The Bruins didn't even make it to the July 1 opening of free agency before big news broke. Heck, they barely made it to the start of June, with the bombshell of Tim Thomas' decision to sit out the upcoming season being confirmed by general manager Peter Chiarelli on a conference call originally designed to discuss the re-signings of Daniel Paille and Chris Bouque on June 1.
Questions about Thomas' situation naturally dominated this week's inquiries, but I was able to hit upon a few other subjects as well in this week's edition of the Bruins Mailbag. As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions, and I'll answer as many of them as I can to help get everyone through the long summer ahead.
Hi Doug, I'm sure all the questions will be about Tim Thomas this week but I can't resist. What are all the options to get the Bruins off the hook for his cap hit? I know he has the NMC/NTC clause, but could they just put him on waivers to Providence and let him go that way?
— Darren Anderson, Gales Ferry, Conn.
The options to get Thomas' cap hit off the Bruins' books are pretty limited. The no-movement clause really isn't a factor. That expires on July 1, so the Bruins could trade, waive or demote him at that point. But because he was 35 when the contract went into effect, only moving Thomas to another organization will get rid of the $5 million cap hit for the Bruins. If he were to retire, be demoted to the minors or simply sit out as he has stated he plans to, the cap hit remains on the books per CBA rules.
The reason for that is to prevent teams from signing older players to long contracts, extending the deals with low-money years at the end to lower the cap hit, knowing that the players are likely to retire long before those final years would come into play. For that reason, I believe it is a good rule. But obviously, I don't think this particular situation with a player on an over-35 deal refusing to play a season but not retiring and indicating he plans to come back the following year was ever anticipated. Personally, I think if a player on such a contract refuses to report and is suspended, the cap hit should not apply, and it is possible such a change could be made in the next CBA. That won't help the Bruins right now, though.
For the Bruins to get Thomas off their cap this season, they would have to either trade him or put him on waivers and have another club claim him. With his stated plan to sit out the season, his trade value is virtually nil. The one chance they may have is to trade him to a team struggling to get to the cap floor. Thomas' $5 million would go a long way toward that for a low-budget team which could find it very attractive to have $5 million to put toward the cap without having to spend any actual money. The Bruins wouldn't get much of a return in such a deal, but the value would simply be having that $5 million off their cap and free to use to address other needs.
Putting him on waivers could accomplish the same thing if a team looking to reach the floor were to put in a claim. The problem with either of those scenarios is the uncertainty about the new CBA, which could dramatically lower or even eliminate the floor. But outside of making a cap-floor deal, the Bruins will be stuck with the cap hit unless Thomas changes his mind about sitting out and the Bruins can complete a more traditional trade to a team actually looking for an upgrade in goal.
Hi Doug. For those of us that aren't NHL contract experts, could you explain how Tim Thomas' decision to sit out next year affects the Bruins in regard to the cap. I assume they won't be paying him. I hear the term tolling the contract, what is that? His salary is $3 million, but it is a $5 million cap hit? Could you break it down for us? Thank you.
— Ken Finegan, Billerica, Mass.
Ken, I wish I didn't have to be an "expert" on so many contract issues and could stick to strictly what is going on out on the ice, but I'm happy to try to offer some help in the financial particulars as well.
You are right about the numbers involved. Thomas was due to make $3 million this season, but the cap hit is $5 million because the deal was front-loaded. The cap hit is the average salary over the course of the contract, not the actual salary of each year, so the four-year, $20-million deal counts as $5 million toward the cap each year.
If Thomas goes through with his plan to sit out, the Bruins can suspend him for not reporting and they will not have to pay that $3 million next year. The $5 million still counts against the cap, though, because of the rules for contracts for players over-35 explained above. And as noted in the previous answer, the only way to shed that cap hit is for the Bruins to move Thomas to another team via trade or having him claimed on waivers.
What tolling the contract means is that if Thomas does sit out, the Bruins can opt to have the contract terms carry over to the following season. If he refuses to play this year, he still owes them a year of service by the terms of the contract. That would allow the Bruins to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming a free agent and playing elsewhere. But unless the Bruins were very confident that Thomas was going to come back the following season, and they were either willing to patch things up and let him play in Boston or thought they would be able to trade him then, it's unlikely they will exercise their right to toll the contract.
That is because along with retaining their rights to Thomas, tolling the contract would also keep the cap hit on their books for another year, and they would find themselves in the exact same circumstances. If they can't trade him this season, the Bruins will likely let the contract expire and allow Thomas to sign elsewhere if he really thinks he can make a comeback at age 39 after a year away from the game. Even though they risk getting nothing in return if he does come back, they would at least be free of the cap hit and any other headaches from this sorry situation.
Hey Doug, I'm curious about the state of the Bruins' prospects, and what are the Bruins' internal options if they're unable to bring back or replace some their various free agents? I keep hearing great things about Dougie Hamilton, but otherwise, I haven't heard much about anyone else in the Bruins system. Who do you think has a solid chance of being NHL ready for next season, and where might they fit into the lineup?
— Doug C., Milton, Mass.
Hamilton is certainly at the top of any list of Bruins prospects, whether you're looking for who has the highest potential ceiling or who is the closest to being ready to contribute at the NHL level. After a monster season in the OHL this year, he has a very good chance of cracking the Boston lineup in this upcoming season.
After him, the next three most highly-regarded prospects in the system are also OHL products. Forwards Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev all have bright futures but may need more seasoning before being ready for the NHL.
Knight is probably the closest to being ready, and Spooner could have an outside shot this season as well, while Khokhlachev may be the most skilled of the trio but is also nearly two years younger (he turns 19 in September, while Knight and Spooner both turn 21 in January). Knight and Spooner can both go to the AHL next year and shuttle between Boston and Providence as needed, while Khokhlachev will have to go back to Windsor (OHL) if he doesn't make the Boston roster.
As for players who may not have as much upside but are closer to being ready to fill certain roles in Boston, Lane MacDermid, Craig Cunningham, Max Sauve and Carter Camper could be in the mix for depth spots up front with the big club, and Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Andrew Bodnarchuk could battle for a spot on the blue line if a veteran free agent isn't added this summer. MacDermid looked like he belonged during his brief call-up late last season, but with Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille both re-signed, he might have a tough time cracking the lineup. Cunningham could have a chance to be a sparkplug centering the fourth line if Gregory Campbell doesn't come back.
Newly acquired Chris Bourque could be included among the forwards as well, though at 26 he might be pushing the limit of still being considered a prospect.
Defenseman Tommy Cross will be one to watch as well in his first pro season after a strong, but injury-plagued collegiate career at Boston College.
Doug, now that Tim Thomas has shown us there is no "f" in team, will his legacy be that of a Conn Smythe winner/Stanley Cup hero or the guy who didn't include his teammates among his three "f's" and cost the Bruins in a number of ways in 2012-13?
— James Paul, St. John's
I think Thomas is going to have a very complicated legacy in Boston, and that is very unfortunate. As much as I personally disagree with his politics and don't condone the decisions he's made to put his political beliefs above the interests of his team at times, what he accomplished on the ice should not be forgotten. The season he had in 2010-11 was truly one for the ages, and while every member of that team contributed in very significant ways to that championship, I think it's safe to say that the Bruins aren't likely to have ended their Stanley Cup drought without him.
That said, he has certainly damaged his reputation among many fans with his behavior in the past year. His performance on the ice should always evoke positive memories for Bruins fans, but the way he has separated himself from the team will also leave a lasting taint on his legacy.
Will we see [Tyler] Seguin at center next season?
— Zac Louten
A lot will depend on what the Bruins do in free agency or any other moves they make this summer, but at this point, I don't expect Seguin to move back to center unless injuries strike. Even if Chris Kelly isn't re-signed, the Bruins still have their top two centers set with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Seguin is better served staying at wing on one of the top two lines than moving to the middle on the third unit. He had no issues playing on the wing last year, and with the chemistry he showed with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, I don't see a need to mess with that at this point.
It is a good luxury to know that he can move to the middle if Krejci or Bergeron were ever sidelined, but if everyone is healthy, the Bruins have a greater need for Seguin's skill on the wing. The one caveat to that, of course, is the possibility of a trade. I personally don't believe the Bruins will make a major move and break up the core of a team that's just a year removed from winning a Cup, but if they were to explore the trade market, Seguin could slide to center pretty seamlessly.
Do you see the Bruins looking to pick up [Alexander] Radulov?
— Russ Gagne via Twitter (@twofortrippin)
I really don't think Radulov would be a good fit here. If he had problems playing in Barry Trotz's system in Nashville, then the defensive responsibilities needed to excel under Claude Julien aren't likely to suit his game too well, either. Add in the off-ice issues with his curfew-breaking in the playoffs that led to a suspension, and I really don't see that being a wise addition, even though he will be available as Nashville has made it clear they are moving on from that failed experiment.
Considering how much work it took just to get him back to North America, the Predators' willingness to part ways again so quickly should raise a giant red flag for any team thinking about kicking the tires on Radulov this summer. I'm expecting that he will end up back in the KHL next season, and there have already been reports that CSKA Moscow has interest in both Radulov and Alexander Semin.
Have questions for Douglas Flynn's mailbag? Leave them in the comments section below, send them to him via Twitter @douglasflynn or send them here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week. Be sure to check back to see if your question was answered.