Things have gotten relatively quiet around the NHL now that the initial wave of free agent signings has come and gone. The Bruins never got involved in those bidding wars this year, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of questions about what the club has, and has not, done so far this offseason.
I've tried to hit upon as many of those topics as possible in the latest 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 throughout the offseason.
Who's going to play on the third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley?
— Matt LeBlanc via Facebook
That could be the most interesting battle in camp this fall. Right now, the job appears to be Jordan Caron's to lose, and the Bruins want to give him a chance to prove he's ready to be an everyday player in the NHL. I believe that is part of the reason the Bruins haven't added a veteran through free agency to vie for this spot, though it's still possible they could do that before camp.
Barring that, Caron will have to hold off the likes of youngsters Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner, plus Chris Bourque, Christian Hanson and Carter Camper. It's also possible that the Bruins could give Daniel Paille a look on that line, especially if Lane MacDermid has a strong camp and appears ready to take a spot on the fourth line. All those players will also be in contention to stay with the team if the Bruins carry an extra forward or two. But based on how he played down the stretch last season and the fact that Claude Julien even trusted him enough to play him in the playoffs, I would be surprised if Caron does not open the season in that spot.
The other variable is Nathan Horton's status. If he has any trouble returning from his concussion, Peverley could slide up to a top six role, leaving two spots on the third line open. While it appears unlikely that the Bruins will make a major move this offseason to add a top six forward either by trade or free agency, if they do that it would obviously shake up the lines and impact that third unit as well.
Is Ryan Spooner going to make it this year? He's too good to be sent down I think.
— Ken Pickering via Facebook
I like Spooner's game a lot and think he will earn a long look in camp for a spot with the big club, but it's most likely that he'll begin his first pro season in Providence. He and Jared Knight are both done with their junior careers and are eligible to play in the AHL this season. While Spooner has had some experience there playing a handful of games at the end of the last two seasons after his junior campaigns were over, he still will likely need some additional seasoning in Providence.
That doesn't mean he's not capable of being a pleasant surprise in camp and forcing his way onto the team. Heck, he nearly did that two years ago with a great showing in the preseason. But the Bruins' depth up front, especially down the middle, gives them the luxury of bringing him along at a more conservative pace and allowing him to develop in the AHL for a bit. There are always injuries and the need for call-ups though, so I wouldn't bet against both Spooner and Knight making their NHL debut at some point before the season is over, just not necessarily right out of camp.
Do you see the Bruins doing anything to sign a veteran depth D-man in case of injury to any of the top 6? Like a Scott Hannan?
— Steve Simonelli via Facebook
Even though the Bruins signed Garnet Exelby this week, I think it's possible they will still look to add another veteran who could fill that role. I'm not sure that Exelby is the guy for that job at this stage of his career. He's spent the last two years in the AHL and I think that signing may have been done more with an eye toward giving the Providence blue line an experienced anchor with so many young defensive prospects likely playing there this season.
I do think it would be more beneficial to have a veteran in that role rather than a youngster like Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski. Those guys would be better served playing regularly in Providence than sitting in the press box in Boston. Exelby might be able to fill that need, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Bruins look at adding another veteran that may be a little more of a secure option to call upon.
Hannan could be a possibility, though I wonder if he is at the point in his career yet where he would be interested in a role that would keep him out of the lineup on most nights. Bringing back Mike Mottau is an option I've discussed before and still think would be a good fit, or perhaps someone like Jim Vandermeer, Mike Commodore or Brett Clark, or even an ex-Bruin from further back with a wise but grizzled vet like Steve Staios or Sean O'Donnell. There are still a lot of options for players of that ilk on the market. The Bruins may wait until closer to camp to see what kinds of defensemen are still available and maybe more willing to accept a limited role at that point.
This one has confused me for quite awhile now. If Thomas is the one who is choosing to sit out for the season why do the Bruins have to pay him? I could see it if the Bruins told him he wasn't going to play this season but it's his choice to sit out.
— Randall Stewart, Ludlow, Mass.
Hi Douglas, I haven't heard anything recently about Tim Thomas? What is the latest status about what his plans are and/or what the Bruins plans for him are? Thank you! Can't wait for the season to start! Go Bruins!
— Grace Elizabeth Quist, Grafton, Mass.
There still seems to be a little confusion about the Tim Thomas situation with a lot of readers asking about him, so I thought I'd give a two-for-one deal here and answer a couple of questions to hopefully clear things up a bit.
Randall, the Bruins won't be paying Thomas anything this season. If he sits out and refuses to report to the team as he plans to do, he will be suspended without pay. However, his $5 million cap hit still counts toward the Bruins' team cap number because his contract went into effect after he turned 35. By the rules of the current CBA, cap hits for players on over-35 contracts remain in effect even if the player retires, is suspended or is sent to the minors, etc. That is why trading Thomas is still a possibility. The Bruins may be able to send him to a team struggling to reach the cap floor. Having $5 million to count against the cap without having to actually pay out any money could be very attractive for some cash-strapped or excessively frugal teams.
Also, Thomas is actually only surrendering $3 million by not playing this season. That is his actual salary for 2012-13. The cap hit is higher because it is the average salary of the four-year deal he signed in 2009. It was a front-loaded deal, so he has already earned $17 million of the $20 million he signed for in the first three years.
Grace, there hasn't been any recent news on Thomas because there hasn't been anything to report. Thomas has informed the Bruins of his intention to sit out the year and has made no indication of changing his mind. The Bruins have moved on from him, re-signed Tuukka Rask and will go into the season with a goalie tandem of Rask and Anton Khudobin. I really don't foresee any scenario that would have Thomas ever playing another game in a Bruins uniform. The only news likely to come later this summer is the possibility of dealing Thomas to a team looking to reach the cap floor as described above, and that probably won't happen until closer to camp when teams have a better idea of what the new CBA may entail in regard to any changes with the cap floor.
With Tim Thomas out for this season for personal reasons, it's clear the Bruins are relying on Tuukka Rask as the starter. The Bruins drafted the top goaltender prospect of this year's draft, Malcolm Subban. The Bruins already have an NHL tested goalie down in Providence, Anton Koudobin. Who do you think will back up Rask and is it possible that the other goalie may get called up? … After a disgraceful follow-up to their Stanley Cup season, can our B's look to get their names on the Cup again this year?
— Matthew Demeule via Facebook
Barring an injury or a disastrous camp, Khudobin will be up in Boston all year as Rask's backup. That will be the tandem for the big club, with Michael Hutchinson, Niklas Svedberg and Adam Morrison competing for the spots in Providence.
Subban isn't close to being NHL ready, and he is not eligible to play in Providence or be recalled from juniors this season once he is returned to his OHL team in Belleville. That is where he will spend this season and most likely next season as well. After that, he'll be eligible to play in Providence and will likely need some time there as well. He is a very promising prospect, but it usually takes quite a while for goalies to develop before they are ready for the NHL. With Rask just 25 and entering his prime, there is no need to rush Subban and risk hampering that development.
As for the second part of that question, I think it's extremely unfair to categorize the Bruins' past season as anything close to "disgraceful." Disappointing? Sure. But disgraceful? Not even close. The Bruins lost a Game 7 in overtime in a series in which every game was decided by one goal. They ran into a hot goalie and a team coming together at the right time. And a team that also took the top-seeded Rangers to seven games in the following round. Expectations were certainly higher than losing in the first round, but it's not like the Bruins were swept or even blown out in any of the games. It wasn't the ending anyone involved with the Bruins had hoped for, but I can't go along with saying it was anything close to "disgraceful."
And yes, I do think this team is capable of making another long playoff run and winning another Cup. Will they? That's impossible to say at this point with how much can happen over the course of a season, but they are definitely among the group of 8-10 teams I would consider as legitimate contenders entering the season.
Were Malcolm Subban/Torey Krug/Dougie Hamilton good enough in Development Camp to crack the Bruins lineup?
— Ben Wagner via Facebook
That's not really the purpose of the development camp. The Bruins' management and coaching staff makes it pretty clear to the prospects that the development camp isn't designed as a time for them to try to win jobs. It's much more focused on team-building exercises to strengthen the bonds of players who may be future teammates in Boston one day and giving the youngsters a taste of what professional hockey is all about on and off the ice and an introduction to the Bruins organization. It also hopefully gives the youngsters an idea of what to expect when the real camps do begin in the fall and better prepares them to be ready to perform when jobs are at stake.
That said, Subban, Krug and Hamilton certainly didn't do anything to hurt their stock during the development camp. Subban is several years away from being NHL ready, so I wouldn't expect him to make a run at a spot in Boston anytime soon, but he is definitely a bright prospect for the future. Krug will be in the mix for the seventh spot on defense and has a chance to stick, while Hamilton is pretty much a lock to start the season in Boston's top six on the blue line.
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.