Julien: Bruins will have to 'adapt' without Thomas

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Julien: Bruins will have to 'adapt' without Thomas

While the talk this summer has largely been about most of the Boston Bruins team returning intact for next season, there is obviously one large exception in goaltender Tim Thomas.

The 38-year-old Bruins goalie is walking away from the team to spend time reconnecting with friends, faith and family out in Colorado this year, and so the goaltending duties will fall to twenty-something puck-stoppers in Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin. It wont be easy to replace a goaltender in Thomas that was the single biggest individual reason that Boston won the Cup when he nabbed the Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy during an epic run through the playoffs.

But Claude Julien was asked about the four-time All-Star goaltenders decision to forego the Bruins and the NHL this season an action Thomas has never quite confirmed in any of his cagey Facebook posts and referenced his teams endless ability to roll with adversity and absent players.

The Bruins have been without Marc Savard for the better part of two years and were able to win a Stanley Cup without their playmaking center. They made the playoffs in Juliens first season without the services of a concussed Patrice Bergeron.

Theres a precedent there for this current edition of Black and Gold players to power through missing players.

We lost a guy by the name of Marc Savard, who led our team in scoring every year. We were able to adapt. I see the absence of Thomas as a same kind of a challenge, said Julien. Theres no doubt, nobodys going to deny what Tims done here for our hockey club over the years, but weve mentioned that Tuukka is a very capable goaltender

It certainly helps the Bruins as well when a longtime prospect and goalie of the future like Rask is waiting in the wings, and the Bruins just hope he seizes the opportunity with a healthy, consistent season.

Rask has got his opportunity to showcase himself this year and I think when I saw Khudobin play -- whether it was training camp or whether it was when he was with us that game in Ottawa -- you can see a goaltender who has not only improved, but he has matured, said Julien. I honestly have a lot of confidence in our goaltending. Weve also drafted and signed a few goaltenders as well. I think our depth is there. I dont really see that as an issue. I have the confidence in what I have for goalies in front of me right now.

Rask and Khudobin have over 100 combined games of NHL experience as they ready to be Bostons goaltending tandem next season, so there should be some level of confidence in them. Rask even led the league in goals against average and save percentage three seasons ago with the Bruins.

So there are reasons for optimism, but theyll both have to prove it next season while filling up the gaping hole left by a guy that put together one of the greatest seasons of all-time two years ago.

Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

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Miller 'blessed for the opportunity' to remain with Bruins

To the surprise of pretty much nobody, Kevan Miller was ecstatic with the four year, $10 million contract extension handed to him by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday afternoon. The 28-year-old is a hard-hitting, big and strong defenseman in the Bruins mold, and has proven he can be a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL over the last three seasons of steady improvement.

So Miller was happy to keep things going with the Bruins and spend his prime years playing for the only NHL organization he’s known since signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Vermont.

“I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Jacobs family, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins organization. I’m truly blessed for this opportunity and I’m very thankful. I’d like to also say thank you to my family, my friends – they’ve all helped me get to this point,” said Miller, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “Boston is a great city to play in, and we have the best fans in the NHL. I’m very thankful to them as well.

“I love playing here; it’s an honor to put that jersey on before every game. I feel my style of play fits in well here. I’m really looking forward to helping this [Bruins] team get back into the playoffs and reach our ultimate goal, and win a Stanley Cup.”

On the plus side of the ledger, Miller skated in a career-high 71 games last season and established career highs in goals (five), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53) while posting the second-best plus/minus rating on the team with a plus-15. Miller topped 19 minutes of ice time per game and played top pairing D-man minutes with Zdeno Chara for much of the season without another viable candidate able to step up into that spot.

On the minus side, Miller has had shoulder problems and concussion issues in his recent past while missing healthy portions of time in just about every season of his pro hockey career. He will be overpaid at $2.5 million per season if he turns into nothing more than a 5-6 defenseman for the Bruins, and it’s hard to imagine Miller ever truly flourishing as a top-4 defenseman given the body of work over the last two seasons.

Nevertheless, Miller hopes to keep improving at an NHL age (28) where you are pretty much a finished product on the ice.

“Everyone’s always trying to improve their game. As you can see, the NHL is changing every year, whether it gets faster here or there. But the game changes a lot and you have to be able to go along with that, and change your game in different ways,” said Miller. “I’m going to stay true to how I play, but I think there are areas where I can improve on, that I will improve on. I’m looking forward to it.”

Given the relatively rich contract that Miller will enjoy over the next four seasons, the Bruins are banking on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defenseman improving as he goes in Boston as well. 

Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

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Bruins sign Kevan Miller to four-year, $10 million deal

BOSTON -- The Bruins locked up a piece to a blue line that was godawful last season in announcing they’d signed Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million contract.

They also retained one of their own young restricted free agents, center Seth Griffith, by reaching agreement on a one-year, two-way deal with an NHL value of $625,000 per season.

Miller, 28, played in a career-high 71 games last season -- his third with the Bruins -- and established career highs in goals (5), assists (13), points (18) and penalty minutes (53). He also posted the second-best plus/minus rating on the team (plus-15) and generally seemed to be playing his best hockey down the stretch.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Miller was also forced into playing 19:04 of ice time per night while oftentimes serving as a top-pair D-man alongside Zdeno Chara. That resulted in a high number of mistakes and turnovers at critical times against the opposition’s best offensive players.

The rugged, hardnosed Miller obviously isn’t going to be judged solely by the numbers. He's also evaluated by the big hits, blocked shots and air of intimidation in the defensive zone. That said, a four-year contract is a bit of a head-scratcher, given that Miller wasn’t expected to command that kind of deal as an unrestricted free agent on the open market.

That four-year deal, which carries a yearly cap hit of $2.5 million, would also seem to hint at the impending exodus of Adam McQuaid or Dennis Seidenberg, or both, given the number of limited stay-at-home defensemen on the roster now making decent NHL money.  

The bottom line: Miller’s contract will be a good one if he can settle into a steady, top-four role. But it will be another overpay if he winds up being the bottom-pairing D-man many see him as at the NHL level.

Griffith had 24 goals and 53 assists for 77 points in 57 games for the Providence Bruins last season, and also had an assist in four games for Boston. He'll get another chance this year to compete for one of the winger jobs at the NHL level with plenty of competition.