at the switch for much of the season — a situation that got so bad that GM/interim coach Bob Gainey told Kovalev to take a two-game hike at mid-season to find his game. But the highly-skilled sniper has come alive over the last six weeks. Kovalev has 11 goals in 15 games since the beginning of March, and has an eye-opening eight power-play strikes over that time period.
The Habs have surged from the bottom of the league to middle of the pack in terms of power play efficiency over the second-half of the season, and that’s all about, A) the acquisition of Mathieu Schneider at the trade deadline and, B) Kovalev playing with more physical and mental involvement as the playoffs have inched closer. The B’s will need to keep Kovalev’s PP unit off the ice at all costs, and Zdeno Chara will have to play the shutdown game that left Kovalev with two goals and a -4 in four games against the B’s this season.
4.In Timmy They Trust. Tim Thomas was good in last season’s seven-game series against the Habs, but the 35-year-old netminder enters this postseason extremely motivated on several different fronts. Of course, Thomas has never been the winning goaltender in an NHL playoff series and that slight little bit of doubt serves as motivational fuel in Thomas the Tank’s ever-burning engine. Thomas is also out to prove that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli made the right choice in signing four-year, $20 million extension, and that great hockey players earn their money by raising their game in April and May.
Thomas needs to be at least as good as he was during the season when he led in the NHL in the two real “Gold Standard” goaltender statistics, and perhaps even better when the competition gets tougher and more skilled with each rung on the playoff ladder. Thomas struggled in the second period of last Thursday’s game against Montreal and looked as shaky as he has all season, but he rebounded in the third period and OT and will need to harness that through an entire postseason that’s riding on his shoulders.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on us as the eighth seed last year just because it was Boston/Montreal. Hopefully that will help us this year,” said Thomas. “We haven’t had too many easy nights this year. Teams didn’t roll over on us. Sometimes when you’re the third or fourth seed you can catch a team a little bit unaware, but when you’re the Top Dog you don’t sneak up on anybody. Hopefully that will help us.
“The pressure is definitely on to win this series and win in the playoffs, but you can’t look past this series and you can’t look past Thursday,” said Thomas. “You guys (in the media) are big picture and we’re little picture. I want to prove Peter (Chiarelli) right. I want to do well to prove that this organization made the right decision (signing me). I want to use that fuel.”
5.Krejci scores and the Bruins win. It’s as simple as that. Marc Savard and Phil Kessel have been a dynamic, dangerous duo on the top line and the Chuck Kobasew/Patrice Bergeron/Mark Recchi line has done serious damage in since the trade deadline, but there aren’t many — or perhaps any teams — that can hang with the highly-skilled Bruins when David Krejci is clicking with Michael Ryder and Lucic and racking up enough points to give Boston scoring threats on all three top lines. The B’s are 19-0-1 when Krejci scores a goal and an amazing 38-2-5 when the puck magician registers even a single point. Pretty simple formula: Krejci ends up on the scoresheet and the B’s are a Pete Sheppard-lock for victory.
|Rangers and B’s in the first round would be a “true grit” test||04.04.09 at 5:37 pm ET|
The eventual outcome, the low scores on both sides and keen attention to detail, two of the best goaltenders in all of the Eastern Conference at the top of their goal-saving games, Sean Avery’s antics in the third period, the measured and disciplined defensive tone, and the undeniable buzz created by the classic ”sibling city rivalry” between Gotham City and the Hub.
All of these factors were on display in Boston’s 1-0 win over a desperate New York Rangers team at the Garden on Saturday afternoon, and they’ll surely be front and center if the current standings hold strong and these two hockey clubs square off and thrown down in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To wit: Four of the last eight games between the B’s and Blueshirts have been 1-0 games with Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist locked in classic goalie’s duels, and two of those games have been forced to shootouts for an ultimate winner and loser.
That’s how tight the series has been over the last two years, and that’s how razor-thin a potential seven-game series could be between the constantly-at-odds rival sports cities of Boston and New York. One tiny mistake in a game or the smallest sliver of space between a goaltender’s pads – like the peep hole that Blake Wheeler managed to find between King Henrik’s pads with a slap shot from the right point for the game’s only score – could be the crowning moment that tips the scales in a series of potential postseason matches between the two Original Six hockey foes.
It’s something the B’s skaters are well aware of, and will be ready for should it become an April reality.
With that in mind, B’s coach Claude Julien was intently gauging Saturday afternoon’s game as a hockey measuring stick of each team’s position with the postseason less than two weeks away. Julien came away satisfied with what he saw out on the Garden’s frozen sheet Saturday afternoon.
After playing three hard-fought games over a five day span and facing a team in the Rangers desperate to improve their pole position in the playoff race, the Spoked B skaters were able to play good, sound, fundamental defensive hockey in front of a red-hot goaltender in Tim Thomas. With defense as their bedrock, Wheeler and the B’s did just enough offensively to overthrow Lundqvist and the Blueshirts. Solid defense, superb goaltending and offense when the opportunity presents itself — it sounds like the perfect postseason cocktail.
“Today’s game was, the way it was played was no surprise for me. You’ve got a team on the other side battling to make the playoffs, playing with some desperation, so there was no way in the world we were going to run away with this game,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “This was our third game in five nights, and it’s been a pretty emotional week as well. I think the fact that we still were able to play well enough to win, we were still good enough to protect that lead, and I think those are all good signs of our team being able to play in those situations.”
The Rangers/Bruins Saturday battle is what playoff hockey is all about, and it appears that the exact kind of challenge could be setting up between two ancient hockey rivals that use D-zone responsibility and situational offense as the foundation for everything else.
Some Bruins’ players were also aware of the galvanizing effect it can have on a hockey club when every game at the end of the regular season is paramount for simple playoff survival — like the scrapping Rangers — and that kind of energetic momentum can piggyback right over into an opening round playoff series. The Black and Gold players know this because it’s exactly the kind of “Mo” train the Bruins utilized to nearly derail the top-seeded Canadiens last season.
“ I think (playing against the Rangers) in that kind of matchup it’s going to be a tight, hard forecheck with a lot of hitting,” said Patrice Bergeron. “They’re a great team with great skating and a lot of talent. If we do face them we’re going to have be ready to match that. There isn’t any one team that’s not good, but they’re coming in with a lot of emotion to make it (into the playoffs) and we would have to match that.”
The Black and Gold finally got to enjoy their just desserts this afternoon, however, when the shutout victory clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and sets up a date with one of two likely foes in the first round: the aforementioned Rangers or hated Montreal Canadiens. It appears that the Florida Panthers are sinking down into the Everglades, and Boston will face a worthy first round foe.
There aren’t many that need their playoff dossiers filled up when it comes to the hated Habs, but a postseason showdown with the Blueshirts could regularly evoke the same kind of hatred, enmity and on-ice sparks that erupted in the third period between Sean Avery and Tim Thomas. A quick recap for those that might have missed it: long after the whistle had blown and players started retreating to their respective bench for a TV timeout, Avery made his way from behind the Boston net and — with the B’s goaltender on one knee with his back turned – struck Thomas in the back of the helmet with the blade of his stick while passing by. According to Thomas, Avery did it with enough force that the fiery B’s netminder knew it was no “accident.” That hunch was confirmed when he saw Avery’s #16 skate in front of him right after the contact.
Avery turned back quickly after hitting Thomas and then headed toward center ice, but the B’s goaltender sprinted after the New York agitator with thoughts of taking a slash at the back of his legs. Thomas thought better of it, and instead gave Avery a forceful shove from behind. Then Thomas whirled around and clobbered an approaching Fredrik Sjorstrom with a right hand for good measure. Here’s incident courtesy of youtube, sure to replayed for years.
The Avery act and Thomas response resulted in matching penalties, but it also could become the playoff prelude to a sure-to-be entertaining first round showdown between the B’s and Rangers. Tim Thomas, for one, would be amped and ready for it.
“I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the win there,” said Thomas. “That’s the key. When you react, you fall a little bit into exactly what he wants you to do, but if you can react and not have it affect your game, then he didn’t do his job, and it didn’t work.”
Is Thomas ready for a potential seven game series against the Rangers where low-scoring affairs would put all the pressure his way, and Avery would be attempting to get into his head for a 60 full minutes — even during the once-sacred TV timeouts – each and every night?
“Bring it on,” said Thomas.
It’s not tough to imagine that the rest of his Bruins’ teammates feel the exact same away.
Injury Ward: Shawn Thornton, Phil Kessel and Aaron Ward all missed the game with injuries, and Andrew Ference had to leave the game in the second period after suffering an injury. Ference will be evaluated, and his status updated on Monday. The flexibility of players like Steve Montador and Matt Hunwick helped soften the blow of Ference’s injury on Saturday.
Player of the Game: After signing a four-year deal and pitching a 31-save shutout against the Rangers, Thomas had already wrapped up POTG honors, but he cinched it when he created another Tank moment by chasing after Sean Avery like some kind of rabid puck-stopper. Thomas’ spirit and abilities are a natural fit for this city and this hockey team, and he’ll need to be in the middle of the action if Boston does indeed face New York in the first round.
Goat Horns: Once again Sean Avery acts up, and once again his team leaves the Garden a loser. Bonus goat horns for Lundqvist’s postseason comments where he said that Thomas “overreacted” to the Avery cheap shot.
“He looks like a pretty strong guy. When he goes after one of our guys I have to do my job. I looked at the bench and wanted to get the ok to go over but it is a very important time,” said Lundqvist. “You don’t want to take any chances with suspensions or whatever you can get. I think he overreacted.”
Turning Point: Marc Savard was whistled for a contested cross-checking penalty following L’Affaire Thomas/Avery, and it appeared the Rangers would have a good shot of getting a point in a then 1-0 game. Instead Thomas quickly regained his composure, made a few key stops during the PP and then rode out his fifth shutout of the season.
|Today is a day to celebrate the greatness of Tim Thomas||at 12:09 pm ET|
There was a great deal of talk about persevering, unorthodox goaltending and his age — he’ll be 35 year of age in a matter of weeks — but Saturday morning was clearly the exact right moment to celebrate the classic American success story that is Tim Thomas.
The B’s goaltender was the son of a salesman growing up in hardscrabble Flint, Michigan — a guy that was never handed anything during his entire career and was taught work ethic and stick-to-itiveness by his parents. Not at the University of Vermont where he became an All-American goaltender, and not later on in the nine stops along his minor league/European odyssey that included stints in both the Finnish and Swedish Elite Leagues along with traditional minor league stops like the ECHL and the defunct Colonial Hockey League.
It’s about a goaltender that’s fit well within the long, storied tradition of Bruins goaltenders from Tiny Thompson to Andy Moog and Pete Peeters. After recently watching the Original Six History of the Bruins DVD and being reintroduced to so many great B’s goalies from the past, it was clear that Thomas is now up in that pantheon with the rest of the Black and Gold puckstopping legends. The fact that he didn’t crack the NHL until after the age of 30 will just another part of his legendary story.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli admitted that he had a bit of a preconceived idea about Thomas’ ultimate ceiling in terms of talent prior to coming to Boston, but that changed when he saw the netminder’s high-wire acrobatic act between the pipes on a nightly basis. Instead of grading out a goalie that was constantly out of position and seemed to always be scrambling for a recovery, he saw an incredible athlete that could just flat out perform his No. 1 duty guarding the B’s cage: stop the puck.
“When we talk about the Tim Thomas story, we talk about perseverance over a long period of time, we talk about a long journey, and we talk about an unorthodox , hybrid style,” said Chiarelli. “But what sometimes gets lost is his uncanny ability to stop the puck. That’s why we’ve extended him.”
That second impression culminated in a four-year contract for a reported $20 million that Thomas made official on Friday, and talked about along with Chiarelli — the man that was playing point during the long negotiations – on Saturday morning prior to the Bruins/Rangers tilt.
Chiarelli admitted that Thomas’ age (he’ll turn 39 in the final days of the four-year pact) was a consideration, but that two things mitigated his status as a bit of a middle-aged goalie: there are many goalies still close to their puck-stopping primes in their mid-to-late 30′s and Thomas is relatively fresh after not entering the NHL grind until he had already crossed the 30 years-old threshold. In Chiarelli’s eyes, paying all those dues in Europe and the minors are now benefitting the “Tank.”
“I’m very happy to be staying in Boston for the next four years,” said Thomas, who is leading the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.11 and a save percentage of .932 and putting the finishing touches on a Vezina Trophy-worthy season. “With free agency potentially coming up this summer, you think about whether you’d rather play somewhere else or you’d rather stay in Boston. After weighing things over and over, the answer always kept coming back to ‘Boston’.
“I’m very happy that this is done, and I think I’ve done a really good job of just concentrating on hockey throughout the year, even knowing that we’ve had our talks off and on,” added Thomas, who then went out and tossed his 12th career NHL shutout against the Rangers later on Saturday afternoon. “This gives me a 100 percent chance to just focus on hockey and leave the rest of the stuff (behind).”
Chiarelli said that the team faces some difficult decisions to make over the summer when Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick are all restricted free agents and P.J. Axelsson also finds his contract up. There’s a near certainty that at least one big contract will need to be moved in the summer months amid an uncertain salary cap situation, and Chiarelli didn’t shy away from that part of his managerial duties. There could be a painful trade or two coming down the line because of the salary cap situation, but that’s another story for another day.
Yesterday was about Thomas.
“This is our job,” said Chiarelli. “We have to figure out the puzzle, we have to make decisions. I’d like to sign everyone, but we have to make decisions over the summer and look at the performance of our players. Then we do the math.
“We’ve been doing the math ever since I’ve come here and that’s a large part of the job,” added the B’s decision-maker. “What is important to the organization is that we have terrific goaltending for a long time, and sometimes you have to put side the math — not completely — and make the decisions like we did with Tim.”
Thomas will continue answering all the questions that dog him when the playoffs begin in a matter of weeks, but yesterday was one of those few days when the B’s goalie could kick up his skates and have a little pride at a moment that proved he has truly arrived.
|Thomas: The answer kept coming back Boston||at 9:53 am ET|
The Bruins made it official on Saturday morning by announcing a four-year contract extension for goaltender Tim Thomas, worth a reported $20 million.
“I’m very happy to be staying in Boston for the next four years knowing that with free agency coming up potentially this summer, you have to think about would you rather go somewhere else or would you rather stay in Boston and after thinking things over, the answer kept coming back, Boston,” Thomas said.
The news conference was held at TD Banknorth Garden, some four hours before Boston’s scheduled matinee with the New York Rangers. If the Bruins win, they clinch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference for the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
More from Thomas, as he expressed satisfaction while wanting to maintain focus on the season.
“To a certain extent there is,” Thomas said of the satisfaction factor. “To another extent, we’re in the middle of the season, we have a game at one o’clock today so I haven’t really let it sink in. To a certain extent, I’m just going to focus on day-by-day and game-by-game who we’re playing. I think that’s the way to approach this.
“I don’t this is anytime to sit back and pat yourself too much on the back. I think it’s more, ‘Hey, we have a lot more to accomplish that we could accomplish this year.’ And I’m looking forward to making a push at achieving those accomplishments,” he added.
General manager Peter Chiarelli decided to invest a reported $20 million over four years in his goaltender, who
could wind up winning the Vezina Trophy for top netminder in the league.
“What sometimes gets lost in the translation is the uncanny ability to stop the puck,” Chiarelli said of Thomas’ 2.11 goals against and .932 save percentage this season, both of which lead the NHL. “And Tim has shown that with all the other things and that’s why we’ve extended him for a long time and we’re excited to have him on board.
“When we talk about the Tim Thomas story, we talk about perseverance over a long period time, we talk about a long journey and we talk about an unorthodox and hybrid style, so to speak.”
Part of the journey for Thomas includes sacrifice, like giving back half of his signing bonus or $75,000 to the Edmonton Oilers back in 1998 so he could play in Europe, before returning to the NHL and the Bruins for the 2002-03 season.
“That’s a good investment, though,” chimed in Chiarelli. “The rate of return on that is pretty good.”
|Bruins announce Thomas contract, Saturday press conference||04.03.09 at 5:44 pm ET|
The Boston Bruins officially announced the signing of Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas to a multi-year contract this afternoon, and both Thomas and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli will hold a 10 a.m. press conference at the TD Banknorth Garden prior to the Bruins/Rangers afternoon game.
Multiple hockey sources confirmed that the deal is at least three years in length, and will pay the 35-year-old an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $5 million. The Boston Globe reported on Friday that it’s a four-year contract worth a total of $20 million for Thomas. The two-time All-Star goalie is currently the league leader in both Goals Against Average (2.11) and Save Percentage (.932), and is a favorite for the Vezina Trophy. He established a new career high in wins with 33 and has helped lead the Bruins to their first 50-win season since 1992-93.
Thomas’ first words about the new deal are expected to come on Comcast SportsNet’s Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight as the B’s goalie will be a guest with Mike Felger and Gary Tanguay on the early 6:30 p.m. edition of the Friday show.
|A good day for Thomas, but what about the B’s?||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.
|Tuukka Rask goes ballistic after losing shootout at Providence||03.21.09 at 2:03 pm ET|
Fantastic meltdown by Providence Bruins goaltender, and 22-year-old wonderboy Bruins prospect, Tuukka Rask after losing a 1-0 shootout to the Albany River Rats at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence last night. Rask had an issue with a pair of goals during the shootout session, and proceeded to slam his paddle against the crossbar and the boards before tossing a crate in a fit of pique out onto the ice in exasperation.
The first appears to be a shot that he had saved and play had stopped before the Albany skater popped the puck into the net, and the second shot appeared to ring off the post — but was also called a goal by the AHL officials.
We’ve heard — and seen — strong evidence of Tim Thomas and famous competitive temper when things don’t go his way in the game of hockey, but Rask had seemed like a pretty mild-mannered netminder. Until last night, that is, courtesy of footage from www.abc6.comvia youtube.
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