What's next for Thomas, Bruins?

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What's next for Thomas, Bruins?

NEWARK, NJ So how do the Bruins proceed if Tim Thomas does indeed step away for the 2012-13 hockey season as hes thinking about, according to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.

No decision has been made and Chiarelli said that hed be operating under the premise that Thomas wont be around next season.

So the bomb has been dropped, and that brings plenty of dominoes into place for the Bruins.
Whether it was for family reasons, due to fatigue, maneuvering to avoid getting traded or simply because hes lost that loving feeling in Boston, the first thing Chiarelli and the Bruins would do is suspend the 38-year-old goaltender.

There is a very strong possibility we could be moving on without the services of Tim Thomas for the year. The reasons why areIm not exactly sure. He did give reasons regarding the family, which I obviously respect. He wanted to spend more time with his family, said Chiarelli. If he wasnt going to play I would have to suspend him. His cap number (of 5 million) would still be on the cap.

Thats the way we would proceed for the year. I know there are players that after long playoff years and seasons at the end of their deals have needed time to decide whether they want to play again: Scott Neidermayer, Teemu Selanne, and Nicklas Lidstrom. They needed time to decide whether they wanted to play again. Neidermayer, I believe, was still under contract. Its what is happening with Tim and we have to deal with itand we will. Hes also told me that he wants to play in the Olympics the following year, so well have some discussions later on.

Per the rules of the current CBA (collective bargaining agreement) Thomas 5 million cap hit would still remain in place for next season, and the Bruins couldnt use any of that money for a replacement player. They could gain some cap space back by placing Marc Savard on long term injured reserve with a savings of slightly over 4 million of cap space, but thats space they should already have above and beyond the rather large cap hit for Thomas.

The Bruins could opt to trade Thomas after July 1 something they were seriously considering before Chiarelli met with the goalie and agent Bill Zito about his desire for a leave of absence but his trade value has been significantly compromised by questions about his desire to play.

Most teams would be wary of a 3 million salary for a player that appears to have no intentions of actually suiting up and playing, but there is one slight benefit: a 5 million cap hit for a team struggling to reach a 54 million salary cap floor that could be implemented for next season.

It would be something wed look at, said Chiarelli referencing a trade. Sureit would be something to look at. Wed have that flexibility and there would be some teams trying to hit the salary cap floor. It would be something wed look at.

Obviously it diminishes the trade leverage that you have, but hes a world class goalie. Hed really help somebody if he decided that he wanted to play.

Chiarelli stressed that he didnt think there was any mischievous agenda behind Thomas desire to step away from the team next season, but it certainly smells like a play to gain back leverage once his no-movement clause expires on July 1.

There was an element of surprise. I respect what hes trying to do. He wants to spend more time with his family, but I was surprised by it, said Chiarelli. We had exit meetings after we won the Cup and he told me he was really tired. That was definitely something he said again after this season: that he was worn down a bit. I think with all of the stuff thats gone on the last couple of years with playing and with going places and all of the fame that goes along with winning hes a little worn down.

I think its coincidental that this is going on with his no-movement about to expire. He says that he wants to keep playing. He wants to play in the Olympics.

They could put Thomas on waivers and send him to the AHL, and still be on the hook for 3 million. They cant buy out Thomas contract because he signed his extension after he turned 35 years old, per the current CBA.

They could also toll his contract for the 2013-14 season, and control his rights for an additional year if Thomas decided to sit out all of next season. That would keep him from playing anywhere else but Boston.

But the interesting thing about the situation is that the current CBA is over in September when Thomas next contract kicks in, and there could be a very different landscape for Chiarelli and the Bruins. They may have the power to buy Thomas out or suspend him without any salary cap complications.

Theres also the sheer difficulty of a 39-year-old attempting to return to the NHL and elite hockey after sitting out a full year. Dominik Hasek did it ten years ago after sitting out a full season and he helped lead a stacked Detroit Red Wings team for several seasons after he returned to the NHL.

But all of these decisions are months and years away.

The reality right now is that Thomas has said to the Bruins that he wants to spend time with his family, and he wants to play for his country in the Olympics. Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin will be the goaltending tandem for the Bruins at the start of the year, and the team will be forced to move on from the Thomas era.

Its clear Thomas doesnt want to play for the Bruins next season barring some unforeseen change of mind, and that isnt Thomas modus operandi most of the time.

Once the goaltender has made his decision then he usually sticks to it.

Dont believe me?

Just ask the Bruins officials that tried to cajole him into attending the White House ceremony last year.

One thing he made clear to me is that hes not going to comment on any of this, said Chiarelli. He may post something at some point on Facebook, but beyond that thats all that I can tell you.

A Facebook post would really be a fitting end to Thomas days in Boston, wouldnt it?

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold. 

Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

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Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

CHICAGO – Well, the Bruins are certainly opening themselves up for a little second-guessing.

The B’s were trying to move their first-round pick, but ultimately made the selection in Finnish D-man Urho Vaakenainen, who is described by scouts as a classic stay-at-home defenseman type without much offensive upside.

MORE - Report: Bruins among several teams interested in Wild's Scandella

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vaakenainen had a goal in six games for Team Finland at a disappointing World Junior tournament, and didn’t post anything eye-catching while playing for JYP of SM-Liiga where he appeared in 41 games, tallying two goals and four assists along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. He spent the 2015-16 season with Blues of SM-Liiga, scoring a goal and five assists in 25 games.

Some scouting reports cast him as strictly a stay-at-home D-man with limited offensive skills while other scouting reports give him a little more credit for his two-way game and smooth puck-moving abilities without any big holes in his game.

“Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offense,” said Sportsnet anchor and prospect aficionado Jeff Marek leading up to the draft in one of his mock drafts. “He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.”

Vaakenainen said he was surprised to be taken by the Bruins given that he had just one conversation with them at the NHL Scouting Combine, and hadn’t really talked to any Bruins scouts throughout the hockey season. On the plus side, Vaakenainen said he models his game after Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and prides himself on his skating, his passing and shooting and his ability to play the two-way game.

“I think I’m a great skater…good with the puck,” said Vaakenainen. “I have a great first pass. I’m a complete package and a two-way defenseman, steady guy. My expectation was to go in the first round. I wasn’t expecting to go Boston, but the first round was my expectation. I met them at the combine, but that was it. That was the only meeting in person.”

Clearly, it remains to be seen how a young, raw prospect like Vaakenainen develops over time and there were plenty of mock drafts and scouting services that him getting selected in the first round. Still, once in a while it wouldn’t kill the Bruins to go with a player holding larger upside like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen or dynamic, undersized winger Kailer Yamamoto.