Dwayne Roloson is 42 years old and fostering his most miserable single-season stat line since he was Dominik Hasek’s backup in Buffalo in 1999-2000.
The 34-year-old Mathieu Garon has a winning record to his credit, one of the few bright spots this year for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but his own protracted NHL transcript is anything but radiant. His best campaign as a regular starter was in 2007-08 with Edmonton, when he turned in a .913 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average.
The Bolts, who are virtually out of hope for a 2012 playoff spot, have at least two options to redress what is arguably their most prominent problem before next season. They could bank on the aforementioned veterans suddenly blossoming or re-blossoming, or they could rush the unripe Dustin Tokarski into taking on the starting job.
Or, with a combination of assertive pursuit and some good fortune, they could crack the code for a third choice. They could pursue a deal that would end with them placing their chips on a proven, seasoned stopper who likely still has another passable year or two left in him, enough time to keep the crease warm until Tokarski matures.
One slightly long-shot option, yet one worth trying, lies within the site of Tuesday night’s away game and what was likely Roloson’s last moment of glory, a valiant 1-0 shortcoming in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.
Granted, multiple signs on the other end point to the contrary, but the Lightning may have the necessary pieces to convince the Boston Bruins to hand them Tim Thomas this offseason.
At this time, there are two chief roadblocks to such a deal.
One is the fact that Thomas’ presumptive successor, Tuukka Rask, has yet to be re-signed ahead of his hitting free agency on July 1. The other is that the elder half of Boston’s enviable tandem has turned back in the right direction after a protracted lull throughout January, February and the early half of this month.
The latter fact, though, makes Thomas all the more viable to sell for a favorable return package. And with the Lightning’s farm team in Norfolk pacing itself to the best record in the American League, the Tampa Bay feeder system has an array of options to fill one of the Bruins’ most pressing needs.
From about the All-Star break until just recently, Boston has struggled to ward off the debilitating consequences of the injury bug, particularly on offense, with six rotating call-ups from Providence. But other than Jordan Caron, nobody who has seen action with both the AHL and NHL Bruins this season is nearly ready to come up and fill in during these types of emergencies.
And while high-ranking prospects Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner are both on the cusp of graduating from the major-junior level, it still might serve the Bruins’ best interest to reel in a few slightly more seasoned AHL-NHL strikers.
On that note, the AHL’s top-dog Norfolk Admirals have flexed an embarrassment of depth while variously sending handfuls of their players to assist the parent Lightning.
Four prominent forwards who have gone through this year’s Norfolk-Tampa Bay pipeline are Dana Tyrell (104 career NHL games), Brandon Segal (97), JT Wyman (35) and Trevor Smith (20). Mike Angelidis, a veteran of six professional seasons, made his NHL debut this year and has tossed in 14 goals and 13 assists over 54 appearances in Norfolk.
Elsewhere among the Admirals, Michel Ouellet has seen action in 190 NHL games, although he has rigidly remained in the AHL throughout this season. Alexandre Picard spent all or part of five seasons in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ system, seeing action in 67 NHL games before his rights were dealt in the 2009-10 season.
Norfolk also boasts an assortment of radiant rookies―Cory Conacher, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat―but putting any of them on the trade table would not serve the interest of the Bruins or the Bolts.
Of the aforementioned, Tyrell and Wyman would likely be the best options to dangle if the Lightning become interested in acquiring Thomas. Tyrell, who will be 23 by the start of the 2012-13 campaign and looking for a fresh start after a knee injury ended this season for him, spent all of 2010-11 in the NHL and saw action in seven playoff games.
Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Wyman bloomed a little late, but he's alternated this year between copiloting the Admirals, chipping in 10 points in 32 NHL games. That’s more appearances and more points in the top circuit than Carter Camper, Josh Hennessy, Lane MacDermid, Max Sauve or even Zach Hamill can each claim in their respective careers.
Naturally, though, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli could settle on the status quo.
He could decide that, Rask or no Rask, Thomas is worth keeping indefinitely as the go-to goalie for the biggest games. And depending on the final standings, he could cite this season as a testament to his team’s ability to stave off long-term damage from an injury rash.
Or he could decide that Rask, a veteran of 102 regular-season and 13 playoff games in the NHL, is ready to supplant Thomas next autumn. If he so much as hints at that direction, Tampa Bay counterpart Steve Yzerman should start dangling a couple of Admirals.