For the third straight season, the Bruins featured the goalie with the best goals-against average and top save percentage in the league. This time it was Tim Thomas' turn, as he put together a truly historic season between the pipes in leading the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
A year after the Bruins explored options to trade him to clear his $5-million salary cap hit, Thomas is now the toast of the town. With Tuukka Rask remaining as Thomas' understudy, the Bruins have arguably the strongest goaltending tandem in the NHL. Here's a look at how the goaltending position stacks up throughout the organization heading into the 2011-12 season.
The Bruins return both parts of their dominant duo in net, led by veteran Tim Thomas, fresh off a remarkable season for the ages. Thomas led the NHL with a 2.00 GAA and a record .938 save percentage in the regular season en route to winning his second Vezina Trophy, then bettered those numbers in the postseason with a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage to take home the Conn Smythe.Thomas bounced back from an off year in 2009-10 and hip surgery that followed that season. At the age of 37 there is some concern about how long he can maintain this level of play, and no goalie will likely have a season as good as the one Thomas enjoyed last year, but he should be able to retain his spot among the world's elite netminders for another couple seasons. If he does falter, the Bruins have quite an insurance policy in Tuukka Rask, who came into last year as the Bruins' starter after supplanting Thomas and leading the NHL in GAA and save percentage in 2009-10. Rask, 24, slipped to a 2.67 GAA last year, though his save percentage of .918 still ranked 14th in the NHL, ahead of the likes of Ryan Miller (.916), Dwayne Roloson (.914), Jimmy Howard (.908) and Martin Brodeur (.903), among others. Rask played in 29 games last year and may see some more action this season as Thomas will likely need a bit of rest following the grueling Cup run that saw his play the entirety of all 25 Bruins playoff games. Boston also re-signed Anton Khudobin, a late-season pickup from Minnesota who excelled in Providence (9-4-1, 2.40 GAA, .920 save percentage), then practiced with the big club throughout the playoffs. Khudobin was 28-16-2 with 2.52 GAa and a .911 save percentage overall in the AHL last year, and also went 2-1-0 with a 1.59 GAA and a .942 save percentage in four games in the NHL with the Wild, showing he could fill in with the big club if injuries created a need.
Providence began the season with a netminding duo of Nolan Schaefer and Matt Dalton, but neither will be back this season. Schaefer went just 9-16-1 with a 3.11 GAA and an .897 save percentage before being loaned to Hershey after Khudobin's arrival. Dalton was 7-9-0 with a 3.20 GAA and an .894 save percentage with Providence, though he spent the bulk of the season in the ECHL and was not tendered a qualifying offer after the season.
The Bruins added another young goalie to their system when they drafted Lars Volden, a native of Oslo, Norway playing in Finland, in the sixth round this June. He is not on hand for this week's rookie camp, but Jared DeMichiel is in Wilmington, having been invited to camp as a tryout after splitting last season between Hershey in the AHL and South Carolina and Elmira in the ECHL.
In the System:
In addition to Khudobin and Volden, the Bruins will have Michael Hutchinson back after splitting last season between Providence (13-10-1, 3.13 GAA, .904 save percentage) and Reading (9-5-4, 2.86 GAA, .918 save percentage) in the first pro season for the 2008 third-round pick. Adam Courchaine, who spent his entire first pro season in the ECHL going 17-7-2 with a 2.52 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Reading and Alaska, could challenge Hutchinson for the backup role in Providence. Further down the pipeline is Zane Gothberg, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who played for Fargo in the USHL last year, going 14-8-0 with a 2.23 GAA and a .908 save percentage. He'll spend one more year in the USHL before heading to the University of North Dakota.
There's no drama to this decision. Thomas and Rask will be the tandem in Boston once again. This time Thomas returns as the incumbent starter, but Rask will certainly look to push him for playing time and that competition should continue to bring out the best in both of them. Khudobin will see time if either is injured, otherwise he'll be the No. 1 in Providence, likely with Hutchinson as his backup there.
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will analyze a different position on the Bruins roster every day this week.