Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? This kind of sacrilegious speculative talk leads to the immediate removal of hockey blogger licenses, and for Canadian bloggers a banishment to a country with no known hockey rink (Morocco?)
Yes, the mere suggestion of the above headline right now goes beyond the absurd. We’re not even one month removed from the conclusion of a playoff run in which Tim Thomas was the driving force behind Boston’s championship, and especially in the Stanley Cup final. Timmay won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Vezina while shutting out the Canucks twice in the final, capping off a year in which his regular season save percentage of .938 set an NHL record.
That’s why aggressively shopping the central figure in Boston’s first championship since 1972 would turn an NHL general manager into a Playstation general manager. But doing the exact opposite could still have the same effect.
There’s no reason why right now, as teams face a barren free agency market on the goalie front, Peter Chiarelli shouldn’t at least be listening to offers for Thomas if they happen to land on his desk.
So please, just stay with us for a moment before unleashing your fists of fury and consulting your keyboard reassembly manual.
One year ago at this time there was legitimate buzz around this conversation. That probably has something to do with the phenomenal season Thomas began in October, but we’re just guessing. After the confetti settled on Boston’s victory parade and there was a few moments for sober reflection, Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston talked to Chiarelli.
The Bruins GM confirmed a heavily circulated rumour during the previous summer. He said that Thomas was indeed considered to be somewhat serious trade bait, and he was taking calls.
“There were some calls and I kept him in the loop at all times. He kept stressing he didn’t want to leave. I said, ‘I know. Let’s just look at his options very briefly.’ I know there were a lot of stories that flowed from it, but I can’t stress enough the fact that Tim never wanted to leave.”I wouldn’t be doing my job if I at least didn’t look at some things, and I did. You go through those things, on a number of fronts on a number of players.”
The decision now looks like an easy one, but in those hazy times of June and July of 2010, the Bruins’ goaltending situation was far from clear. Thomas’ no-trade clause that lingers until July 1, 2012 clearly complicated matters, and he had offseason hip surgery. The veteran netminder had just finished a season in which he platooned with the then 23-year-old Tuukka Rask. Both goalies posted strong numbers, but Rask’s 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage were superior.
Fast forward one year, and the decision to move Thomas and ask him to waive his NTC is either much easier, or far more difficult, depending on how your hockey mind operates and whether you’re driven by emotion, or realism. Regardless, Chiarelli should still be approaching his crease with an open ear.
Thomas is 37 years old with two years remaining on his current contract, and his value will never be higher. That’s the same observation Stanley Cup of Chowder made way back in November when Thomas was off to a blazing start, but still wasn’t triple crown Timmy yet. Even though the circumstances have obviously changed seven months later, one core point still rings true.
NHL players aren’t stocks.
We know Tuukka Rask can be a top 10 goaltender, and so if you can turn a hot player into an asset, and manage your salary cap, you need to do it. But from a team harmony perspective, it’s absolutely the wrong move.
Chemistry has to trump perceived player stock value at some point, and if the Bruins believe they can get two more Vezina calibre years out of Thomas, trading him remains a foolish thought. If only it was this easy though, and Chiarelli didn’t have Rask’s expiring contract to worry about.
Although he’ll be limited by his RFA status, Rask will become a free agent next summer, and will seek a raise from his current yearly cap hit of $1.25 million. Thomas dents Boston’s payroll to the tune of $5 million annually. Combine the contracts of his two goaltenders with the 10 other free agents Chiarelli will juggle next summer (a group that includes RFA David Krejci, and UFAs Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Rich Peverley, and Joe Corvo), and suddenly treating the cup hero like an asset starts to become more of a necessity.
Thomas’ astounding play has made us forget his age at times. Elite goalies who flirt with the age of 40 while still maintaining a consistent perch in the crease can begin to erode past 37. Martin Brodeur has played at a high level since his 37th birthday two years ago, but he’s also missed 66 games due to injury during that time. Dominik Hasek’s Stanley Cup during his 37th year on this planet throws a wrench into things, but has it even been proven that he’s human?
Rask is a former first round pick, and at 24 years old he’s been groomed to presumably be Boston’s future in goal. Potentially paying two goalies somewhere in the neighbourhood of a combined $8 million annually beyond 2012 isn’t ideal, and would leave Chiarelli with a heavy anchor.
Someone might have to go either in the offseason or in the build-up to the trade deadline, and it could be the formerly red-bearded saviour.
You may begin yelling now…