A few playoff thoughts as the first round of the NHL’s post-season winds down:
• As I said on Twitter after the Capitals eliminated the Bruins, I believe we’ve seen Tim Thomas play his final game in a Boston uniform. And I say that for a number of reasons.
First of all, Thomas will be entering the final season of his contract next year. He’ll make a pretty penny with a $5 million cap hit (and a $3 million salary), but the penny isn’t pretty enough to scare away a number of teams that would be interested, including Chicago, Toronto and Tampa Bay. The fact he’ll be an unrestricted agent in the summer of 2013 cuts down on the risk associated with the deal, but more importantly, from a Bruins perspective, they’ll have a significant chunk of salary cap space opened up by trading the 38-year-old. That’s key as Boston is tight against the cap ceiling – they’ve got more than $59 million committed to salaries – and in addition to trying to replenish some of the roster depth that helped them win it all last year, the team still has to give restricted free agent and Thomas’ understudy Tuukka Rask a significant raise on his $1.25 million stipend.
And that brings us to Rask, the other main reason Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli ought to be shopping Thomas quickly and aggressively. In 23 games as Boston’s backup, the 25-year-old Finn had a better save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.05) than Thomas (.920, 2.36). For the past three seasons, Rask has been the team’s goalie-of-the-future, but the way the 2011-12 campaign played out – with Thomas playing nearly 60 games for the second straight season and embroiling himself and the team in a needless controversy when he refused to meet U.S. president Barack Obama at the White House – the future is now.
Thomas clearly was worn down by the time the playoffs began and although he wasn’t completely horrendous, he was outplayed by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. That said, his competitive fire still burns brightly enough to help out a playoff-caliber team. With the unrestricted free agent goalie market looking especially thin, there is no better time to move last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner than now.
• If Thomas does get traded and the Vancouver Canucks deal Roberto Luongo as everyone (including Luongo) expects them to, both starting goalies in last year’s Cup final will be with new teams. That sounds incredible – until you think back to what happened to the starting goalies in the 2010 championship round. Philadelphia’s Michael Leighton went from the peak of the mountain to the American League in one fell swoop, while Chicago’s Cup-winning netminder Antti Niemi left the Windy City to sign with San Jose.
So, we’re starting to see a bit of a pattern here. Now, many of the goalies still left in this year’s playoffs (including L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, and St. Louis’ dynamic tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) aren’t likely to suffer the same fate, but I’d say the relative ease with which teams dispose of their netminders is quite the cautionary tale against signing goalies long-term.
• You can’t take away the success John Tortorella has enjoyed as an NHL coach – well, maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word; the crusty Rangers bench boss would likely look high and low to seek out the clouds in a warehouse full of silver linings – but you certainly can say he has made a mockery of media availability in these playoffs.
Tortorella’s tough guy routine has turned into self-parody. His press conferences can be timed in seconds, not minutes, and he provides not a scintilla of insight reporters can relay to the public they represent. The guy is well within his rights to hate the media, but for the league to pretend his condescending attitude has any value whatsoever is laughable. I’d rather have a sheet of his three-word, barked-out answers handed to me by a Rangers PR person than pretend I was engaged in a worthwhile exercise with someone so disdainful of a profession he doesn’t care to even try and understand.
Listen, John, we’ll admit you invented hockey when you come down off your mountaintop and accept the credit. Oh, by the way, see you in your media job next time you’re between coaching gigs!
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