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?

Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

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Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

BRIGHTON -- It’s easy to see that Jakub Zboril , one of the Bruins' 2015 first-round pick, has come a long way in a year.

“I feel more comfortable,” said Zboril. “After last year, when all of the people saying something about what they didn’t like about me, it really pushed me forward. I told myself I wanted to be in better shape and so I worked really hard at it.”

The 19-year-old wasn’t in very good shape for last season's training camp after coming back from a knee injury, and that carried over into a junior season for the Saint John Sea Dogs (6 goals and 20 points in 50 games). That was a drop from his 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games prior to hearing his name called by the B’s on draft night.

Zboril was back at peak effectiveness in the playoffs for the Sea Dogs with a couple of goals and 10 points in 17 games, but the chain of events caused some to wonder if the Bruins had drafted something of a bust.

It seems ludicrous, considering Zboril is a 19-year-old talented enough to be selected 13th overall in the entire NHL draft, and even more so now that he’s showing much more in his second camp with Boston. It was some good and some bad for Zboril in his preseason debut against Columbus on Monday with a misplay leading to a goal against, but Zboril also kicked off the transition pass that helped the Bruins score their first goal of game.

“From last year I think he’s made big strides,” said assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “He’s a young kid that’s only 19 years old, and he’s going to keep getting better. So that’s what you want. The structure in his game and the overall attitude [is better]. He was a little young last year. He’s in better shape. He’s done a lot of things that we got on him for last year, and he’s taken it and listened, he’s working hard. He’s done a good job.”

It’s a long shot for Zboril to crack the B’s roster this fall, so he’s likely headed back to Saint John for another junior hockey season after watching fellow prospect Thomas Chabot get a lot of the No. 1 D-man playing time last season. He quickly shot down any possibilities of playing in Europe rather than going back to the Quebec Major Junior League, and said there could still be plenty to learn in his final junior season.

“Right now where I am, I can just learn from myself and pushing myself,” said Zboril, of going back to junior. “What I can take from last year is that my role on the team changed, and I had to be more of a shutdown D. I had to show my defensive abilities, so I improved a lot from the year before. I think I can be more of a defensive defenseman too, so there’s that.”

Still, the so-so season last year had its impact in a positive fashion with Zboril really stepping up his game. But it’s also had its drawbacks as the Czech-born defenseman was forced to deactivate his Twitter account because of the harsh criticism and messages he was getting from hockey fans. Disappointingly, Zboril said most of it was coming from people in Boston that claim to be Bruins fans, and that it was like “people just spitting on you.”

“It was really pushing me down a lot,” said Zboril. “After some games when you know you weren’t playing really good, then you go on Twitter and you just see . . . people just spitting on you. So I had to delete it.”

Zboril said he’s much happier since getting off social media. But it’s a shame that a bright young prospect’s first impression of his future NHL city was the flaming dumpster of keyboard warriors that should forever be known as “Bruins Hockey Twitter.”

Wednesday, Sept. 28: Ex-Bruin Ruzicka in hot water

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Wednesday, Sept. 28: Ex-Bruin Ruzicka in hot water

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while fully ensconced in the Bruins' second exhibition game, on tap for tonight. 
 
-- It’s awesome to see Wayne Gretzky back in the mix with the NHL, and serving as “official ambassador” for the NHL’s centennial celebration. 
 
-- Tough times for former Bruins forward and former Czech national coach Vladimir Ruzicka, who was fined for some shady, fraudulent activity

-- Andrew Shaw announced his presence in Montreal with authority. The only thing missing from this WWE-type performance was a Hulkster hand to his ear before the threw a punch. 
 
-- A sad column from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Donnie Brennan, who says it’s time for Clarke MacArthur to retire after all the concussions. I remember writing the exact same thing about Marc Savard five or six years ago before he ultimately took one last big hit and retired. 
 
-- It sounds like old friend Vladimir Sobotka is going to stick in the KHL, and isn’t coming back to the St. Louis Blues as many suspected. 
 
-- For something completely different: A pretty fun Lyft commercial featuring David Ortiz, but how the hell did these people not recognize him?