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?

Bruins acquire bottom-six forward Drew Stafford from Winnipeg.

Bruins acquire bottom-six forward Drew Stafford from Winnipeg.

BRIGHTON -- Bruins general manager Don Sweeney gave every indication it was going to be a mostly quiet trade deadline for the Black and Gold, and it was . . . right up until the 3 p.m. deadline.

Then the B’s dealt a conditional sixth-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets for forward Drew Stafford. The trade was announced shortly after Wednesday's 3 p.m. deadline.

Stafford, 31, is having a down year due to injuries and ineffectiveness and has four goals and 13 points along with a minus-2 rating on the season, and has played in only 40 games this season after being dealt two years ago to the Jets from Buffalo along with Tyler Myers. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Stafford was a bit of a Bruins killer during his time in Buffalo and topped out with 31 goals and 52 points n the 2010-11 season. He scored 21 goals and 38 points in 78 games for Winnipeg last season, but compiled a whopping minus-23 mark.

This is a no-risk move for the Bruins, who surrender very little for a player who will give the B’s an option at wing should one of their younger players begin to struggle, or who could potentially replace someone like Jimmy Hayes among their bottom-six forwards.

Other than Stafford, the Bruins stood pat and watched as players like Radim Vrbata, Jaroslav Halak, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog didn’t move ahead of the deadline. The B's weren’t about to move their top prospects and blue-chip assets while in a rebuilding phase, and they were smart to stick to the low-risk/high-reward type move. Sweeney and Company are clearly betting on the group they’ve put together to finish up strong and power into the postseason in the final 19 games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy. 

Cassidy: 'Trying to set a standard' of being one of the NHL's better teams

Cassidy: 'Trying to set a standard' of being one of the NHL's better teams

BOSTON – The Bruins have won seven of eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy and are fortifying their position as the third playoff team in the Atlantic Division with each passing victory.

The 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden on Tuesday night probably shouldn’t be all impressive based on the Yotes standing as the second-worst team in the NHL, but it was a classic trap game coming off a long West Coast road trip. Instead of falling for the trap the Bruins exploded for three goals in the second period, energized by a shorthanded Riley Nash strike, and continue to extend the winning stretch they need in order to punch their playoff ticket.

The postseason clincher is still a long way away from reality, but Cassidy said the B’s are starting to achieve the elevated level of play they’re aiming for while finally getting the full potential out of their team.

“I just want the guys to make sure that they play confident, solid hockey and believe in themselves. And play to a [higher] standard,” said Cassidy. “We’re trying to set a standard where we’re one of the better teams in the National Hockey League. They’ve been there before, the leadership group here. That’s where we’re striving to get through in the end.”

They haven’t exactly shied away from the competition either, twice beating the first-place San Jose Sharks and shutting out the first place Montreal Canadiens in the final straw that saw Michel Therrien axed in favor of Claude Julien.

The B’s have now opened up a three-point cushion over the Maple Leafs for their playoff spot and they’ve averaged 4.13 goals per game (33 goals in eight games) while allowing just 2.13 goals per game (17 goals in eight games) in the eight games going from Julien to Cassidy. 

The challenge now is to maintain that level of play over the final 19 games of the regular season to drive home their playoff bid and finish strong at a point where in each of the past two seasons they’ve utterly imploded.