Last year at the All-Star break, the Bruins were atop the Eastern Conference and having one of the best seasons in franchise history. Much of the team’s success was to be credited to Tim Thomas, the 35-year-old goalie who, for years, struggled to find NHL work before becoming Boston’s permanent net minder in the 2006-07 season.
Thomas was eventually named the best goalie in the NHL and awarded the Vezina Trophy for his stellar year. One year later, the Bruins are only two games over .500 and battling for the last playoff spot. Sure, Thomas has been far from outstanding this year. But many, including myself, wonder how Thomas has become the center of trade talks.
A year ago no one would have even toyed with the idea of trading Thomas. Tuuka Rask, the Bruins backup at the time, was the subject of trade talks. Many wondered what the Bruins could gain in return for the top prospect, because his duties in Boston would simply not be necessary.
Peter Chiarelli surprised no one by signing Thomas long term. Now, some believe signing the aging goalie with young Tuuka Rask in waiting may have been a mistake. Rask has played exceptionally well this season despite a recent slump, and has been the better of the two Bruins goalies. But say the Bruins do trade Thomas, can Rask handle the duties of being an everyday starter? Will he turn out to be a better option, for at least this season, than Thomas?
One can’t help but wonder what the trade market for Thomas will be.
Is there a playoff or Stanley Cup contender that needs a goalie to take the next step, and if so, do they truly believe Thomas is that player? Will a team want to tie up four years on the 35-year-old goalie, and pay him the remaining balance on his contract? And the big question is Thomas’ no-trade clause; a team trying to rebuild for next year could be interested in using Thomas as a bridge, but would Thomas be interested in them?
And finally, can the Bruins gain anything in return for the goalie that can help them win this year, or is the goal to gain players who will help long term? The Bruins have plenty of draft picks next year to bring in young, unproven talent, and maybe Thomas could be the chip they use to gain a proven scorer or defenseman that can help this team not only in the closing months of this season, but next year as well.
The Bruins are tied for the last playoff spot now, and making the playoffs is still a good possibility despite losing 10 straight this past month. Where would management’s confidence level be with Rask starting a playoff series as opposed to Thomas?
Do the Bruins believe that Rask can handle the duties of playing, and even winning, a seven game series?
He has never started a playoff game, and the Bruins will most likely be playing a top seeded team in the first round (the current top three seeds include high scoring Washington and New Jersey), which isn’t an ideal match-up for a goalie making his first playoff appearance.
Lastly, if Thomas were to go, Danny Subourin would most likely become the backup. He is 20-17 this year with the Bruins AHL affiliate, posting a save percentage of 91.9 percent and a GAA of 2.42. The numbers are good, and of course, Subourin would not have a big role on the team; but it is worth considering.
No one can expect Thomas to be content with a role as backup goalie. He signed a long-term deal here expecting to follow up last year’s stellar season.
Thomas is one of the faces for this franchise that Chiarelli has worked so hard to turn around over the past three years. Trading Thomas, who can arguably be considered as the best player on this team over the past few years, could get ugly.
Chiarelli got away with trading Phil Kessell this past offseason. But most reports claim Kessell wanted out of town, and the return draft picks were top notch.
What happens if Thomas is traded? Do the fans and players move on, or do the Bruins' struggles continue and this turn to just another low point in a season full of hardships?
Sure, Thomas has had a rough year. But don’t let this year’s struggles make us forget some of the great moments he has had here. Like taking a blocker to the face of Andrei Kostitsyn vs. the Canadiens, chasing down Sean Avery after taking a stick to the back of the head during a TV timeout, and most recently being announced to Team USA at Fenway Park after winning the Winter Classic.
These moments made Thomas special, and it is why we all fell in love with him. And I can’t help but wonder if we have seen the last of them.