Bruins face tough offseason decision in net with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask

In the wake of the news that the Vancouver Canucks may look to trade Roberto Luongo and his hefty contract this summer in favor of up-and-comer Cory Schneider, the Boston Bruins may find themselves in a similar situation with Tim Thomas and backup goalie Tuukka Rask.

The 38-year-old Thomas, who posted career best numbers en route to a Stanley Cup championship last summer, may find himself in a similar situation to Luongo after the Bruins experienced an early and unexpected loss to the Washington Capitals in a seven-game showdown in the opening round of this year’s playoffs.

Unlike Luongo, however, Thomas played well during the postseason and posted solid numbers with a 2.14 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in seven games. However, much like the situation in Vancouver, the Bruins have a young goalie ready to take the reins and be the number one guy in net. And similarly to Cory Schneider, that young goalie is also a restricted free agent this season.

In 23 games played with the Bruins this season, Tuukka Rask posted a 2.05 goals against average and a .929 save percentage – very respectable numbers for an NHL goaltender. For comparison, in 59 games played during the regular season, Thomas had a 2.36 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. So during the regular season, Rask actually had better numbers, but Thomas had a bigger sample size after playing in more than two-thirds of the regular season games for the Bruins. In three seasons with the Bruins as the backup netminder, however, Rask has shown an incredible amount of consistency and appears poised to take over the starting job.

With Rask becoming a restricted free agent on July 1, the Bruins have a good chance at resigning their young goalie before free agency strikes. Even then, a rival team looking to snag Rask would have to tender Boston with an offer sheet, which the Bruins would likely match. Or Boston could trade his rights – which is highly unlikely.

Rask will definitely get a raise, especially since the Bruins see him as the goalie of the future, but a contract extension will likely be similar to the one that Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard signed last season. That’s to say, it may be a shorter contract in the range of three-to-five years, but it will likely also be for lesser money because Rask is an “unproven” starting goaltender without Thomas there to back him up. Rask could reasonably expect to get around $3 million a season in a shorter term deal, with a bigger pay day coming if he proves himself capable of handling the pressures of the starting job day in and day out.

If Rask received $3 million a season, the Bruins would then have $8 million a season tied up in net adding in Thomas’s $5 cap hit. But if Rask takes over the starting job, what do the Bruins do with Thomas? Would they really be willing to bench a $5 million backup goalie?

Thomas has one year left on his contract and is coming off another solid performance in the regular season and playoffs, proving that he still has some quality goaltending left in him. So Boston has two options: trade Thomas in the off-season or ride out the remaining year of his contract. While many may argue that Boston should simply ride out the remaining year of his contract, this option runs an inherent risk. What if Thomas gets injured or his play significantly drops off next season? His trade value is very high right now, but an injury or a drop in play quality could significantly lower Boston’s ability to get a fair return, or even trade him at all. With teams like Chicago, Tampa Bay and Columbus desperate for strong goaltending, trading Thomas right now would yield a very good return on value.

Plus, if you’ll recall, the Bruins signed Marty Turco to a deal at the end of last season as insurance. Bring Turco back in a backup capacity for the league minimum and suddenly Boston has shored up their goaltending with money to spare to bring in offensive depth or power play help.

Or Boston could simply choose to ride out the contract and then part ways with Thomas regardless of his play next season.

The Bruins will likely at least entertain offers for Thomas, whose no-movement clause expires on July 1, but the deal would have to be a stellar one for the Bruins to consider moving Thomas. As stated before, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Columbus could all make offers to Boston. Florida may even get in on the action as well. Some rumors have even linked the Red Wings to Thomas to come in and compete with Howard for the starting job. This makes sense in the fact that Thomas is from Michigan, making him a hometown guy, and the Wings have assets they could move, including Dan Cleary, who plays a gritty Boston-style of play, and restricted free agent Kyle Quincy, a puck-moving defenseman who could help Boston’s power play. But the Wings would then have close to $7.5 million tied up in net – money they could use to add offensive depth or throw at Ryan Suter to help soften the blow from the imminent retirement (either this season or in the future) of Nick Lidstrom.

As much as some teams are in need of a goalie, unless a really solid offer comes along for Thomas, or unless Thomas wants out of Boston and asks for a trade, which had been indicated in the rumor mill as well, chances are good that Boston simply sees Thomas’s contract through to the end. Unlike the situation in Vancouver, Rask can sign an extension with the Bruins knowing that he will be the number one guy in the near future. Rask is likely more apt to bide his time knowing that an end is in sight, and Boston likewise could wait another season to give Rask another year of development before handing over the reins. Either way, the Bruins appear to be set in net for the foreseeable future.





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