Changing on the Fly: Changing of the goalies

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Changing on the Fly: Changing of the goalies

This is the third in a week-long series on what the Bruins need to do this offseason. Today's entry: Is it time to say goodbye to Tim Thomas and give Tuukka Rask a chance to be the no. 1 goalie in town?

The just-concluded Bruins season may become known as the year the goaltending torch finally began passing from one netminder to the other.

Tim Thomas had a rather ordinary .922 save percentage during the season, and ranked 11th in save percentage among playoff goaltenders when the Bruins were eliminated by the Capitals. For a folk hero goalie from hardscrabble Flint, Michigan that willed himself into a Conn Smythe winner and two-time Vezina Trophy honoree, this past year was a far cry from Thomas at his award-winning best.

Add the fact hes 38 years old entering this summer and the individual stink bomb dropped on the season by skipping a White House visit in the middle of the year. Those factors combined with his 5 million cap hit may help lead to a split from his Bruins employers this summer, and a divorce from a player thats become more aging nuisance than dominant performer.

That must be weighed against the value of a motivated Thomas coming back to prove everybody wrong in Boston next season. But the bizarre separation of himself from the rest of the team in his post-Game 7 statements and his hesitating, halting answers when asked if he wants to remain a member of the Bruins belie a player that truly wants to remain in Black and Gold.

Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely, for their part, are keeping a solid, unified front stating that Thomas wont be moved before next season.

"I dont think any of us expected him to have the same numbers as he did last year. That was a world-class year. It would be really hard to expect him to have the same numbers, said Chiarelli. Were very happy with our goalies. We have two strong goalies in both Tim and Tuukka. I think a lot of teams are probably envious of what we have here. Its an area were we feel pretty comfortable.

Theres no way to tell if thats posturing for trade value or legitimate sentiment, but the feeling around the NHL is the aging netminder will be dealt over the summer.

It certainly should be explored with his no-trade protection gone as of July 1. Theres no doubting a trade market exists for the two-time Vezina winner if the Bruins are inspired to move him.

Nobody would be uttering a word of this if Thomas rose to the occasion and dominated while throwing the Bruins on his back just as he did last year.

But thats not what happened.

Instead the Bruins need to find out what 25-year-old Tuukka Rask can do when charged with a starting goaltenders workload.

Rask was 11-8-3 and finished with a better save percentage (.929) and goals against average than Thomas this season, but his lean body broke down in March when the Bruins needed him most.

That forced Thomas to play 16 games in a row down the stretch, and might have contributed to the aging goaltenders uneven performance come playoff-time. The Bruins netminder finished 11th in save percentage among the field of playoff goaltenders this year, and faltered badly in the third period of Game 5 when the Bruins could have built up a 3-2 lead in the series.

Instead Thomas coughed up a pair of soft goals, and the Bruins allowed the Capitals to hang around before eventually dropping the series in overtime of Game 7.

Questions remain whether Rask can be a franchise goaltender capable of playing 60 games a season. Those will never be answered as long as Thomas remains in the picture with Boston, and is effectively - and unintentionally - blocking Tuukkas full development.

So whats the best plan for the future?

How about dealing Thomas for the top-nine forward that Chiarelli is already on the search for, and using the significant, vacated cap space to chase after a big ticket free agent need like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter?

The Bruins might not get the power play-boosting sniper or PP quarterback they lust after in fair trade for a 38-year-old goaltender thats suddenly taken on a devotion to Facebook and political causes. But they would clear off enough space to give them more than 10 million in cap space to accomplish everything on their offseason check list.

That means bringing in a key free agent and signing Rask before hes allowed to dip his toes into restricted free agency over the summer.

There may be a healthy leap of faith handing the goaltending duties to a tandem of Rask and Anton Khudobin, but it could make the Bruins and their pathetic power play - better all-around in the long run. It could also blow up in Bostons face if the Bruins send him to another playoff contender, and Thomas channels his anger and hard feelings into the kind of superior hockey campaign he may still be capable of.

At a certain point, though, the Bruins have to maximize their assets and turn things over to the new generation of Bs players.

Thats the name of the game for a Bruins team hoping to once again raise the Cup in the near future.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious. 

Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

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Sweeney: 'Helpless feeling' hoping World Cup players return healthy

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s a bit of a helpless feeling for an NHL general manager watching their star players participate in an intense hockey tournament like the World Cup of Hockey that doesn’t directly benefit their respective teams.

Not helpless because of the tournament’s outcome, obviously, but helpless because players could return from Toronto dinged up, or even worse significantly injured.

Aaron Ekblad had to shut it down for Team North American with what many speculated was a concussion, and Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray is out a month, or more, with a broken hand sustained playing for the same young guns team.

So, it certainly must have been an uneasy few moments for Don Sweeney when Brad Marchand was pulled from Team Canada’s last game for the concussion protocol after a nasty-looking collision with Team Europe forward Marian Hossa.

Marchand went through the testing, and ended up returning to the game no worse for the wear. But it could have been a lot worse for a Bruins team that can’t afford to be missing Marchand, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, who are still playing for teams alive in the semifinal round of the tourney.

“I would expect all of us to have been in a similar situation. For everybody - any general manager, coaches, staff, you're concerned about [injuries],” said Sweeney, talking about the World Cup and Marchand’s close call. “I mean, especially when you realize the stakes are going to go up as the tournament goes along. The pride involved - it's a risk. There's no question, it's a risk.

“But you also want to see them play their best hockey and they're not going to hold back. Yeah, it's a definite concern. You've got your fingers and toes crossed.”

David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask have already returned to Boston fully healthy. David Backes should be joining the team anytime now after Team USA’s rude dismissal from the tournament. But Sweeney and the Bruins still have their sensors out for the three B’s players taking part that aren’t quite out of the woods yet before returning to B’s camp in one piece.