Thomas and the B's: A tale of triumph, controversy. . . and relief

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Thomas and the B's: A tale of triumph, controversy. . . and relief

Whether or not the Bruins ever receive that second-round pick from the New York Islanders in exchange for the final contracted year of Tim Thomas services, the trade sending him to Long Island is a tape-measure home run for Boston.

By convincing Isles GM Garth Snow to take on Thomas as an asset with a 5 million salary-cap hit whether or not he ever plays again, Peter Chiarelli took care of business on a number of fronts while closing out the Tim Thomas Story in Boston.

First, and most importantly, the Bruins have unloaded 5 million. When Marc Savards 4 million is stashed away on Long Term Injured Reserve due to his continued concussion problems, the B's should have close to 12 million in cap space for potential trade acquisitions between now and the April 4 trade deadline.

Theres nothing imminent, of course, but Chiarelli didnt want Thomas' contract hindering any potential deals. In addition, the move builds in some savings toward next years reduced salary cap.

I talked before about being proactive, and we felt that this would give us flexibility immediately said Chiarelli. We dont know how many players (will be on the market as the deadline approaches) and when these players will be available. It will give us flexibility immediately and it gave us the ability to hedge on the bonus cushion, which, if they exceed a certain amount, eats into next years cap. Next years cap is important to us.

So what will be the Bruins be potentially shopping for on the open market? It will depend on how the next two months play out with injuries and player performances, but the Bruins could clearly use more depth when it comes to wingers with a prototypical sizeskill package. Think somebody like Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla, who is in the final year of his deal with the Flames and will be searching for a Stanley Cup contender when he's finally, mercifully cut loose from a sinking ship in Calgary.

But those are deep thoughts and flights of fancy for another day months from now.

In the here and now, dealing Thomas away finally closes the book, locally, on the two-time Vezina Trophy winner and ends all the questions about his relationship with the Bruins. Those queries actually kicked up briefly in Montreal on Wednesday when some Habs reporters approached players and coaches and asked if Thomas quirky antics were missed within the Boston dressing room.

The trade effectively ends all those questions and throws complete organizational support behind Tuukka Rask, who's off to a 6-1-1 start in his first eight games.

But it also allows the Bruins, finally, to put Thomas' career in Boston in perspective.

Tim can be a character and he can also be principled on a lot of different fronts. But I can tell you he was a heck of a goaltender, said Chiarelli. He helped us, greatly, win a Cup.

Id liken him sometimes to that left-handed pitcher that is a little quirky, but throws 200-plus innings and wins 18 to 20 games a year."

Chiarelli -- who declined to speculate on whether the bridges between goaltender and team were completely burned -- said he never talked to the players about Thomas potentially returning at some point this season.

"I dont know how it would have played out had he returned, because we never got to that point."

It never got to that point because Thomas was never going to play another game for the Boston Bruins. He was persona non grata in the organization after skipping the White House celebration last January and posting a series of political messages on Facebook that served as a big honking distraction in the second half of last year.

Thomas hasnt made an official comment to anyone since opting to sit out the entire season, and that doesnt seem likely to change anytime soon. That leaves plenty of discussion about his legacy within the Bruins, and the inevitable conclusion that the Tim Thomas Story is a two-part series.

The first story is a triumphant rags-to-riches tale, straight out of a Horatio Alger novel. A young scrappy kid from Flint, Michigan, works tirelessly toward his dream of being an NHL goaltender. He makes it, at last, at age 30. He becomes first an All-Star, then a Vezina Trophy winner, and finally a Stanley CupConn Smythe winner . . . and a household hockey name in the process.

That Tim Thomas story ends with the goalie as a New England folk hero and a Boston sports icon who will never again have to pick up the tab for a beer in the City of Champions if Thomas ever wants to throw back a beer in Boston again.

I know that we dont win the Cup without him, reiterated Chiarelli. He was a character here, was a terrific goalie, was a great story and he had some interesting side stories that became distractions at times. I had to manage this stuff, but I cant stray from the fact that
this guy won two Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe and was terrific when we won the Cup.

The second Tim Thomas story is a fall-from-grace tragedy with a couple of hard-headed political decisions that cast a self-destructive shadow on the feel-good story. Nobody forced Thomas to make the personal choices that led to his departure from Boston and eventually turned the Bruins goalie into a puck-stopping punch line.

There were a lot of issues with Thomas that really never came up before, for me at least in managing," said Chiarelli. "Looking back it was interesting and you have to kind of look at it quite differently than the conventional way. I dont know how many times I engaged with Tim on the actual principles of his beliefs, but ultimately it turned into that at times . . . Hes a smart guy."

Smart guys are sometimes their own worst enemies, and so it was with Tim Thomas. Hopefully he's an All-Star performer in the roles of husband, father and friend as he takes the time off from the NHL to -- as he said he was doing when he announced he wouldn't return to Boston -- focus on those relationships.

Hopefully, Thomas does decide to come back to the world of hockey while he still has the athleticism and skill to play the game.

Because getting dealt away from the Bruins to the NHL's version of Siberia for salary cap floor considerations doesnt sound like the proper ending to the Tim Thomas Story, does it?

Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

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Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

The improvement plan has become as clear as it’s going to be for the Bruins this offseason.

With Bruins general manager Don Sweeney locking up Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million deal this week and vowing to sign Torey Krug as well, the Bruins defensemen corps is going to look awfully similar to last season’s misbegotten group.

Almost identical, it would seem.

Sure, Sweeney said on Wednesday that the Bruins are actively seeking out “a transitional defenseman” that’s presumably a little better than 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles, and can be paired with Zdeno Chara as a top duo for next season. It’s the No. 1 priority on the Bruins offseason shopping list just as it was last season once they shipped Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks and were instead saddled with a fearsome, crippling black hole at the top of their organizational D-man charts.

The trade market has been set to a degree by the Erik Gudbranson trade from the Florida Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with Jim Benning giving up a Grade-A center prospect in Jared McCann, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in exchange for the 24-year-old top-four defenseman. Per a hockey source with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins were not involved in any talks for the towering Gudbranso. It sounded like the Panthers and Canucks were pretty locked in with each other on making a deal.

That’s an unfortunate product of Boston not being able to match up with the available center prospect that might have interested Florida and having dealt some of those 2016 draft picks on fruitless deadline rental deals for Lee Stempniak and Liles.

So, how difficult will it be to land Kevin Shattenkirk, or Jacob Trouba, or Sami Vatanen, or Tyson Barrie, or any other mobile blueliner able to play big minutes, move pucks and survive against the other team’s best offensive players while being sheltered defensively by Zdeno Chara?

“Time will tell on that one, you know? Either through free agency or through acquisition, it’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace. We’re going to be aggressive,” said Sweeney. “We certainly have identified, we had our pro meetings … I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you today. But we have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization more likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again on the backend. We’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”

The Bruins had better hope it’s a miracle-working puck-mover that they bring to Boston because otherwise they are on course for bringing back the same old sorry usual suspects from last season. Miller and Adam McQuaid will be taking up a combined $5.25 million on the salary cap, Krug will have a salary in the range of $5 million per season after watching the B’s largesse in the Miller deal and both Chara and Seidenberg will trudge on as proud, aging warriors well on the back end of their careers after outstanding service in Boston.

That means many defenders, including Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, return. Defense was the clear weakness on the team, which finished 19th in the NHL after being in the bottom third of the league pretty much all season. It was inarguably the worst defensive group of Claude Julien’s 10-year tenure with the Bruins and had major difficulties in all areas ranging from tape-to-tape passes, to coverage breakdowns and good, old-fashioned lost battles in all of the danger areas.

So, with the plan to add one high-caliber “transitional defenseman” already laid out, it’s clear the B’s belief is that will be enough to substantially improve things on the ice.

At least that’s the theory before the bullets start flying next season and Sweeney gave a few perfunctory lines about the team improving in every area.  

“This is a results-oriented business, so we have to get better in areas. We have to improve our roster. I’ve said all along that we need to continue to improve our roster. We’ll be in the marketplace in every different way, shape, or form to try and acquire players that will continue to help us do so,” said Sweeney. “Talking with Claude and going over the time he spent with Butch [Cassidy], through my dealings with Butch, and realizing the development of a lot of the players that have been a part of our roster and success is the transition game and stuff that Butch has brought to the table.

“[It’s] how he saw the game, how he expects players to play and move pucks and work on it every day, is an area that I think he’s going to be an addition to our [coaching] staff and how he sees the game. I think I identified that if Butch was playing in this day and age now, he’d be a very welcome addition to our roster.”

So that’s the plan, folks. The big move of the summer is getting a defenseman they badly need, filling in a few roster spots, signing a good deal of their own players and then hoping for a better result next time around.

Isn’t there some kind of line about insanity and expecting different results with the same cast of characters year in and year out? 

 

Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

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Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while still laughing at the #TeamFrich movement.

*Dave Lozo says that the decision by Mike Sullivan to play Marc-Andre Fleury could still come back to haunt the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Miracle on Ice goaltender Jim Craig marvels at the evolution of USA Hockey from the Miracle days to the current system that just keeps on producing top talent.

*Mike from Woburn hates the Kevan Miller contract almost as much as I do.

*Speaking of the Kevin Miller deal, here’s a scenario where the big overpay for Miller might help them land another talented young player.

*In other hockey news, the Vancouver Canucks landed legitimate top-4 defenseman Erik Gudbranson while the ink was drying on the Kevan Miller contract.

*Chris Phillips is expected to announce his retirement from the Ottawa Senators after a long career in Ottawa as a defensive warrior.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough says some tough decisions await the St. Louis Blues after dropping the conference finals to the San Jose Sharks.

*The San Jose media has decreed that it was worth spending a first-round pick for Martin Jones after he helped carry them to the Cup Final. For the Bruins it means that their first round pick will be No. 29 or No. 30 in the first round, so whoop-de-do for that.

*For something completely different: 21 scientists say that Tom Brady is right and the NFL is wrong about Deflategate.