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Thomas: The answer kept coming back Boston 04.04.09 at 9:53 am ET
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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.

‘€œWhat 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.

‘€œWhen 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.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, NHL, Tim Thomas,
Bruins announce Thomas contract, Saturday press conference 04.03.09 at 5:44 pm ET
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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.

Read More: Gary Tanguay, Mike Felger, Tim Thomas,
A good day for Thomas, but what about the B’s? at 10:04 am ET
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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.

Read More: David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Tim Thomas,
Tuukka Rask goes ballistic after losing shootout at Providence 03.21.09 at 2:03 pm ET
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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.

Read More: Providence Bruins, Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
Sounds of the game… Kings 3, Bruins 2 OT 03.19.09 at 10:29 pm ET
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One could make the case that the Bruins didn’t see Thursday night’s self-destruction coming.

But talk to the players themselves following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden and they will tell you that if they didn’t see the writing on the wall, they certainly felt the trembling beneath their skates.

Earlier in the season, a two-goal lead heading into the third period was money in the bank. The Bruins are quickly turning into AIG. Entering Thursday night, they were 32-2-2 when leading after two periods. Even more impressively, they were 19-1-2 with a 2-0 lead.

But the Bruins had two golden opportunities to make it 3-0 and couldn’t on two power plays midway through the second.

The Kings scored early in the third and all of sudden things began to change.

Tim Thomas, though, said afterward that while Michael Handzus’ goal on the power play was big at 9:50 of the third period, it was the inability to put that third marker on the board that came back to haunt the Bruins.

“When they scored the first one, it changed even more. But I think the momentum had changed even before that,” Thomas said. “We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them.”

But Thomas’ next statement about protecting a third period lead is FAR more telling about the state of mind the Bruins have right now and what they need to address come playoff time.

‘€œEarlier this season we just knew we were going to win when were in that situation,” Thomas said. “I think now we still believe we’€™re going to win but it’€™s not like a 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It’s not 100 percent confidence.’€

Then there’s their head coach. Claude Julien hasn’t minced words or treaded lightly all season. He wasn’t about to start after this loss.

‘€œWe’€™re going to have to start outworking the other team and our best players are going to have to start finding their game,’€ Julien said. ‘€œOur power play was totally flat tonight. If anything, our (penalty kill) had better chances tonight.’€

Ouch.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Kings, NHL, Tim Thomas
Sounds of the game… Bruins 2, Islanders 1 03.14.09 at 4:07 pm ET
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Anyone who watched Phil Kessel play the first half of this season knows how integral he was to the success of the Bruins.

His coach took the occasion of his 30th goal on Saturday during Boston’s 2-1 win over the Islanders to remind him of just that.

“He’s what you saw tonight, a game-breaker,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Phil is the type of player that, when he’s on his game with his speed, his shot, his skill level, he can certainly be a game-breaker type of player.

And everyone in the Will McDonough Press Room at the Garden knew there was a ‘but’ coming.

“Having said that, when he doesn’t compete the way he’s been competing the way he’s been competing lately, he’s a player that doesn’t bring as much to the table,” Julien continued. “This is what you need from guys like Phil, and from young players, to be able to develop into being better players, bringing a compete level, night-in and night-out.”

Talk about laying it on the line and not mincing words. Julien clearly wants his team to be ready for April, May and hopefully beyond. And he realizes he needs his young talented players to be prepared for the intensity that awaits them.

Kessel, who became the first Bruins 30-goal scorer since teammate Patrice Bergeron scored 31 in 2005-06, scored No. 30  and Boston’s first goal in the first period. Then, just 65 seconds later, he fed a beautiful pass to Marc Savard for the second Bruins goal.

‘€œIt’€™s a nice milestone,” Kessel said of reaching 30 goals. “(I have) a lot to attribute to my teammates and the linemates I’€™ve been playing with this year. They find me quite a bit, so I’€™m fortunate to be playing with some good hockey players this year.’€

Another milestone came in the form of Tim Thomas‘ 30th win, matching his career best of 06-07. Julien said it was nice to see Thomas back in form on Saturday.

Other audio nuggets from Saturday.

Julien still wants his team to compete better for 60 minutes.

Julien said the Bruins started well and then held on.

Tim Thomas said killing the Islanders’ 5-on-3 power play in the third was key.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said the Bruins regrouped after a very sluggish second.

Read More: Bruins, Islanders, NHL, Phil Kessel
Capitals capture season series with another win over B’s 02.28.09 at 6:37 pm ET
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Watching the Washington Capitals take three of four games from the Bruins during their season series — albeit all of them except for the first being one-goal games — has to have the Black and Gold concerned about getting past the high-wattage Caps in any potential playoff series.

The Washington bunch once again played the B’s with the right amount of grittiness, used their dazzlingly high-powered PP unit to pop in a pair of power play strikes and then took advantage of a rare Tim Thomas softie in a 4-3 overtime defeat of the Spoked B in a battle of Eastern Conference titans. The game was played before a playoff-style atmosphere at the TD Banknorth Garden on Saturday afternoon, but left Bruins Nation what might happen when/if the two teams find their fates intertwined a few months from now.

The Caps’ victory highlighted their three wins in four games against the Bruins this season, and — while it wasn’t quite the dominant fashion that the Montreal Canadiens used to hand out losses to the B’s during last year’s torture chamber of a season series — the visiting hockey club exited Boston’s frozen sheet with the logical reasoning that they could take down the first place B’s in a potential winner-take-all playoff series.

Alex Ovechkin finished with one goal on the day — a typical whistling wrister that he snapped off quickly to beat Tim Thomas in the second period – and brazenly proclaimed after the game that “we can beat the (Bruins)”. In Ovechkin, Washington has that one dynamic, hard-hitting superstar capable of either completely destroying a skater in the treacherous corner or rifling a wrist shot top shelf against a snoozing defense. He’s the kind of player that could easily be a difference-maker in a seven games playoff series once the puck tournament begins.

The Caps also offer a bevy of talented, top-shelf offensive talent around their Russian superstar with the likes of record-breaking D-man Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Kozlov all chipping in offensively, and making up perhaps the star-studded PP unit in the NHL.

It’s exactly the kind of hockey squad that will test the discipline, mettle and defensive will limits of the Bruins should both Eastern Conference top seeds win out and face each other in a late May ice war for Stanley Cup Finals rights. It was easy to spot the on-ice focus of both teams, hear the frothy booing of Ovechkin each time he touched the puck and then close your eyes and envision these two teams tangling again in a late spring battle royale on the frozen sheet — a series that the B’s will have to tighten up and fly right in if they hope to improve on losing 3-of-4 and getting outscored 11-8 by the Caps.

“Every game against them we got a point, so it’s good for us,” said Ovechkin. “It’s good for us because we can tell that we can beat them. It doesn’t matter if you’re first or second (place in the Eastern Conference). They still play great. I think it’s all about us. We just need to play our game, our system and we can beat everybody.”

B’s coach Claude Julien has obviously taken a front row seat to this production before, and watched the Black and Gold snap Montreal’s spell last year once the postseason began. The young and hungry B’s pushed the top-rated Habs to the brink of elimination in a hard-fought seven game series that truly forged this year’s edition of the Spoked B. So rather than fearing a potent Washington group that seems to own their regular season number, the B’s bench boss sees a pair of closely matched teams that simply played four extremely tight hockey games during the season. If they meet again in the playoffs, all bets are off and Julien flatly states that the Capitals are far from “in their heads”.

“We’re the top two teams in our conference,” said Julien. “I’ve heard them say that they think they’re in our heads, and they do a lot of talking. They obviously don’t do a lot of research, because as I mentioned, I don’t think they really rattled us last year against Montreal when it came to playoff time. Totally different things. They were one goal games and could have gone either way. If anything, it’s two good teams going at each other, but by all means I don’t think they scare us at this point.”

Both teams are a long way off from punching up the conference finals tickets, but it could be one hell of a series if Ovechkin comes calling again with his gap-filled smile during the merry hockey month of May.

Injury Ward: Milan Lucic sat out the game with an upper body injury suffered against the Anaheim Ducks. Marc Savard and Blake Wheeler both played through injuries also suffered during that physical grudge match against the Ducks, and Savard said he’s okay “but not 100 percent”.

Player of the Game: Matt Hunwick, in a brilliant move by Julien, was pushed up to the first line wing in place of Lucic, and responded with a speedy skating presence that produced a goal and an assist. Hunwick had the aforementioned goal and an assist, was a +2 for the afternoon and provided an offensive spark along with defensive responsibility. Not bad for a natural defenseman pushed into an emergency role for the day. Savard said that skating on the same line with Hunwick reminded him of playing with the smooth-skating and skilled Marco Sturm.

“I thought there was a chance I might play forward but obviously the last time I did I was playing on the fourth line and tonight I was playing on Savvy’€™s line,” said Hunwick. “It wasn’€™t something I was expecting coming in here today, but it was a lot of fun to be out there with those guys.”

Goat Horns: It’s too bad because Tim Thomas was brilliant in many portions of the hockey game and stoned the Caps on several breakaway bids, but losing in overtime on an 80-foot dump-in shot by Alexander Semin is pretty tough to wrap the hockey brain around. Thomas said that the puck sailed a bit on him as it approached the net, but he didn’t offer any excuses for simply not stopping the long shot.

“That last goal was a bad goal, and he can say all the things that happened with the puck, but the bottom line is, you should tell yourself, ‘€˜I should have had it, I didn’€™t have it, turn the page, and let’€™s move on,’ said Julien. “He’€™s given us too much to be worried about the negatives, and he’€™s been far much better than he’€™s been the other way.”

Turning Point: So many to choose from, but the Bruins undisciplined play led the high-powered Capitals PP attack to tally a pair of power play strikes in the first and third periods. That would be culprit number one when a big portion of Boston’s game plan was to stay out of the box against the Caps. Washington entered the game ranked third in the NHL in terms of power play success and are 13 for 25 in first period PP opportunities over their last 14 games.

“We kept going in the box.  Like I said they’€™ve got too many skilled guys there to let them be on the power play,” said Savard, who took a hooking penalty that led to Washington’s first goal. “Their power play stays out there for two minutes and they move the puck pretty well.  You know, if we see these guys down the road, we’€™ll have to take that into account again.”

Read More: Alex Ovechkin, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc Savard
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