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

700726.jpg

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?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.