BOSTON (CBS) – You need look no further than the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, which starts Wednesday with Los Angeles visiting New Jersey, to see how important world-class goaltending still is to a team’s championship aspirations.
Two years in a row now the Final has featured at least one Vezina Trophy finalist. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has matched Tim Thomas’ 2011 performance remarkable save for remarkable save. And in Devils veteran Martin Brodeur, well you know his mile-long list of accomplishments that will someday earn him enshrinement in Toronto.
It’s while reflecting on the great goaltending the two Cup finalists feature – and really the amazing puck-stopping we’ve seen throughout the entire playoffs – that you get a full understanding for Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli’s statement that he wouldn’t deal one of his goaltenders – Thomas or Tuukka Rask – this summer.
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Of course, every executive’s statement comes with the clause that he reserves the right to change his mind. It’ll be interesting to see how tempted Chiarelli is to change his this offseason, and whether he’ll go all out and actually swing a franchise-altering trade using one of his goaltenders as bait.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the Bruins’ goaltending situation as the ever-important month of June, featuring the draft and the last chance to re-sign free agents before the open market begins, approaches:
Under contract: Tim Thomas, Anton Khudobin
Unrestricted free agent: Marty Turco
Restricted free agents: Tuukka Rask, Michael Hutchinson
Prospects: Adam Morrison, Lars Volden, Zane Gothberg
Barring a major shake-up, Thomas, Rask and Khudobin will return next fall as the Bruins’ top three netminders again. If Turco continues playing, he’ll do it elsewhere. One would expect that he’d get at least an invite based on his performance in Austria and his brief stint with the Bruins.
Hutchinson has proven he’s not ready for primetime. But he’s a solid No. 2 for the Providence (AHL) farm club. Morrison should challenge for his job in camp. Volden and Gothberg, who’ll finally get to college next season, are still at least a year away from getting their pro careers going.
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Without overreacting to the performance he had in a win in Ottawa, Khudobin showed last season he might be ready to be at least a No. 2 in the NHL. Of course, a team with the type of championship dreams the Bruins have might not want to risk turning that job over to him – considering how reliant Boston is on playing two goaltenders over the course of 82 games.
July 1 isn’t just an important date for free agency and getting players signed. It’s also the day that Thomas’ no-trade clause reportedly expires. That means the Bruins would be able to move him and his $5 million cap hit without his permission. There are obviously two schools of thought about trading Thomas. And honestly, trading him would be the risky, but with the right package coming to Boston in return, it could also be the type of move that positions the Bruins to challenge for the Cup well beyond the end of Thomas’ contract.
The first issue the Bruins will have to resolve in their crease, though, is Rask’s contract situation. That figures to maybe take some time. One has to expect that Rask might wait to see how things shake out with Vancouver’s Cory Schneider, who is also a restricted free agent, before signing a new deal with the Bruins. While some might consider trading Rask, that would be far riskier than dealing Thomas based on Rask’s potential to be greater over a longer period of time. Plus, the Bruins have based their entire organizational philosophy on having Rask in their net for the rest of this decade.
Goaltending always draws the majority of the attention when dealing with a team’s offseason, and this year that will be magnified even more with the Bruins.