Trade Thomas…Ruin Rask?

Rask can still benefit from Thomas' presence.

Another season is over for the Bruins, a season that ended in more heartbreak for the black and gold faithful.

Now comes the time of great speculation, and complaining, from the fans.  Most are focused on the draft, but many are still focused on the Bruins goaltending situation. Tim Thomas is taking up $5 million in cap space for a team that desperately needs wingers who know how to find the back of the net.

“Trade Thomas” is the battle cry from many of these fans. After all, they say, there are many teams looking for a veteran goaltender and Rask, they say, is the real deal. Thomas had a “bad” season and the Bruins should hand the reins over to Rask full time.

Be careful what you wish for Bruins fans.

Many Bruins fans seem to have short term memories. First, they point out how “awful” Thomas was this season. But was he really? If you look at Tim’s numbers this year, they were about on par with what he has done for his career. He had a subpar year by his overall standards, but not by much.

Thomas finished the 2008-09 season with a 2.10 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, both of which where career highs. He won the Vezina as he and Manny Fernandez took home the Jennings trophy.

Thomas can help fill in while Rask builds towards being Vezina worthy.

But almost every Bruin had a career year, or close to it, last season. This year Thomas basically fell back down to earth but because of his impressive Vezina winning campaign, fans automatically assumed that was the real Tim Thomas. How often does a 35 year old goalie suddenly find his game that late in his career?

This year Thomas posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average, right along where his career averages sit. But because he raised the bar for one season, fans expected that every season going forward. So did Bruins management when they handed him a 4-year, $20 million deal. How quickly fans turned their back on Thomas when he “struggled.”

Now they see him as an expensive back-up and have anointed Rask the savior in net. Again, their memories are short.

Recall the names Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen. Two Boston goalies who started out their NHL careers in grand fashion, were anointed saviors by Boston fans and then quickly flamed out.

Boston drafted Raycroft 135th overall in the 1998 draft. Raycroft spent the majority of his first three seaons in Providence getting ready for the big time. Raycroft was finally called up full time for the 2003-2004 season, finishing with a record of 29-18-9, a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. He would go on to win the Calder Trophy for best rookie and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team.

After returning from Europe after the 2004-2005 lockout Raycroft struggled for Boston finishing with an 8-19-2 record with a 3.70 goals against average and .879 save percentage. Raycroft was thrust into the spotlight after one spectacular season and was portrayed as a Boston savior, an end to years of goalie woes between the Boston pipes.

Raycroft flamed out quickly after winning the Calder.

But he never regained the form he had in his rookie year and Boston was too impatient. He was demoted to third on the goalie depth chart and traded the following season… for Tuukka Rask.

Hannu Toivonen was drafted by Boston 29th overall in 2002. He would spend his first two years down in Providence honing his craft. For the 2005-2006 season Boston called him up to serve as back-up. Toivonen would finish the season a respectable 9-5-4 with a 2.63 goals against and .914 save percentage before an injury derailed his season.

Toivonen would spend the 2006-2007 season getting bounced back and forth between the AHL and the NHL, never really getting a chance to get any rhythm or momentum at either level. He would eventually be traded to the St. Louis Blues and spend time over seas before again sigining with the Blues and playing for their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen.

Confidence and steady development are huge for goalies, perhaps the hardest position in hockey to learn and really develop. Rushing a prospect and ruining that confidence can derail a career. Raycroft and Toivonen are prime examples of prospects the Bruins had in net but did not have the patience to develop correctly.

Even look north to the Bruins hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price exploded onto the scene in the playoffs for the Canadiens, drawing comparisons to Roy and Dryden. But as the following season opened, Price struggled.

Montreal fans turned on him, and soon after his own management did. Now he is the subject of trade rumors around the league. A once promising goalie thought to be the real deal has been relegated to a back up and will almost certainly be shipped out of town as Montreal goes through a similar process with Jaroslav Halak.

Tuukka Rask was fantastic this season. That much cannot be argued. But this was his first full season in the NHL, and he was not the #1 starter until the last month of the season. In the series against Philadelphia, Rask looked mentally and physically spent.

The Bruins as a whole didn’t look good against the Flyers, but Rask suddenly was not making the big saves when he needed to, a sure sign of his first NHL season wearing him down and Rask going through some growing pains.

Tim Thomas may not be as good as his Vezina winning campaign made him look, but he may also not be as bad as he looked this season. He But he is a solid safety net for Rask to fall back on while he develops and hopefully turns into the great goalie we all think he can be.

Rask is the future for the Bruins, but they need to ease him into the role.

Rask is going to struggle at times. It is important for the Bruins to have a veteran goaltender to fall back on while this happens. Let Rask struggle and learn from those struggles. Trading Thomas and putting the entire burden on Rask could destroy him.

Rask looks to have all the tools in place. He’s solid with his angles, has a quick glove hand and consistently remains calm under fire. But he’s not quite ready yet. He could be the next great goalie in the NHL… or he could be the next great flame out. One good year does not make a great goalie.

Ask Raycroft. Or Toivonen. Or Tim Thomas. So before you throw Thomas out the door and hand the keys to the car to Tuukka Rask, think about the ghosts of goalies past in Boston and realize Thomas just may be more valuable to the Bruins than you think.

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