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.

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

The Coyotes have hired former player Craig Cunningham as a pro scout, keeping the 26-year-old in hockey after a cardiac episode ended his playing career this season. 

Drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Cunningham played 34 games for Boston over parts of two seasons before he was waived and claimed by Arizona. He totaled 19 games for the Coyotes, but served as captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team’s AHL affiliate. 

Cunningham was hospitalized after he collapsed during pregame warmups on Nov. 19. He was kept alive by continual CPR, but had his lower left leg amputated the next months due to an infection from the episode. 

Known as a high-character player who was popular with his teammates, Cunningham’s transition to scouting lets him further his career after a scary break. 

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my life with the Coyotes," Cunningham said in a statement released by the team. "I'm very grateful to John Chayka, Dave Tippett, the Coyotes and Roadrunners organizations, and all of the great fans across Arizona for the incredible support I've received over the past year. I'm looking forward to helping the Coyotes and I can't wait to get started in my new role."

Said Chayka, the team’s general manager: ”We're thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout. Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. We're confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club."
 

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while really enjoying what the CW does season in and season out with the Flash.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Don Brennan says that the Senators fans not showing up for Game 6 is their way of sticking it to Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

*The talk is turning to the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and what they can do to help open up communication up and down the roster.  

*A guy that wore a Habs toque on his twitter avatar writes a glowing, praise-filled article about the performance of PK Subban during these Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s undoubtedly been good, but he just might have been wearing his Montreal Canadiens footie pajamas when he wrote this one, and rattling his fist at Habs management all the while.

*Interesting piece by Jason Gregor about the “window to win” for the Edmonton Oilers, and an odd notion that the window will close when Connor McDavid has moved out of his entry level contract. I’d say that’s kind of ludicrous.

*The Colorado Avalanche coaching staff has been let go after last year’s dreadful season, and that’s too bad for a really good guy in former Providence College head coach Tim Army. I’m sure he won’t be out of work long.

*Colin White made his Stanley Cup playoff and NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators in Game 6, and helped push Ottawa to a Game 7. It will be interesting to watch the Massachusetts native and former Boston College standout develop with the Senators as White was one of the players that the Bruins skipped over to instead draft Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The others, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny and Kyle Connor, are all either in the NHL or knocking on the door as well, and it’s going to be a challenging road for both of Boston’s forward prospects to live up the justification of the B’s drafting them first. Granted DeBrusk and Senyshyn are also both doing their thing for the P-Bruins as they push into the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, and they’re both bright prospects in their own right. It’s going to take years to determine the rights and wrongs of that first round, but White getting into the lineup for the Senators is proof of just how high that organization is on him.

*Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan says that Sidney Crosby handled the targeted abuse well from the Senators in a Game 6 loss that will push to a Game 7 between the Penguins and the Senators.

*For something completely different: A great message from Brookline homey and former Sox GM wonder boy Theo Epstein in his commencement address to Yale University.