Peter Chiarelli made it clear Friday afternoon, amid the solemn end-of-season locker cleanout at the Garden, that a first-round knockout in the playoffs won’t compel him to make wholesale roster changes. So if anyone is conjuring up a big move - like, say, wishing Tim Thomas bon voyage - that ship isn’t likely to sail.
“I’ve seen speculation about us moving a goaltender,’’ noted the Bruins general manager, “but I am not inclined to do that.’’
Now, “not inclined’’ in April can lead to lengthy, sincere explanations over the summer about why another club made an offer for Thomas that was “too good to refuse.’’
But pending a Thomas request to be dealt - something the veteran backstop has not stated, at least publicly - it appears to be solid reasoning that Thomas and Tuukka Rask will be the Boston goalies of record for most, if not all, of next season.
No argument here with that plan. In 2011-12, Thomas wasn’t the Vezina/Conn Smythe/Stanley Cup version of the year before, but he remained an outstanding goalie. In fact, if not for the much younger Rask breaking down when Thomas could have used his help in the thick of the second-half schedule, perhaps Thomas would have finished stronger and with healthier numbers.
He even might have been sharper for the playoffs, which in turn might still have the Bruins in the Cup hunt.
Not only is Thomas still very good, but the alleged incentives for dealing him are not as clear as some might believe. Consider:
■His wage and how it fits into the salary cap.
Sure, removing him from the roster would allow Chiarelli to take the $5 million cap figure off the books and use it elsewhere, possibly for a first- or second-line forward. But Thomas’s salary next season is $3 million, a 40 percent discount against the cap, and $3 million ranks as mere pocket change for a guy who looks like he can be a No. 1 goaltender for at least one more season.
Let’s say the Bruins move him, only to find that Rask proves to be something less than a No. 1. Then what? Well, it’s a virtual guarantee that Chiarelli would not be able to acquire a No. 1 during the season (witness Toronto’s failed search), which could have him relying on Anton Khudobin or scouring the Swiss Alps for the 2013 version of Marty Turco. Not the kind of risk worth taking, be it for $3 million or $5 million. We’re not talking about a second-pairing defenseman here, but the single most important position on any club.
■The return for trading Thomas.
As much as he is revered in Boston, forever to be remembered for playing every minute of the 2011 Cup run, Thomas turned 38 this month. Even with his pedigree, he can’t change his birth certificate (per government regulations, don’t ya know), which means he likely wouldn’t bring the Bruins more than, say, a second- and third-round draft pick this summer.
Maybe the offer would be higher come the February/ March trade deadline, and maybe that’s how best to maximize the asset: keep Thomas around, and if Rask is everything that so many believe, dish Thomas in February to a playoff team in the Western Conference that is willing to surrender a first-round pick.
It doesn’t take a long trip in the Way Back Machine to remember how quickly the goalie position can unravel. Thomas stands as proof. He was some 10 years removed from the University of Vermont campus when the Bruins summoned him from AHL Providence midway through the 2005-06 season amid the injuries and failings of Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen.
To make it to Boston, Thomas first had to clear waivers, and every one of the league’s 29 other teams passed on him. Had he been claimed, the total investment of the club acquiring him would have been just over $100,000, with the Bruins forced to place the like amount on their cap.
But all of the other clubs let him go, none showing even enough interest in him to prevent him from bettering Boston’s chances of making the playoffs. He went 12-13-10, established a foothold on the roster, and six years later still ranks among the top handful of the game’s goalies.
Deal him now? Only if he asks for it, and even that might not be reason enough.
Kelly and Rask atop to-do list
Rask, a restricted free agent, is eligible to sign an offer sheet from another club, but such deals rarely materialize. The Leafs talked about handing one to Phil Kessel in the summer of 2009, which eventually factored into the trade that netted the Bruins both Tyler Seguin and top defensive prospect Doug Hamilton (due to join the varsity this October).
The far more probable scenario has Chiarelli extending Rask for at least a couple of years for something around $3 million per, or upward of $11 million over three seasons.
Kelly is an unrestricted free agent and will be 32 in November. He came here in February 2011 and won a Cup less than four months later, fitting in perfectly with coach Claude Julien’s coaching style and overall defensive mantra. Solid citizen/contributor. The issue, as always, comes down to price and term.
Rich Peverley is a little younger (30 in July), more of a scorer, and he’s about to begin a new three-year deal worth $9.75 million. No doubt Chiarelli will want to use that deal as a template with Kelly, but at a reduction of, say, 10 or 20 percent. If another club feels Kelly is worth Peverley’s payout, then he could be gone, which in turn could be the first step in Seguin moving off the wing to his natural center position.
On the blue line, where Joe Corvo and Mike Mottau are not expected to return, promising rookies Hamilton and Torey Krug could make the club out of training camp. Matt Bartkowski also is expected to challenge for a spot. All in all, on a percentage basis, look for greater turnover on the back line.
At times they felt powerless
But acknowledging the issue is quite different from fixing it, and neither the GM nor the coach sounded as if he had an answer.
Chiarelli: “From the manager’s perspective, I put that department alongside the general player personnel department, alongside Claude and his coaches. I know it stood out. I know there’s certain power plays that we didn’t score on and the [lack of] timeliness was critical. There are areas we have to improve. That’s an area. Certainly it isn’t something we ignored. From the skill perspective, I think we have a pretty good skill set. It’s something we have to work on, simple as that. Come crunch time, it didn’t happen.
Julien: “You don’t have anybody in the top 30 in scoring, so basically you have to do it by committee.’’ And regarding the late power play in Game 7, he added, “You score, and the series is over. You are moving on. That really sticks in everybody’s mind, and it sticks in our minds as well. You look at the fact, there was no [Nathan] Horton. And you lose [Michael] Ryder [to Dallas] as a player, a guy who can really shoot the puck well.’’
The power play was a moribund 2 for 23 in the series.
‘Topper’ was a bright spot
In the midst of last weekend’s frantic playoff action, the Bruins lost a cherished member of their alumni, Jerry Toppazzini, a fan favorite in the early 1960s when an ardent Black-and-Gold crowd still filled the old Garden despite lackluster results. “Topper,’’ who died at age 80, grew up in Copper Cliff, Ontario, way up near Sudbury, and was a three-time All-Star, known for his gritty play on the penalty kill and a little bit of touch around the net (783 games/407 points). Cohasset’s John O’Leary shared this memory with Peter Mehegan, the former Channel 5 reporter/anchor: “One of my favorite memories is of a cold winter Saturday in the late ’50s. There was a crowd of us playing street hockey in the snow-slick parking lot of the Immaculate Conception Church on Alewife Brook Parkway on the Somerville/Cambridge line. A black sedan pulled into the lot and, to our amazement, Jerry Toppazzini stepped out and spent some time with us, showing us how to shoot and just talking hockey. We, of course, were spellbound. He was just glad to see Boston boys enjoying the game he loved.’’ A big part of the reason the Hub fell in love with hockey was guys like Toppazzini, who played the game more for love than money.
Thornton keeps working
Shawn Thornton is among the very few Bruins who will remain in town for the summer. The hard-rock right winger will stay fit by boxing three times a week (he missed the memo on the death of the fight game) and might mix in some jiu-jitsu training. Count Thornton among the many in the rank-and-file who hope there isn’t another lockout in the wake of the CBA expiring in September. “I’m still collecting a check every two weeks,’’ he said, when asked if he were satisfied with the game’s economics. “At the end of the day, that’s what you’re concerned about, right? I have no problem with the current situation. I mean, I didn’t sign my new contract thinking that the CBA was going to change.’’
This Eagle has landed
Chris Kreider has fit in nicely with the Rangers, the Boxford boy jumping right into the playoffs after finishing up three years at Boston College. “Speed, size, he’s got everything out there,’’ New York captain Ryan Callahan told NBC’s Pierre McGuire Thursday night when the Blueshirts erased Ottawa in Game 7. “Good job by him, stepping in and playing that well.’’ McGuire noted during the broadcast that the hard-charging Kreider might be the fastest skater in today’s NHL.
Kesler on the block?
Roberto Luongo’s willingness to waive his no-trade clause in Vancouver gained most of the headlines in Canuckville last week, but more intriguing was a piece by Vancouver Sun columnist Iain MacIntyre, musing on whether the Canucks will deal glue guy Ryan Kesler before his no-trade clause kicks in July 1. There would be a long line of takers for Kesler, the gritty American center who will turn 28 just before the start of training camp.
Perhaps a reunion arena
Zero talk about where Rick Nash will land when the Blue Jackets deal him. But that’s to be expected. The rumors will heat up once the Cup is settled and no doubt will be the focal point of the June draft in Pittsburgh. Given that San Jose faded fast from the playoffs, as many expected, I just wonder whether Joe Thornton and Nash, so successful together in Davos (Switzerland) during the 2004-05 lockout, end up playing together somewhere, just not in San Jose or Columbus.
Patrick Kane, who initially balked at the idea of moving from right wing to center this season, most likely will begin there again for the Blackhawks next season, playing No. 2 pivot behind Jonathan Toews. Kane grew to accept the role, even like it, and there doesn’t seem to be a viable option elsewhere on the depth chart . . . Luongo, by the way, has a half-dozen years remaining on his deal, at a $5.3 million cap hit. Not an easy move. Conjecture has it that he’d like to return to the Panthers . . . Ex-NHL referee Kerry Fraser, in his column for tsn.ca last week, figured Joel Ward’s series-winning goal against the Bruins should have been wiped off the board. “All the elements of Rule 69.1 were violated,’’ wrote Fraser, referring to the code governing goalie interference. Odd for the Bruins to lose to the Capitals on such a play, considering how in 1998 they saw P.J. Axelsson’s goal get wiped off the board because Tim Taylor’s skate blade slipped into Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig’s crease . . . Ex-Sabre Gates Orlando will remain at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center for a few more weeks after April 4 surgery in which he received an artificial heart. Orlando, 49, suffered from sarcoidosis and was fitted with the artificial heart when complications arose amid surgery to change his defibrillator. The artificial heart is a transitional step and eventually will be replaced when Orlando is strong enough to receive a donor organ. A former Providence College Friar, Orlando played 98 games with the Sabres in the late ’80s and spent the better part of a decade playing in Italy and Switzerland.