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Net worth

Last modified: 11/10/2010 12:00:00 AM
It's been a little over one month since the Boston Bruins opened up their season in Prague. And what an interesting start it has been.

After all, who didn't see the B's taking two of three from the Washington Capitals (the preseason favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference)? Who didn't think Nathan Horton - a talented player known for taking games off during his time with the Florida Panthers - was going to be a factor every night (he has 11 points in 11 games)? Who didn't predict that Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Brad Marchand would be as productive at the offensive end as they have been (the fourth-line grinders have combined for four goals and 11 points)?

It's been as good a first month as the Black and Gold (7-3-1) could have hoped for, especially when you factor in the biggest surprise to the season, Tim Thomas, who leads the league in goals against average (1.04) and save percentage (.967). But as impressive a start as it's been for the 36-year-old netminder, one question remains: Can it last all season?

The truth is, it can't.

The crux of the matter is that he's stealing minutes from Tuukka Rask, the heir apparent to Timmy, and the man who pretty much single-handedly knocked the Sabres out of the playoffs last April. Rask took over for Thomas in the middle of last season and was lights out for Boston. He led the league in GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.931), and the only reason he wasn't in the running for the Vezina was because he started only 39 games.

The more this guy plays, the better he is. So to put it simply, Thomas is serving as a career roadblock for the 23-year-old Finn.

Coach Claude Julien has instilled a defense-first mentality since he walked through the door in 2007. The Bruins have finished either first or second in goals against in two of the last three years, and currently rank second. Thomas, and Rask for that matter, have been the beneficiaries of a stout defensive unit that blocks a ton of shots and routinely ranks near the top of the league in shots allowed per game.

That's not to say that Thomas hasn't had to stand on his head on occasion. But he's called upon to do it with much less frequency than most tenders.

So, that leaves another question: Where does he go and what is a reasonable return?

With Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome), Marco Sturm (knee surgery) and most recently David Krejci (concussion) out of the lineup, a top-six forward would seem the most feasible candidate in a trade. But Krejci should miss only limited time, Sturm could return in early December and Savard is looking at a January return (at the earliest).

The most logical choice would be to go after another goaltender, preferably a low-price veteran that can play 10-15 games to give Rask the occasional night off. Thomas is a $5 million cap hit for the B's this season, so taking him off the books would free up some valuable space should they need a rental at the trade deadline.

Easier said than done, however. Thomas would need to go somewhere that is both in need of a goaltender and could afford his salary. Likely candidates include Atlanta ($17.75 million cap space), Nashville (10.64) and Tampa Bay (10.37). The Thrashers and Predators probably wouldn't be a destination that Thomas would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for, but the Lightning might be.

With new General Manager Steve Yzerman at the helm and a surplus of offensive talent, Tampa Bay is off to its best start since it won the Cup in 2004. But the Bolts rank 20th in team GAA and 19th in total goals against. Tampa needs a true No. 1 goalie, so a trade involving Thomas for Dan Ellis, a career backup, would free up $3.5 million and give Boston an experienced No. 2 netminder.

And those of you thinking that trading Thomas for a forward or defenseman is still the way to go? That means the No. 2 would fall to either Nolan Schaefer or Michael Hutchinson (currently with the Providence Bruins), neither of which are anywhere near NHL ready. That's simply not an option.

Thomas will never be worth more than he is right now. It's time to ship him out of Boston.

No question about it.

(Gavin Faretra can be reached at 369-3340 or gfaretra@cmonitor.com.)


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