BOSTON, MA - APRIL 23: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins congratulates Tim Thomas #30 after the game against the Montreal Canadiens after Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 23, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in double overtime. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Remember 20 months ago, when the Bruins were coming off of the worst playoff defeat in franchise history because they were playing their C-squad against a team that basically didn't have any goaltending at all and everyone wouldn't shut up about how the Bruins should trade Tim Thomas - fresh off of hip surgery, by the way - to that team for what would likely be the most lucrative trade bounty since Phil Kessel left town?
Fast forward to 12 months later. Thomas - fresh off what goes down as the most astounding season and postseason by an NHL goaltender ever - hoists the Stanley Cup over his head just minutes after receiving the Conn Smythe and just days before garnering his second Vezina Trophy in three years as Vancouverites set humankind back by a few hundred years. And then, just days later, the talk about how Thomas should get traded to the Flyers for a king's ransom, because that team so desperately needs goaltending.
Fast forward to today.
The Flyers, we've learned, didn't need goaltending. Rather, they needed (and continue to need) a commitment to team defense, to safely exiting their zone and to not playing cornhole behind their own net when their opponent is forechecking.
And Tim Thomas, still a Bruin, has never been more valuable.
Sure, there are plenty of things that might make Thomas' value appear to be lower - chief among them his fondness for Facebook and the availability of one Roberto Luongo. There's the decline that he suffered in 2011-12, a decline that would have been an improvement over any of his other seasons in Boston, save for 2008-09 when he won the most games (36) that he's won in a season in Black and Gold.
But those distractions belie the real selling point on Thomas: he performs his best when he's either pissed off (see: Vancouver) or feels that nobody believes in him (see: 2010-11). For Tim Thomas, a trade to another team would not only be an opportunity to exorcise some of the locker room demons that haunted him in Boston this year, it would also provide him with the most incentive to succeed that he'd ever had in the NHL. And this is a guy who's had plenty of incentive to succeed.
Thomas is not going to Philadelphia, where Sergei Bobrovsky and his $1.75 million contract that expires on June 30, 2013 should replace Ilya Bryzgalov as the starting goaltender at the beginning of next year. He won't, but he should.
But he could go to Chicago, a young team with plenty of talent and a hole in net named Corey Crawford (good kid, not such a great goaltender). The Blackhawks have cap space, but would likely have to move Crawford (who has two more years at $2.67 million a year on his contract come July 1st) or Ray Emery (one year, $1.15 million). And Chicago could send back a package including Jimmy Hayes or Viktor Stalberg or any number of depth forwards that would make Peter Chiarelli's decision not to re-sign Chris Kelly an amenable one.
He could go to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who love old goaltenders but don't play defense worth a damn most days, in return for Teddy Purcell or, well, the Lightning don't have much anyone else under contract, and they're not parting ways with St. Louis, Lecavlier or Stamkos. But they do have only one goaltender - Mathieu Garon - under contract next year.
He could go to the Edmonton Oilers, who have a lot of money (see: Ryan Smyth) coming off the cap next year and also have just one goaltender (although that one goaltender is Nik Khabibulin, who's older than Thomas) under contract next year, as well. Many people think that Edmonton could be a contender in the West with a more solid backstop, but those people probably haven't watched the Oilers play hockey recently. They also have the first overall draft pick for the third straight year, and might need to move some pieces around to accommodate the impending raises to Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The only other teams that have a real need for a goaltender are Winnipeg (no netminders under contract come July 1st) and Colorado, who didn't see Semyon Varlamov morph into the all-world goaltender they hoped he'd be last year. Minnesota might be another candidate, but Niklas Backstrom is getting $6 million a year in 2012-13, and that's an awful lot of money to commit to a goaltending tandem.
No team is going to mortgage the future for Thomas, who has one and maybe two more good years in him, but someone might for Rask, who we're still not really sure what to expect from. Goalie of the future talk be damned, we've seen one season as the number one guy from Rask, and it's hard to know how much of that was due to Thomas' hip injury in 2009-10.
What Rask would offer in the trade market is something that Thomas can't and won't do: provide a long-term return. But what the Bruins - who could platoon Rask and Khudobin until Zane Gothberg or Lars Volden or Michael Hutchinson are ready to play second-fiddle to Rask in a few years - have in Rask is much greater at this point than what they have in Thomas, whose contract will expire in 12 months one way or the other.
Chiarelli should retain Rask at whatever cost - it won't be considerably higher than his current $1.25 million annual hit, but could be around $3 million per over three or four years. But he'd be imprudent to at not least put Thomas' name on the market during the next few months, if only because the last time Thomas was used as trade bait, it ended with a Stanley Cup.