Tim Thomas, who is entering the final year of his contract, posted on his Facebook page Sunday that he plans to take a break from hockey next season to focus on his friends, family and faith. A year removed from carrying the Bruins to a Stanley Cup, Peter Chiarelli also said Thomas is worn down.
After waiting until age 31 to get his break in the NHL and finally working his way into the league’s elite, Thomas is taking a step back from the game. But rather than retire out right, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is simply taking a year off.
Even if Thomas had decided to retire instead of taking the year off, not much would change in terms of how this all affects the Bruins. Because he signed his contract after the age of 35, the Bruins are on the hook for his $3 million salary and $5 million cap hit.
The Bruins will now have no luck trading him, and his contract will limit the offseason moves the team can make. But what’s done is done. Thomas is moving on to focus on his family and whatever else he chooses, and the Bruins need to move on to the elite goaltender that is going to take his place.
Lucky for the Bruins, Tuukka Rask is a more than capable replacement for Thomas. Long considered the goaltender of the future, Rask will now be given the reins on a full time basis, and he’s ready for the increased role.
The last two seasons have been injury-riddled for Rask. He suffered through a knee injury during the 2010-11 season, and closed out an outstanding 2011-12 campaign with an abdomen injury just a month before the playoffs. Prior to the setback, Rask was outplaying Thomas.
Injuries aside, the Finnish netminder is talented and seasoned enough to start for the vast majority of NHL teams. While the 2009-10 season may have ended in an unceremonious exit from the playoffs, Rask started 39 regular season games, posting a 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage, proving himself capable of handling a full season of work.
The time is now for Rask to take it to the next level. With Thomas out of the picture, Rask will get a chance to settle into more of a rhythm, knowing he will start close to 60 games if healthy. At times in his career, Rask has shown lapses in focus, resulting in inconsistent play. But that lack of focus stemmed from his not knowing when he would play next, which won’t be an issue moving forward.
This is Rask’s team now. And he has the opportunity and ability to go from a backup one season to an elite, No. 1 goalie the next. The Bruins will have a strong defensive unit again next season, especially if Dougie Hamilton cracks the roster, and Anton Khudobin, who was recently signed to a one-way deal, will be able to spell Rask to keep him fresh. The situation is as close to ideal as Rask could ask for.
Thomas’ decision, however, is not ideal, but the Bruins are prepared to deal with it. And the team won’t miss the headache and distractions that accompanied Thomas this season with his Facebook postings and skipping out on the White House trip.
The Bruins have long awaited Tuukka Time, and it is finally here. Next season, Jack Edwards will get plenty of use out of his quirky phrase regarding the spelling of Rask’s first name: “Two U’s, Two K’s, Two Points.”
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