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Don’t Let the Door Hit You

Posted By Matt Preston On Feb 8 2013 @ 10:06 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

It started back in 2010 when the New England Patriots sent Randy Moss back to Minnesota. The Boston Red Sox followed suit last season when the shipped Josh Beckett across the country to the Dodgers. The Boston Bruins joined the trend of New England clubs jettisoning their most polarizing players on Thursday when they traded goaltender Tim Thomas to the New York Islanders for a conditional second round pick.

The Thomas trade is not so much of a story as it is a foregone conclusion. The end of the once legendary goaltender’s career with the Bruins has been written about ad nauseum ever since the Michigan native told Boston general manager in June he would be taking the 2012-2013 season off to spend more time with “friends, family and faith.” Not even his former teammates have thought much about the departure of the man that carried them to a Stanley Cup in 2011.

“It’s a paper transaction as far as I’m concerned,” said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton.

Despite Thomas’ urgings that this is a one-season hiatus and that he wants to resume his NHL career in 2013-2014, as well as play for Team USA in the 2014 Olympics, the subtext of his sabbatical was that Thomas would never again don the Spoked B in anything other than an alumni game. With one Facebook post, Tim Thomas was effectively done with the Boston Bruins.

The trade does, however, is a story as it officially closes the book on the Tim Thomas Era in Bruins lore. It may not be the fairytale ending many thought Thomas would have to his career in Boston as recently as 20 months ago, but it was still a storybook ending to a wild tale.

“Tim can be a character and he can also be principled on a lot of different things,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli after making the deal with the Islanders. “But I [can] tell you he was a heck of a goaltender.”

Everyone around the Bruins knows the tale of the goaltender’s rise from no-name journeyman to household name and folk hero of Boston, only to punctuate that assent with one of the fastest fall from good graces as has been seen in sports after spurning the President of the Unites States as the Bruins made their trip to the White House to celebrate a championship that would not be won if not for Thomas’ historic play that postseason. The official end signifies the official beginning of the debate over what will be Thomas’ legacy in Boston?

Had it not been for the events of the past 13 months, whenever it ended, Thomas would have retired a hero and an icon, and arguably the best goaltender in Bruins history, with many expecting to see his #30 one day being drawn to the rafters. At this time, however, it is hard to ignore how Thomas shot his way out of town, so there are still some bitterness towards the wayward goaltender and plenty of questions over how many bridges Thomas burned within the organization. The general consensus coming the last few days is everyone is very thankful towards Thomas for his service and his performance with the team since becoming a regular fixture in 2005, but they are glad to be rid of him.

It is hard to believe getting rid of a player of Thomas’ caliber would signify nothing but good things for a team, but that is the case when it comes to the Bruins. Tuukka Rask has already stepped in and been marvelous as the team’s top goaltender. Tied for the league lead in wins, Rask is 6-1-1 to date with a 1.96 goals against average (fifth amongst regular starters), .922 save percentage and one shutout, leaving few longing for the return of his predecessor. And not having to deal with any sort of locker room turmoil that would have come with a Timmy v. Tuukka goaltender controversy relieves a whole lot of tension for a team that thrives on chemistry.

Had Thomas not gone into exile, the Bruins would have faced a season-long debate over which goaltender deserved more ice-time. Thomas would have begun the season as the starter, but the goaltender will be 39 in April, leaving questions about how much he has left in the tank? The 25-year old Rask, on the other hand, was the Bruins future between the pipes and after backing up Thomas the past three seasons was ready for the starting spotlight. Any sort of struggle from either netminder would have brought forth a lot of questions.

Chiarelli should get nothing but applause for bringing in such an impressive haul for a 38-year old in the twilight of his career. Yes, the “condition” in “conditional second round pick” is that either Thomas has to strap on the pads again or the Islanders are able to trade his rights. If he does not, as is the most likely scenario, the Bruins get nothing, but even if he were currently active, how much more would Chiarelli have gotten in a potential Thomas trade?

More importantly, by getting rid of Thomas’ albatross of a contract, Chiarelli freed up enough cap space to make virtually any move, big or small, he can conceive either this season or heading into 2013-2014. Dumping Thomas’ $5-million tab ups the Bruins’ cap space to $7-million, which they can further increase to the $11-million range once they make their annual move of Marc Savard to the long-term injured reserve. Whether or not Chiarelli uses that space to bring in an elite player remains to be seen, as that is not really his style, but given the events of late for the team, all that cap room could come in handy.

As with any good NHL season, the Bruins have suffered a rash of injuries of late that have brought the depth of their NHL roster into question. Within a matter of days, the Bruins found themselves without Thornton, Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand in the line up. Jamie Tardif and Ryan Spooner both performed admirably in their NHL debuts this past week, while Lane MacDermid did fine filling in for Thornton and the Bruins did go 2-0 in those games without the trio. It is hard to quarrel with the results, but if any kind of injury bug hits the Bruins, depth could become an issue down the road.

Yes, Boston does have plenty of talented prospects and serviceable players in the AHL, but after seeing in 2011 how valuable depth at the backend can be and with head coach Claude Julien’s penchant for rolling through all four lines no matter the importance of or time in a game, the Bruins would probably be better served having more NHL battle tested players to plug into their line up as they make another run at a Stanley Cup.

How Tim Thomas’ departure will improve this 2013 squad is the key story with Thursday’s trade. Rask is most likely due a big payday as an impending free agent this summer and the rumors have already begun swirling that Chiarelli plans on offering the netminder a contact extension before the end of the season. Despite some struggles to get his offense going and inability to convert a number of goal-scoring opportunities thus far, Chris Bourque has proven to be a serviceable NHLer, but a move to acquire a winger with a little more size and experience to play on the third line with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly is surely on the horizon. An upgrade over Bourque to fit regularly on the third line, as well as another quality winger will be targets in the trade market thanks to Thomas.

He did it by putting his team on his shoulders on the ice in 2011. Can Tim Thomas help the Bruins win another Cup this season, this time from his bunker in Colorado?

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