Last May, the Bruins’ two-time Vezina Trophy winner had informed his employer he did not intend to play in 2012-13. Their backup goalie’s contract was set to expire in less than two months.
Now, Tim Thomas is property of the Islanders. Tuukka Rask is in the running for the Vezina. Anton Khudobin is one of the league’s sharpest No. 2 goalies. Niklas Svedberg, not even Bruins property a year ago, was named the AHL’s top goalie on Thursday. Malcolm Subban, a draft-eligible junior last season, is one of the world’s best 19-year-old puck-stoppers.
The Bruins’ former position of strength, a major concern less than a year ago, is stronger than before.
It starts with Rask. In 31 appearances, he is 17-9-4 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. This season, Rask is among the league’s elite, a group that includes Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Niemi, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Cory Schneider.
The 26-year-old Rask is entering the sweet spot of his career, and will be paid accordingly. Rask, currently on a one-year, $3.5 million contract, will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It may not happen until the Bruins close out their playoff run, but Rask is likely to receive a multiyear extension that will make him among the league’s highest-paid goalies.
Arbitration will help to provide the framework of Rask’s extension. He is subject to both player- and team-elected arbitration, which would result in a one-year award. It’s doubtful the case will go to arbitration. But the numbers (games, wins, GAA, save percentage, playoff performance, statistics and salaries of comparable goalies) that both team and player would cite — and an arbitrator would judge — will help to guide the process.
The ceiling is as high as Pekka Rinne’s seven-year, $49 million contract. Jimmy Howard recently signed a six-year, $31.8 million extension.
When Rask locks up his contract, it will leave little cap space to give Khudobin the raise he deserves. The 26-year-old Khudobin (9-3-1, 2.20 GAA, .925 save percentage) has proven he is a legitimate NHL goalie. Khudobin may not be ace material, but he projects to be at least a solid 35-start puck-stopper who could help to stabilize the position for teams such as Florida, Carolina, and Philadelphia.
Khudobin will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The chatter around the NHL is that Khudobin and Bobrovsky (an upcoming restricted free agent) will be offered big dough to play in the KHL.
When Khudobin walks, the Bruins could turn to Svedberg as Rask’s backup next season. According to general manager Peter Chiarelli, Thomas’s decision last May was not a major factor in signing Svedberg out of Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. Svedberg signed a two-year deal on May 29, 2012.
“You’re just happy to get the chance,” Svedberg said of signing with the Bruins. “It wasn’t like I had a ton of [choices]. I couldn’t pick and choose who I wanted. This felt like a really good place to be. They’ve had good success with their goalies. Obviously, they’ve got to be doing something right.”
Svedberg hasn’t disappointed. Entering Saturday night, he had gone 37-8-2 with a 2.17 GAA and a .925 save percentage for Providence. Some of Svedberg’s hiccups at the start of the season — allowing goals up high, not sealing posts — don’t appear as often. Providence will appear in the AHL playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“He’s a good closer,” said Providence coach Bruce Cassidy. “Most third periods, if he has the lead or we’ve given him the lead, he’s going to be able to make that big save when he has to. He’s really good at closing out games. When you’re a goaltender, you’re kind of defined by wins and losses. That’s one thing I’ve noticed. That tells you about his ability to focus.”
The 23-year-old Svedberg is under contract for next season at $1 million. If the Bruins believe Svedberg is NHL-ready, they will have a Finn-Swede combo in 2013-14.
Subban is eligible to return to junior in 2013-14 as an overage player, but will start his pro career in Providence next season. Subban is athletic and competitive, but will require AHL prep work to refine his technique.
Rask, Khudobin, Svedberg, Subban. It didn’t take long for the Bruins to restock at the game’s most important position.
MacTavish’s vision is clear
On Monday, Edmonton introduced ex-Bruin Craig MacTavish as its new GM. It didn’t take MacTavish long to reference a name when speaking about the Oilers’ need to upgrade their bite.
“It’s easy to sit here and say we want Milan Lucic-type players. We do,” MacTavish said during his introductory press conference. “We’ve got to find a way to draft, acquire, and develop these types of players. It’s a significant weakness. We’ve got to address it over time.”
Easier said than done.
Of all the league’s commodities, power forwards like Lucic may be among the hardest to find. There is an exclusive club of players that can skate, score, and fight like Lucic. The brawny left wing’s company includes Corey Perry, David Clarkson, Scott Hartnell, Ryane Clowe, Wayne Simmonds, and Chris Stewart.
Appropriately, those players receive significant compensation. Starting next season, Lucic will earn $6 million annually through 2015-16. Perry signed an eight-year, $69 million extension on March 18.
“There’s not many players like that, when Lucic’s playing well,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “There’s maybe eight or nine. They’re heavy players. Usually you pay a premium for them.”
One of the challenges of determining the market for power forwards is the elusive business of calculating their most non-elusive element: intimidation. It’s easier to gauge the worth of a player’s offensive production, for example, versus how a fight or a thundering check can help his team. Some clubs may consider a momentum-changing scrap to be just as valuable as a goal.
So to determine a power forward’s contract, teams and agents will look to the market of comparables. Clowe and Clarkson are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. They will look to Lucic’s contract, for example, as a guidepost in establishing the deal’s parameters.
“He’s definitely a player who’s part of our comparable group,” Kent Hughes, Clowe’s agent, said of Lucic.
Clowe is not expected to pursue nor land a similar deal. Lucic is 24, and would have been a restricted free agent at the end of this season, when his three-year, $12.25 million contract will expire. Lucic signed his contract under the terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Clowe is 30, and will enter an offseason when the cap will decrease to $64.3 million. Clowe didn’t score a goal for San Jose prior to his trade to the Rangers. Given those circumstances, he will be seeking term over annual average value. While Lucic’s contract might serve as a reference point, a closer comparable might be Hartnell’s extension: six years at $28.5 million, according to www.capgeek.com.
“Ryane Clowe has been a very, very consistent performer over a number of years,” Hughes said. “This year, to me, is an anomaly. He had a slow start, it’s a free agent year, there were a lot of distractions, he didn’t play in the lockout. We know what he is over an extended period.”
Bergeron gets high praise
Dave Lewis is one of two coaches who can claim both Pavel Datsyuk and Patrice Bergeron as their players (Mike Babcock is the other). So Lewis, the ex-Bruins coach, is uniquely qualified to place Bergeron in Datsyuk’s class as an all-around center. “I think of Datsyuk in the same way — both sides of the puck, very determined, very strong, they block shots, they make takeaways, they make plays, they can score goals,” said Lewis, now one of Kirk Muller’s assistants in Carolina. “With those two guys, it would be quite an interesting battle to see them go head to head.” Lewis only had Bergeron for one season, 2006-07, but he saw Bergeron’s foundation and recognized his willingness to become a better player. “Every team in the league,” Lewis said, “would love to have him.”
Jared Knight, one of three baubles from the Phil Kessel trade (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton are the others), is leaner than when he reported for the Bruins’ annual development camp last July. It is not by design. Knight’s weight loss — the first-year pro estimated he’s 12 pounds lighter than when he started the AHL season — is because of the torn left hamstring he suffered during a mid-October practice. Knight was reaching awkwardly for a puck when he felt what he termed a minor tweak. After several setbacks, Knight learned it was a tear. The hard-nosed winger resumed regular play on April 5. He is now the last player to leave the ice following practice as he tries to rebuild his strength, touch, and timing. This would have been a valuable first pro season for Knight, who would have been in contention for a full-time NHL job in 2013-14. Knight could have served as depth at right wing if the Bruins plan on letting Nathan Horton walk. Knight projects to be a straight-line NHL wing with some grit and touch in tight. Instead, he will likely remain in New England this summer, attend his first training camp in the fall, and reboot his career in Providence. “The bright side of it is that I got to watch a lot of hockey and watch a lot of games here,” Knight said. “That maybe prepared me a little bit more. But it definitely did [stink] just watching. It’s never fun to be on the sidelines.”
General manager Greg Sherman has been at the Colorado helm for the last three seasons. This season, the Avalanche will fail to make the playoffs for the third straight year. It’s a good bet, then, that Sherman will not be back for a fourth year. Former Boston University standout Joe Sacco, Sherman’s hire behind the bench, will most likely not return, either. Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, currently Colorado’s executive adviser and alternate governor, could replace Sherman as GM. One of Sakic’s first calls should be to hire Brad Larsen, the first-year coach of Springfield, Columbus’s AHL affiliate. Larsen was Sakic’s teammate in Colorado for parts of five seasons. As one of the grunts, Larsen praised Sakic and the other veterans for upholding a culture of accountability, which has gone missing in Denver. Larsen’s Falcons are fighting with Providence for the Eastern Conference regular-season title.
Sure looks like the University of Maine goofed by waiting until April 9 to fire coach Tim Whitehead. Ex-Black Bear Jim Montgomery would have been the top candidate, but Maine never got the chance to explore the possibility. Six days later, Montgomery replaced George Gwozdecky as coach at the University of Denver. Insiders in both the college and pro ranks hailed Montgomery, the head coach of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, as the next hot thing. Now, Maine will turn to candidates such as Bob Corkum, Scott Pellerin, and Eric Weinrich, all former Black Bears. One dark horse would be current Islanders coach Jack Capuano. The native of Cranston, R.I., was captain of the 1988 Maine team that went 34-8-2.
Justin Faulk will be entering the final season of his entry-level contract in 2013-14. But Carolina might extend the young defenseman before then. GM Jim Rutherford has always been aggressive in re-upping his players. Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, and Eric Staal boast plump paychecks because of Rutherford’s willingness to identify and pay his core players . . . The NHL had no issues with Craig MacTavish’s declaration of wanting Milan Lucic-type players. Executives usually refrain from mentioning rival players in acquisition context because of tampering concerns . . . When asked about what he’d want in his dream stick, Zdeno Chara responded with a dream scenario: “When I shoot, the puck just goes where I tell it to go.” Chara had a laugh while saying so, but it underscores how unpredictable the strongman’s shot can be, especially without proper practice time. Chara needs all of his shot’s components — timing, balance, backswing, followthrough — working in synch for the cannon to be effective. The compressed schedule has limited Chara from the number of repetitions he needs . . . Short-term Bruin Jason York, now a radio host in Ottawa, offered unprovoked praise for Dougie Hamilton. “I like watching guys who think the game,” said York, who played alongside Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit. York classified Hamilton as a future Norris Trophy winner . . . Providence coach Bruce Cassidy views Nazem Kadri as an NHL comparable for Ryan Spooner. Cassidy cites both centers’ explosive speed and hands. As a third-year pro, Kadri has established himself as a top-two NHL pivot . . . Chris Bourque returned to the Providence lineup on Friday. He hadn’t played since March 16 because of a concussion that left him with headaches. It was Bourque’s fourth career concussion. Physical therapy on his neck helped relieve Bourque of his symptoms . . . No. 1 line on the All-Flow Team, graybeard edition: Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson, Jaromir Jagr . . . Consider some of the circumstances that have struck the following players: Mathieu Darche (retirement), Chris Campoli (signed in Switzerland after failing to attract NHL interest), Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), Rick DiPietro (assigned to AHL), Manny Malhotra (declared unfit to play because of eye injury), Jarome Iginla (traded), Robyn Regehr (traded), Kevin Westgarth (traded). They were some of the players that participated in labor negotiations with the league. Best to check owners’ suites for voodoo dolls.