BOSTON (CBS) – Tim Thomas’ .923 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average went to waste in the Bruins’ seven-game first-round loss to Washington.
In those seven games, the Bruins scored just 15 goals in support of Thomas’ sterling effort. Boston’s offensive ineptitude was in part caused by the Capitals’ suddenly undying devotion to defense and shot blocking, the absence of Nathan Horton, and the inability of the Bruins’ top forwards to muster the desperation and dedication necessary to produce at regular-season levels in the postseason.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli has to make sure that next season his all-world goaltending doesn’t perform in vain during the regular season and playoffs. In order to do that, he might have to lower the level of talent in his crease for the greater good. That might require him to trade Thomas.
While the Bruins tied Philadelphia for the second-most goals in the NHL during the regular season, Chiarelli shouldn’t consider the playoff struggles as an aberration, especially as long as there’s more than a trickle of doubt about Horton’s ability to contribute in the near future. With injuries like Horton’s, there’s no guarantee of a full return until said comeback is completed and sustained for a period of time after which the player can be considered “out of the woods.”
Numbers can be manipulated several ways. But the Bruins averaged 3.17 goals per game in the regular season. If you take out their 14-0-1 stretch from November into December, when they were credited with 66 goals (4.40 goals per game counting the shootout-win “goal”), they averaged just 2.9 goals per game in the other 67 games of the season.
If you look at just Boston’s “mediocre period” of the regular season, the time from their home loss to Vancouver Jan. 7 through a March 15 loss at Florida, a period of 33 games, they averaged just 2.64 goals per game. These numbers don’t qualify the Bruins as a general offensive abomination, they just classify the Bruins as a streaky offensive team that scores a lot and blows teams out when playing its best.
Chiarelli said during his breakup day comments that he’ll be on the hunt for a “top-nine forward.” Even with the return of Horton, that might not be enough to prevent the Bruins’ offense from peaking and sinking so often across the course of a season. Relying on the likes of Jordan Caron, Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner – solid prospects all – to provide the answer is also not the approach a manager with his eyes on being a perennial Stanley Cup contender takes.
Chiarelli also said he’s not inclined to move a goaltender. But the Bruins’ best assets reside in their net. A trade of Tuukka Rask would be first-guessed enough that any success Rask enjoyed down the road could cost Chiarelli his job. Moving Thomas, however, is something he’d have to consider.
Of course, the Bruins couldn’t expect to get a king’s ransom for a guy who’s been their king for a several seasons. Thomas is 38 and has just one year remaining on his contract. An acquiring team would be taking some of a risk to pick him up. Now there would be several teams willing to take that risk – with Tampa Bay probably at the front of the line – but not at much of an expense to the rest of their NHL roster.
The Bruins might have to consider Thomas’ value more for his $5 million of cap space than as an All-Star goaltender. His $5 million could go a long way toward pursuing Zach Parise or trading for Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan, not to mention other star forwards that might become available once team’s reassess their situations this offseason.
In my mind, Rask is ready to inherit the No. 1 job. He’s been groomed long enough and it’s unfair to ask him to possibly be limited to just 30 games or so next season. With Anton Khudobin, or a veteran picked up via trade or free agency, Rask should be a 50-game goaltender without having to oust an incumbent multi-time Vezina winner.
There’s a school of thought that keeping things as is would benefit the Bruins because they’d have two all-world goaltenders competing, with Thomas playing his rear off for one more contract. Thomas’ performance would benefit the Bruins to the point at which they can score enough to make it worth his while. And if they’re not going to sign him beyond 2012-13, doesn’t it make sense to get something for him, and get a jump on using his cap space?
For several years Chiarelli has managed to rework his personnel in front of his goaltending without reducing the Thomas-Rask duo by one. He might be able to do that again. However, he could find himself shy several goals this time next year again if he doesn’t at least considering breaking up his goaltending tandem.