Cross Checks: Tim Thomas

video Not wild about Heatley
Hard decisions ahead for Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo as he struggles to find a place for veteran winger Dany Heatley -- or, more to the point, determine if there's a place at all for the former multiple 50-goal scorer. Heatley was a healthy scratch for two games in the past week, but with injuries to a few of his teammates, he was back in the lineup in Thursday's shootout loss to Chicago. Still, Heatley played just 8:49 and was a minus-1. He has only 12 goals this season and has gone 15 straight games without a goal. The move makes one wonder what Heatley's short-term role will be as the Wild look to lock up the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference -- which would mean a first-round date with the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues (it would be Anaheim as of Friday). Beyond that, Heatley is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, although what will the market be for an aging sniper whose production has slowly declined in recent years? Still, until this season, Heatley had never scored fewer than 24 goals in any full NHL season.

Speaking of the Wild
We saw the Wild in St. Louis last week and wondered about their goaltending. Since then, rookie Darcy Kuemper went down with an injury and Ilya Bryzgalov has moved into the starter's role, at least temporarily, while Josh Harding returned to practice. There's no timetable for Harding's return and Bryzgalov has put together strong performances and is 4-0-3 since coming over from the Edmonton Oilers. Not that goaltending won't continue to be a storyline for the Wild, but the bigger issue might be generating enough offense to stay close in a first-round series: Mikael Granlund, an Olympic hero for the Finns and an important part of the Wild's attack, is out of the lineup after suffering what appeared to be a head injury against the Los Angeles Kings. With Heatley a non-factor offensively, the pressure will grow for the Wild’s young players to step forward. Needless to say, it's a lot to ask at this stage of the season.

Benn leading the charge for Stars
The Dallas Stars have put themselves in excellent position to end a five-year playoff drought, and a large part of the resurgence has, of course, been because of the play of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, a member of Canada's Olympic coaching staff, was bemoaning the education Benn received with the gold-medal-winning Canadian squad in Sochi earlier this year. Benn, who wasn't even invited to Team Canada's August orientation camp, was one of the team's best forwards in Sochi, ultimately playing on an imposing line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. "I could see him watching guys" throughout the tournament, Hitchcock said. "He picked up a lot of education that I think he's going to use against us for the rest of his life," the Blues coach added, only half-jokingly. There is a good chance the Stars and the Blues will meet in the first round of the playoffs.

Tim Thomas' transition going well
The Stars, of course, were part of the 11 goaltender transactions involving 10 goaltenders (Jaroslav Halak was moved twice) leading to the trade deadline, acquiring former Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas. We caught up with Thomas in St. Louis and he talked about the ease with which he was able to make the move from Florida to Dallas, even if it was an unusual period given the number of goalies who changed locations. "I think it probably depends on the situation; for me, stepping in here, it was very comfortable transition," Thomas said, noting former Boston Bruins teammates Seguin and Rich Peverley helped immensely. He also knew Ray Whitney from previously working on the Garth Brooks Foundation one summer. And he'd played with Erik Cole at the world championships one year and briefly roomed with him. Then, in a reminder of just how tight the goaltending fraternity is, Thomas described having met Stars netminding coach Mike Valley years ago when Valley was considering playing in Europe and spoke to Thomas about the experience. "When he was still playing, I had talked to him once when he was debating on whether he should go and play in Sweden," Thomas said. "He came to Sweden and that was the year I was playing in Sweden, so he stayed at my house for a night." The veteran goalie even recalled having run into the Stars' equipment manager in Houston in the old International Hockey League back in the day. "There were a lot of things that made it feel real comfortable really fast," he said. "It was great. Very easy transition."

Legwand easing in too
David Legwand went to high school in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and played junior hockey in nearby Plymouth before the Nashville Predators selected him with the second overall pick in the 1998 draft. Until a month ago, he'd played all of his 956 regular-season games in a Predators jersey. But if he was going to find himself in a new jersey at the trade deadline, it was more than a little fitting that it would be the winged wheel of the Detroit Red Wings. Throw in a heated battle for a playoff berth and the fact Legwand was simply able to move into the home he and his family have had in the Detroit area for years and, well, you couldn't ask for a more seamless transition. "It's been exciting," Legwand told ESPN.com. "No one wants to play the last 10 or 15 games for nothing." With the Predators headed for a second straight season out of the playoffs, Legwand admitted that agreeing to a trade from the only team he's known was difficult, but he is enjoying the emotion of the Red Wings' battle to return to the playoffs for a 23rd straight season. Although he's 33 and headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, Legwand is suddenly among the grizzled veterans of a Wings squad that has relied on untested but talented youth to help carry the team in the face of injuries to established players Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. Indeed, Legwand points out, were it not for those injuries, the Wings probably wouldn't have needed his services. Whether or not he ends up staying with his hometown team, Legwand has certainly helped his market value with three goals and seven assists in his first 15 games.

Coyotes howling at the playoffs
Remember back in training camp, when we all delivered our Stanley Cup predictions? Remember when I suggested the Phoenix Coyotes could run the table in the spring of 2014? Ha-ha. OK, I remember it too. Lots of things have conspired to keep the Yotes on the other side of the playoff bubble heading into the final week of the regular season. And while there's still time to turn things around, the injury to Mike Smith and the sudden disappearance of the offense are major stumbling blocks. Of all the players who have been major disappointments in the NHL this season, it would be difficult to find a guy who has delivered less when it matters most than Mike Ribeiro. I remember having multiple heated discussions with my pal Craig Custance about whether the Capitals should try to retain Ribeiro's services long term after a strong season playing second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. Well, the Caps have their own issues, but it looks as if they did right by passing on Ribeiro, who has been a colossal disappointment in the desert. He has just one goal in his last 20 games and has recently been a healthy scratch -- all of this after signing a four-year deal worth $22 million last offseason. It's not really part of the Coyotes’ financial master plan to buy out players, but Ribeiro has a lot of ground to make up if he's still with the team next season, especially if his lack of production contributes to the Coyotes' missing the playoffs.

Ramblings: The year of the goaltender

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
10:49
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Really, Buffalo?: It’s been easy to pile on Buffalo GM Darcy Regier for the shipwreck that is the Sabres, although in the wake of the Thomas Vanek trade there has also been a weird kind of damning with faint praise for Regier’s ability to return good young assets/draft picks as he continues to tear down the team he so poorly constructed. OK, so Regier is really good at cleaning up his own mess. It’s kind of weird, but we’ll buy it. Sort of. But when we read John Vogl’s report in the Buffalo News that the Sabres were prepared to make Vanek the highest-paid player in the NHL, we were gob-smacked. Vogl is a pro so we trust his sources. Now maybe that’s how the franchise is trying to quietly spin having to deal their most skilled skater -- oh, we would have kept him at any price but he decided to fly the coop -- but if the team was actually prepared to pay Vanek more than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin or any of the game’s truly elite players, it is stark indictment of everyone wearing a suit connected to the franchise from owner Terry Pegula on down. Talk about a franchise gone down the rabbit hole.

Pain in the net: So, 2013-14 is looking like it’s shaping up to be the season of the goalie. Or rather the season of the banged-up, knocked-down, on-the-limp goalie. To whit, the season is less than a month old and brand-name netminders Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward, Tim Thomas, Kari Lehtonen, Niklas Backstrom, James Reimer and Jimmy Howard have already gone down with a variety of injuries. Some (like Ward and Rinne) are out long term, forcing their teams to consider Plan B or even C, D or E. Shorter pads? Narrower nets forcing netminders into more side-to-side movement? Lots of theories but one thing is for certain, the injuries are scaring the beejeebers out of GMs and fans.

Goalie to spare: Speaking of goaltending, not sure how things are going to turn out, but Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau has used three different starters this season -- Viktor Fasth, Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen -- and the trio somehow manages to win ... for the most part. While the high-scoring Ducks (they rank seventh in goals per game heading into action Tuesday) have rolled to a 9-3-0 record, the goaltending is in a bit of flux. Fasth has appeared in just three games due to injury, while Hiller faltered in recent days and has allowed 11 goals on the last 60 shots he’s faced. That opened the door for Andersen, the 6-foot-4 Dane who has gone 3-0 and allowed just four goals on the 74 shots he’s faced in his first NHL action. Given that Hiller’s contract is going to expire at the end of this season, the Ducks are seemingly awash in goaltending fortunes (the best of the bunch is likely John Gibson, currently toiling in the AHL) and goalies are dropping like flies (see above), it’s likely you’ll hear Hiller’s name a lot more frequently in the coming days.

Road trip: You have to wonder about the intersection of fate and the schedule-makers. The Nashville Predators appear to be at that very intersection now with starting netminder Rinne out with a hip infection for about a month, which seems like about the amount of time they’ll be on the road on their coming monster road trip. The Preds visit Phoenix on Halloween Thursday night, then head to L.A., Colorado, Winnipeg and finish with a swing East for dates in New Jersey, Long Island and Pittsburgh. After winning their first game without Rinne, the Preds were blasted by St. Louis on Saturday. This is a team that historically relies on scoring by committee and if ever there was a time for that committee to get to work, it’s during this upcoming trip. We talked to veteran Matt Cullen just before Rinne’s injury and he talked glowingly about the mentality taking shape in the dressing room and his role playing mostly with youngsters Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque. It’s not quite two kids and an old goat a la Brett Hull at the end in Detroit, but the Preds are hoping for something similar in production, especially during this long absence from Music City.

Blue-line blues: You might think a 7-3-2 record through the first month of the schedule would be at least somewhat satisfying for the Phoenix Coyotes, but a closer look suggests head coach Dave Tippett would like a little more traditional Yotes style in the current team’s play. On the offensive side of the puck, the team has generated far more than might have been expected, ranking fourth in goals per game at a healthy 3.33 clip. That’s been the pleasant surprise as the team has received contributions from up and down the lineup, including a healthy contribution in goals and points from the back end, where Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle lead one of the most dynamic blue lines in the NHL. But what has Tippett troubled is the team’s overall defense, which is tied for 25th in the league in goals allowed per game. Being in the bottom third of the league in goals allowed, "isn’t a way we’re going to be successful," Tippett told ESPN.com this week. And while some teams are willing to play a high risk game where they’ll trade scoring chances, Tippett doesn’t believe this is the case with his team. He sees a lack of commitment to playing well in their own zone, a point he and the coaching staff made emphatically clear early this week. There have been games when they’ve been badly outchanced, lost important puck battles and, in general, simply not defended as emphatically as Tippett teams perennially defend. The Yotes have also taken a plethora of first-period penalties, which has put them behind the eight ball early on in games. “We’ve gotten down early and we’ve chased games,” Tippett said. The Coyotes have been outscored 14-5 in the first period. When they score first, they’re 5-0-1 but otherwise are 2-3-1.

Winding path: The line between being a very good rookie and a very good NHL player is almost never a straight line. Take Nathan MacKinnon, who is a very good rookie and will almost certainly become a very good NHL player. But after registering seven points in his first six NHL games, the first-overall pick in last June’s draft has gone five straight games without a point heading into action Tuesday. MacKinnon’s not alone. Take the NHL’s top rookie scorer, Tomas Hertl of San Jose. Hertl, of course, scored four times against the New York Rangers in his third game, which gave him six goals at that early juncture. But over the next eight games, the Czech talent had just one goal. Hey, if it was easy, everyone would do it, no?
Not again, Tim Thomas: You could almost hear the groan from the Florida Panthers’ management suite late in Tuesday night's entertaining tilt against the Chicago Blackhawks when Tim Thomas got up from the crease, limping. The veteran netminder left the game and did not return. When he's been between the pipes, Thomas has been very good, giving the rebuilding Panthers a chance to win pretty much every outing. It was so Tuesday, as Florida fell behind the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-0, but Thomas held the fort even though the Panthers were outshot 22-14 through the first two periods. The Panthers took advantage of Thomas’ strong play and scored twice in succession in the third period to secure a point. Thomas ended up stopping 27 of 29 shots before leaving the game late in the third. No word yet on the extent of Thomas' injury, but it's the second time this early season he's had to leave games with an injury (head coach Kevin Dineen told reporters Tuesday's injury was not a repeat of an earlier groin issue), and it in some ways answers the question of what happens when a 39-year-old netminder stays away from the game for an entire season. When Thomas attended training camp on a tryout basis and then signed a one-year deal, the expectation was that he would perhaps help in the maturation of youngster Jacob Markstrom and then yield an asset at the trade deadline. And while his play suggests he still has the tools to be attractive to teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, that might be looking to add veteran goaltending depth, the problem early on is that those tools come with significant rust. In the end, that might be enough to scare off potential suitors.

Someone has to win: Really looking forward to the New York Rangers' visit to Philadelphia Thursday night in what might be called the Dung Beetle Cup. The teams, both considered to be playoff teams, have combined to go 3-12 and boast a minus-31 goal differential. The Rangers are banged up and netminder Henrik Lundqvist is off the rails. The Flyers can’t score and fired their coach in what now seems to have been an ill-advised panic move. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, off to a woeful start with just three assists, insisted the Flyers can still make the playoffs. Hey, Washington looked like roadkill through the first quarter of last season and ended up winning the Southeast Division, so it’s possible. If the Flyers still have a shot, so do the Rangers. But when you stink this badly, the clock starts ticking that much more quickly on kissing the season goodbye. So who takes that first shambling step forward?

This discipline thing is hard: The supplemental discipline merry-go-round continues with what seems to be an inexhaustible lineup of miscreants looking to pay their debt to hockey society. Good thing the league’s message is getting through. Or not. But as we watch Michael Grabner deliver a blind-side shot to the head of Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe and get away with a two-game ban and Cody McLeod of Colorado go to the Brendan Shanahan Reform School for five games for crunching Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in a play that Kronwall acknowledged he was partially responsible for by turning back into harm’s way, let’s be honest about how the system works: the outcome of the hit is every bit as important as the hit itself. We have no problem with that. Ryan Garbutt was immediately offered an in-person hearing after he cracked Dustin Penner in the head area with a shoulder that left Penner out of it on the ice and unable to continue. Penner remains out of action. Kronwall hasn’t returned since the McLeod hit while Dan Boyle is still out for the Max Lapierre hit that earned Lapierre a five-game ban as well, which means Garbutt is looking at about five games. Gerbe? He continued to play even though we would argue the recklessness of the Grabner hit was every bit as onerous as the others, maybe worse, given that he clearly sees Gerbe is vulnerable and in our view purposefully delivers the shot to the head anyway. Don’t have a problem with punishing the outcome of the crime as much as the crime itself but let’s not pretend we’re doing anything else.

What would the NHLPA do? Loved that Matt Cooke told our Pierre LeBrun that he would willingly help Patrick Kaleta change his game, even though the two have no real connection. People get tired of hearing about Cooke’s reformation but the proof is in his play. We chuckled at Kaleta insisting that he’s tried to change his game. Ha. Ha. Oh, you were serious. People are watching Kaleta’s appeal of his 10-game suspension with great interest. Assuming that commissioner Gary Bettman, the first step in the appeals process, doesn’t knock down the league-imposed 10-game penalty for yet another cowardly, dangerous hit on Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson (that decision was expected sometime Wednesday), the player, with the support of the NHLPA, can go to an independent third party for a final assessment -- a new wrinkle to supplemental discipline that came out of the new collective bargaining agreement. Wonder what a jury of Kaleta’s peers would say? Our guess is that 10 games would just be a starting point.

A Giguere revival: We spent some time around the Colorado Avalanche early this season and to say Jean-Sebastien Giguere was a bit of an afterthought would be an understatement. But credit to Giguere and to rookie head coach Patrick Roy for not falling into the pattern of simply accepting that Giguere was only going to play when starter Semyon Varlamov got tired or hurt. Roy told us last week the goaltending plan was initially for Varlamov to continue to draw most of the assignments through October. But Roy deviated from his original plan and ended up using Giguere in back-to-back games against Buffalo and then Monday’s highly anticipated showdown with Pittsburgh. Giguere, of course, was sensational, turning aside all 34 shots in a 1-0 victory that was heavily lopsided in Pittsburgh’s favor in terms of scoring chances. The veteran netminder is now 3-0 with two shutouts and suddenly a position that at the start of the season looked like it might be one of the team’s weak points has turned into a much more balanced strength and key factor in the team’s surprising 8-1-0 start.

That's no dud: Interesting to see some refer to the showdown between Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, boys Sidney Crosby and 2013 first-overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon as a dud. True, the two small-town boys turned hockey icons didn’t trade hat tricks but that was a compelling game if only for the wave after wave of pressure the Penguins brought -- led most often by the league’s top point-getter, Crosby -- only to see the Avs, including MacKinnon, turn the attacks aside. While it might have lacked in scoring, this game hardly lacked for drama.

What's Hall's deal? Whenever we talk about a player’s durability or lack thereof, there’s always a moment of hesitation as though by raising the issue we are somehow blaming a player for getting hurt. Now, if a player is chronically out of shape and suffers an injury as a result that’s one thing, but if a player goes down as a function of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, it does seem a bit unfair to question his value. Still, it remains a puzzler that a promising young star such as Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers simply can’t stay on the ice. The Oilers announced Tuesday that Hall would miss a month or so with a knee injury. The former first overall pick, who won’t turn 22 until November, has already amassed a long and varied injury list that includes ankle, shoulder and concussion issues. The bottom line is that no matter Hall’s potential -- and it is significant -- if he’s not on the ice, that potential is worthless. As for the Canadian Olympic team, we see no way he misses this much time and makes the squad that will go to Sochi.

Not yet Miller time: Speaking of the Oilers, it's amazing what a couple of strong outings by your goaltender -- and a couple of wins -- will do to douse a raging inferno. Devan Dubnyk stopped 29 of 32 shots to earn his and the Oilers’ second straight win Tuesday night. The Oilers are home to a Washington team that can light it up with anyone and then are on the road Saturday and Sunday against Pacific Division foes Phoenix and Los Angeles. Let’s see whether this two-game win streak is the start of something meaningful or whether we start to hear the "Bring us Ryan Miller" chants once again.
PHILADELPHIA -- Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas left Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period after surrendering two goals in the first 7:31 of play.

The team later announced Thomas suffered a lower-body injury and would not return to the game.

He was replaced by netminder Jacob Markstrom after heading down the visitor's walkway to the dressing room following Braydon Coburn's first-period goal.

Thomas, who took a hiatus from hockey last year to spend more time with his family, joined the Panthers during training camp on a professional tryout before inking a one-year deal.

The 39-year-old former Conn Smythe Trophy winner has given up nine goals over three starts. He was yanked after allowing five in the Panthers' 7-0 shutout loss to the Blues Saturday night.


As far as first impressions go in this young NHL season, Jacob Trouba certainly opened some eyes.

The 19-year-old rookie blueliner from Michigan played a whopping 25:02 in his first NHL game Tuesday night. Oh, and he had a goal and an assist with a plus-2 rating in Winnipeg’s season-opening win at Edmonton.

But what impressed me the most was the poise he played with.

"We certainly hope that that trend continues, and that’s what we saw in preseason," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told ESPN.com on Friday. "And he got better every preseason game. He played high minutes in each of those games. The coaching staff tried to expose him in preseason to the other team’s best players to try and gauge where he was at. That was good. And obviously the first game, you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but it was nice for all parties involved to see, for sure."

Trouba was drafted ninth overall in the first round in 2012 and certainly impressed in January at the world junior championships for Team USA, collecting nine points (4-5) in seven games.

Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley was head coach for Team USA at the world juniors and got a firsthand view of Trouba’s talents. He had him again in the spring at the IIHF men’s worlds in Stockholm and Helsinki when Housley was the assistant coach.

"I’m not surprised," Housley told ESPN.com on Friday when asked about Trouba’s NHL debut. "Jacob has done a great job of continuing to develop as a defenseman. At the world juniors, he played in all situations for us, PK, power play, even strength. He was a dominant force in that tournament. And what I really liked was his edge to his game; anyone going into his corner would pay the price. I know he’s playing against men right now, but he was a big factor on our team.

"And even at the men’s worlds in Finland and Sweden, he really proved himself again. Just learning the pace of the game, I’m sure that was the fastest pace he had seen yet. He had some bumps, but he battled back. That’s what a true pro does. I’m not surprised by his first game against Edmonton. He’s a terrific player and, better yet, a terrific young man."

If Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian can stay healthy after all missing big chunks of last season -- plus Trouba continues to make strides in his rookie season -- suddenly that's a Winnipeg back end that stacks up pretty darn well with a lot of teams. Trouba has begun the season on the second pairing with Bogosian.

Up front, another rookie delivered an important statement early: No. 2 center Mark Scheifele. The 20-year-old also scored a goal in the opener.

It’s such an important storyline for the Jets this season to get that second line going and have a center on that unit who can get the most out of Evander Kane in particular.

Cheveldayoff and coach Claude Noel sat down with Trouba and Scheifele on Thursday to chat about what a grind an 82-game season is in the NHL and what to expect moving forward. In other words, their opening efforts were terrific, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

"It’s important for younger players who haven’t been through it to understand about nutrition and understand about rest and recovery," said Cheveldayoff. "The days off between games are going to be as much if not more important than the actual game days themselves for a rest and recovery period."

"We had a nice chat, talked about Game 1. We said, 'Guys, keep on going. You’ll get the opportunities as you deserve them and as they come,'" the Jets GM added. "They’re both very humble kids, but they’re both showing a lot more maturity than a lot of 19-year and 20-year-olds."

It’s incredibly early, folks, but don’t forget the names of Trouba and Scheifele as the Calder talk evolves this season.

Timmy's old self
It’s one game, sure, but as far as openers go, how about Tim Thomas?

The 39-year-old made 25 saves in a 4-2 win by the Panthers at Dallas in his first start since the 2011-12 season. Thursday night's performance was highlighted by his trademark brand of saves.

The opposing team took notice.

"He was his old self," Stars GM Jim Nill told ESPN.com Friday. "He competed and tracked pucks well. There was no rust to his game."

Panthers forward Scottie Upshall told my pal George Richards of the Miami Herald: "I said after the first, 'How good is Thomas?' He makes the saves, catches the puck. He’s the backbone of this team."

Colleague Craig Custance had more on the Panthers in his Friday blog post (paywall warning).

Sens' secondary scoring
All eyes are on the Jason Spezza-Bobby Ryan connection this season on the big line for Ottawa (along with Milan Michalek), but if the Senators are going to reach the high expectations that many have for them, the team needs to generate secondary scoring.

The second line of Kyle Turris between Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher will be integral, especially on nights when Spezza’s unit is shut down by a tough, top defensive pair.

"We’re very encouraged by the play of Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher through the exhibition as far as consistently giving us that secondary offensive threat," Senators coach Paul MacLean told ESPN.com on Friday morning ahead of his team’s season opener in Buffalo. "I think that’s going to be important for our team, like any team, is to have people who can come behind that first group and be a threat."

The Sens also have some offensive options in their bottom-six forward group, such as training camp surprise Stephane Da Costa and last spring’s playoff revelation Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- both centers.

"The people we have down the middle we feel are going to be able to generate offense on all our forward lines," said MacLean, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year.

Aside from health, which can’t be ignored in Ottawa after what happened last season, secondary scoring is absolutely going to be a huge story, good or bad, in Canada’s capital this season.

Leafs' Rielly set for debut
The fifth overall pick from the 2012 draft appears set for his NHL debut Saturday night.

Mark Fraser's knee injury opens the door for 19-year-old Morgan Rielly, who survived camp to get an early-season trial with the big club before the Leafs have to decide whether to send him back to juniors (nine games max before that decision).

I was surprised that he didn’t play Wednesday night in Philadelphia after sitting out the opener in Montreal, because I felt Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner both struggled against the Canadiens. But coach Randy Carlyle stuck with a winning lineup, and who can argue with a 2-0-0 start.

The Leafs have to give Rielly some games. There’s no benefit in him sitting in the press box when it comes to his development.

Rielly got a taste of pro hockey last season, playing in 22 AHL games with the Marlies (regular season and playoffs combined).

I reached out to an NHL scout from a Western Conference club to get his view on Rielly. His assessment (via text message): "Stronger skater. Good strength and good head in battles. No edge but good compete level. Like his sense with and without the puck. Will make some big gaffes with the puck and they will have to stay patient and positive with him. I don’t think he’s in the Doughty-Karlsson-Letang potential, more of a No. 3-4 D. [Think] Paul Martin-plus in his prime."

Hey, Martin-plus in his prime is not bad at all. But the Leafs view him with a higher upside than that. Personally, I think he's going to be better than that, but it's certainly interesting to hear how different people view him.

Kudos to the Habs
Tip of the hat to the Montreal Canadiens organization for bringing the club to Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a town still healing after a tragic train explosion killed 47 people.

Here’s more on it from veteran scribe Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.

Have a great weekend, all.

You Make the Call: Bryzgalov or Thomas?

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
10:44
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There are few teams that would turn down a talented goaltender. Even if you have a dominant starter, who doesn't want a competent spare in the back seat.

Still on the market are two free agents with a lot of question marks surrounding their talent: Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWould you want Ilya Bryzgalov or Tim Thomas on your team?
Bryzgalov has won a Stanley Cup, backing up Jean-Sebastien Giguere with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The Coyotes claimed Bryz off waivers when the Ducks couldn't trade him, and Phoenix promptly signed him after he recorded a shutout in his first game. Despite his success with the Coyotes under the leadership of goaltending coach Sean Burke, Bryzgalov became another punch line in the jokes about Philadelphia goaltenders.

Who can forget Bryzgalov stealing the show leading up to the Winter Classic. His philosophical musings on HBO's "24/7: Road to the Winter Classic" about the universe, then announcing to the media in Philadelphia that he would not be starting in the big game.

"I have a great news and even better news. OK, great news I'm not playing tomorrow night and good news we have a chance to win the game tomorrow," Bryzgalov said as his coaches and teammates were trying to stay quiet about who would be the starter.

This chapter of Bryzgalov's career ended this summer when the Flyers bought out the rest of the $51 million, nine-year contract he signed in 2011 and GM Paul Holmgren called it "a costly mistake."

Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a Stanley Cup winner and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Not a bad résumé, eh?

In the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011, Thomas was the star of the show and the calm alternative to opponent Roberto Luongo's up-and-down play. (Example: "I guess I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires.")

But politics seemed to get in the way of hockey. Thomas skipped his team's visit to the White House to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup because he believed the federal government was out of control. He then took all of last season off to spend with his family -- an announcement he made on Facebook.

Can either of these netminders help an NHL team this season? Would playing in a smaller market again benefit Bryzgalov? Can Thomas play at an NHL level after sitting a season out?

You make the call: Would you gamble on Ilya Bryzgalov or Tim Thomas?


The free-agent class of 2013 might lack the star quality of last summer, when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise captivated the hockey world right through Independence Day -- spoiling picnic plans from coast to coast -- but what this year’s crop lacks in profile, it more than makes up for in motivation.

This year’s group of potential free agents is chock-a-block with players looking to make a statement, looking to prove a point and looking for one last chance at redemption.

Herein, then, Team Redemption:

GOAL

Tim Thomas
Easily the most intriguing character on the free agency landscape, Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a Conn Smythe winner and a Stanley Cup champion. He also allowed his personal political views to sour his relationship with the Boston Bruins. The 39-year-old hasn’t played a meaningful game since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2012, having taken last season off to ruminate. So, of course, teams are chasing after him. With a suddenly very tight goaltending market, thanks to Vancouver’s trade of Cory Schneider to New Jersey and the signing of Mike Smith in Phoenix, Thomas’s value might be out of whack with reasonable on-ice expectations, but that’s the way of the NHL. Philadelphia is looking for goaltending help, as are the New York Islanders. It would be too much to expect the Canucks to sign Thomas just to reunite the tire-pumping society of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, but wherever he goes, Thomas is going to be a top-level story. Just not sure he’ll be a top-level goaltender.

Rick DiPietro
The longtime Islander netminder is the backup on our all-redemption team. Bought out of his ridiculous contract by the Isles this week, DiPietro will be looking for a place to prove that he’s not just the punch line to an oft-told joke. Hip injuries and other ailments have conspired to keep DiPietro off the ice for all but 50 games since the 2008-09 season. Hard to imagine a team would spend a one-way contract on the former first-overall draft pick who has never lived up to his billing or his monster contract to which owner Charles Wang signed him after the last lockout. But it’s not hard to see DiPietro signing a two-way deal somewhere and trying to work himself back into NHL shape at the American Hockey League level. Either way, it's a fascinating story should DiPietro find a team willing to open a door on a last chance at an NHL career.

Honorable mentions: Evgeni Nabokov, Ray Emery

DEFENSE

Mike Komisarek
The seventh-overall pick in the 2001 draft played just four games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, was eventually banished to the AHL and finally bought out by the Leafs. But there was a time when the easy-going, well-spoken Komisarek was a bona fide front-line defenseman with a physical edge. Now, has time passed by the 31-year-old? No question, he handled the situation in Toronto with as much grace and professionalism as could be expected, and he’s highly motivated to prove he still has game left. It's hard to believe there wouldn’t be a fit with the always frugal New York Islanders, and given that Komisarek is from Long Island, it would seem a good place in which to begin the rebuilding process.

Ryan Whitney
It feels like it has been long time since Whitney was part of an emerging Pittsburgh team that advanced to the 2008 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit. The next season, though, he was gone to Anaheim in the deal that brought Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh. From there, he was moved to Edmonton, and after a couple of injury-plagued, unhappy seasons, Whitney is now an unrestricted free agent. Rumors had Whitney, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, headed to Boston at the trade deadline, but that never panned out. The Bruins have loads of depth on the back end and parted ways with veteran Andrew Ference for that reason. But if Whitney is healthy -- a big if, given his ongoing ankle issues -- he still has offensive up-side and is a big body. He chipped in 13 points in 34 games for the Oilers last season, and one would imagine that he would be highly motivated wherever he ended up this summer.

Honorable mentions: Tom Gilbert, Jonathan Blum

CENTER

Daniel Briere
While former Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier garnered most of the buyout attention in the days leading up to free agency -- before he signed a four-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers -- former flyer Briere might be the most intriguing center on the market. Briere was bought out by the Flyers, and after a disappointing final season in Philadelphia where he scored just six times, the skilled pivot is still commanding significant interest and might end up signing before July 5. While his durability will be an issue, Briere remains the kind of player who can assist on the power play and would fit in nicely in any dressing room. Most intriguing for teams like Nashville or Montreal is that he is one of the most productive playoff performers of his generation, with 109 points in 108 playoffs games.

Honorable mentions: Derek Roy, Scott Gomez

RIGHT WING

Brad Boyes
Seems like a lifetime ago that the touted Boyes was the subject of a documentary by Leafs TV during his first training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being selected 24th overall in 2000, Boyes has struggled to find a permanent NHL home. It looked like Long Island might be that place after he signed there before last season and picked up 35 points in 48 games, playing often with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. But the team and Boyes couldn’t get together on a contract extension. Boyes hits the open market again and will be hoping that teams take notice of his recent production. Although he’s already had one tour of duty with the Bruins (he scored 26 goals there in 2005-06), their needs on the right side might make him an attractive option to slot in with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, given his success playing with top-end talent on the Islanders.

Honorable mentions: Michael Ryder, David Clarkson

LEFT WING

Matt Cooke
With Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero locking up key personnel Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz in recent weeks, the one incumbent who might be left out in the cold is Matt Cooke. Cooke was among the most consistent performers for the Penguins on their run to the Eastern Conference finals this spring, and in spite of his checkered past, has remade himself into a valuable player, who brought physicality and top-end penalty killing while chipping in offensively. The question remains, can he be that player somewhere else? Cooke remains such a polarizing figure outside of Pittsburgh (Boston broadcaster Jack Edwards compared Cooke to killer Sirhan Sirhan late in the regular season), one wonders how it might effect Cooke’s marketability.

Honorable mentions: Brenden Morrow, Ryane Clowe
Daniel Alfredsson in a different uniform?

It’s hard to fathom.

All we’ve ever known of the classy Swedish winger is the Ottawa Senators' crest tattooed on his jersey.

And while I still believe he’s going to stay in Ottawa, it is a fact that as the 48-hour window opened Wednesday for teams to reach out to free agents from other clubs ahead of Friday’s market launch, Alfredsson’s agent, J.P. Barry, has fielded calls from several teams. One of those teams is the Boston Bruins.

“Yes, I have spoken to Alfie’s agent at length today,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com via text message.

The Bruins’ interest in Alfredsson is hardly a revelation if you’ve been reading my blogs the past year. I wrote during the season that had the injury-riddled Senators fallen out of the playoff chase, Chiarelli would have made Alfredsson his No. 1 target for the April 3 trade deadline. This past week, I wrote that if Alfredsson was not re-signed by the opening of the 48-hour window, the Bruins would surely reach out to him. And they have.

It’s not just because Chiarelli has ties to Alfredsson from Chiarelli’s days in the Ottawa front office. Or because Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was a teammate of Alfie’s in his Ottawa days and both captains have huge respect for each other. Or because Bruins center Chris Kelly is a close buddy of Alfie’s from his Ottawa days, also.

It just so happens that, with Nathan Horton bolting Boston, Chiarelli has a hole to fill on the team’s right side.

So I can tell you this: Chiarelli is going to put on a full-court press to try to lure Alfredsson. It began with a call to Barry on Wednesday morning. There will be more calls. Chiarelli wants this guy.

All of which puts more pressure on Senators GM Bryan Murray to close the deal with Alfredsson, and the sides talked again Wednesday. (Alfredsson is in his native Sweden and will sleep on it. We might have a decision from him by close of Thursday.)

One development: Alfredsson had been toying with the idea of looking for a two-year deal but has decided to stick with a one-year deal, which at his age makes better sense to interested employers. The question is, how much can Murray afford within his budget (the Sens are not a cap team) to allocate to the 40-year-old Alfredsson?

Alfredsson is coming off a deal in which his cap hit was $4.875 million, although his actual salary this past season was $1 million (and even less because of the lockout).

It’s a sensitive situation in Ottawa, to be sure, not just for Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk in how they proceed with the franchise’s most popular player ever, but also for Alfredsson himself. He has deep ties to the Ottawa community and has long entertained the thought about perhaps one day working in the Senators’ front office.

What Boston could offer, however, is a better shot at a Cup, a ring that has eluded Alfredsson during his All-Star career.

On the other hand, the Sens are a team on the rise. They defied the odds this past season by reaching the second round of the playoffs despite injuries that could have crippled them.

I remember being at Bell Centre the night the Sens eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, and seeing and hearing the pride in his teammates Alfredsson expressed in the dressing room.

That’s tough to walk away from. I just can’t see Alfredsson leaving.

All we know is that, for the first time in his career, he’s hearing from other teams that want to sign him, and Boston would be the best bet if he ever left Ottawa.

Elsewhere


Rob Scuderi’s agent, Steve Bartlett, said he began to hear from other teams Wednesday regarding his UFA client, but the Los Angeles Kings remain very much in the mix.

Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins are close to agreeing to an extension that I believe will pay the star center between $52-54 million.

• Three teams reached out to Bill Zito, the agent for Tim Thomas, on Wednesday morning to express their interest. This situation is going to be interesting, to say the least.

• Agent Paul Krepelka, who represents Nathan Horton, said his client was visiting with a team Wednesday but wouldn’t disclose which. No one with the team nor with his camp will confirm this, but I believe Horton's site visit was with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Look for whoever signs Horton to be in a non-traditional hockey market. Horton is looking for a quieter place than Boston to continue his career.
It is ironic that two of the highest-profile players talked about being potential buyouts were both paramount to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup triumph.

Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards await word on their respective situations as the compliance buyout window opens Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET.

Any player bought out during this window would see his cap hit completely wiped clean. It’s a transition measure in the new collective bargaining agreement for this summer and next summer only, and only two buyouts per team are allowed.

Lecavalier, 33, still has seven years left on his deal, which carries a $7.73 million annual cap hit for Tampa. Richards, also 33, also has seven years left on his deal with the Rangers at a $6.67 million annual cap hit.

The decision that faces both the Rangers and Lightning: If they don’t use the compliance buyout provision before the end of July 4, do they risk either player getting injured next season and not be able to buy him out next summer?

The other factor to consider is the "recapture" rule in the new CBA, which hammers teams with cap charges on players with these types of front-loaded contracts if they retire before the end of the deal.

Neither player's camp had heard officially either way as of Wednesday afternoon, with Pat Morris of Newport Sports telling ESPN.com he had yet to get a definite answer from the Rangers. In a text, Richards told ESPNNewYork.com's Katie Strang at 9 p.m. ET that he had not heard from the Rangers. Ditto for Lecavalier’s agent, Kent Hughes, who nevertheless understands the situation Tampa is in.

"We understand that the contract is a difficult one in a declining environment and potentially difficult with rule changes that have been instituted in the new CBA, and we understand that Tampa has the right to extricate itself from that contract through the amnesty buyout provision," Hughes told ESPN.com. "We’ve had a conversation, but we haven’t been told one way or another that they intend to do so. We expect that if they are going to, we’ll know in the very, very near future."

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly sent out a memo Monday morning to all 30 teams warning them to play it by the book regarding buyouts and trades. The N.Y. Post this week reported that Tampa and Toronto had talked about a potential Lecavalier deal in which the Leafs would get another asset in exchange for using its financial muscle to absorb the buyout on Lecavalier, which then in turn could re-sign in Tampa at a cheaper rate after he becomes a free agent (players who are bought out can't rejoin their own teams for a year). The Leafs deny the report. Daly's memo specifically warned clubs that the trade/buyout/reacquire scenario would be deemed a circumvention of the CBA.

Looking to move Miller?

Ryan Miller's future remains up in the air. Will he be a Sabre next season or be dealt elsewhere?

He has one year left on his deal at $6.25 million, which suggests this is the summer when Buffalo has to fish or cut bait with him. If it's going to deal him, it'll get more now than at the trade deadline next season.

Miller told ESPN.com via email Wednesday that he did not know what was going on and was just focused on what he could control.

"I just have to prepare myself to be a starting goalie and an Olympian," Miller said. "I want to challenge myself to raise my game back to the highest level. Everything else is out of my control."

Paging Tim Thomas

Ray Emery, an unrestricted free agent on July 5, is a name that surfaced among Philadelphia media speculating on what the Flyers might do to sign a goalie to share the crease with Steve Mason now that they’ve decided to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov.

Emery, should he not re-sign in Chicago, would certainly make sense given his past relationship with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, and a source confirmed Wednesday that Emery is among the names on Holmgren’s radar. Emery’s agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was expected to touch base with the Blackhawks over the next day or so to figure out what their intentions are for the veteran goalie, who was terrific in forming a one-two punch with Corey Crawford this season.

Meanwhile, another name that was thrown out Tuesday by some Philly scribes was that of Tim Thomas. The polarizing 39-year-old becomes a UFA on July 5 after skipping out on the final year of his deal with Boston. (His rights were dealt to the Islanders last season.)

The question is, what are Thomas’ intentions?

"Until I hear otherwise, he’s status quo," Thomas’ agent Bill Zito said Wednesday.

Which means he remains undecided, although clearly he’s going to need to decide soon if he intends to come back since goalie jobs will be scarce in a matter of weeks.

Here’s hoping Thomas returns -- how could that not be fun?

Bobrovsky looking for deal


Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky remains unsigned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ongoing talks between the goalie’s agent Paul Theofanous and the club have not closed the gap yet.

"I’m supposed to meet with Theofanous today, but there’s nothing new to report right now," Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a work in progress. We’re hoping to get it done."

Adding to the challenge for Kekalainen is that Bobrovsky reportedly has a lucrative offer on the table from the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA club, which is owned by KHL president Alexander Medvedev. Not that Kekalainen is trying to compete with that offer.

"It’s a rich company that sponsors SKA, and Medvedev is a powerful man," Kekalainen said. "And I respect their league and their process there. But we don’t negotiate against the KHL. We based our negotiations on the comparables in the NHL."

This and that


• The Kings and pending UFA blueliner Rob Scuderi continue to talk, but there's still no deal at this point. "Talks are ongoing prior to July 5, and no final decision has been made," Scuderi’s agent Steve Bartlett said Wednesday. "The Kings have shown strong interest in having him return."

• Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and David Clarkson’s agent Pat Morris of Newport Sports chatted Tuesday, although no offers were exchanged.

• Jonathan Bernier’s agent, Pat Brisson of CAA Sports, says he expects to talk contract with the Maple Leafs at the draft this weekend.

• Contract talks are also underway between Matt Cooke's camp, led by Pat Morris, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.


Fans were quick to mock the New York Islanders on Thursday after the acquisition of still-not-playing goaltender Tim Thomas.

Why give up an asset for a goalie that isn’t playing?

It’s actually a smart move by Isles GM Garth Snow.

First of all, that conditional second-round pick the Isles "gave up" for Thomas’ rights only sees the light of day if the 38-year-old goalie decides to play this season or if the Isles trade him to another team.

Neither is likely.

Thomas’ situation has not changed, he’s taking the year off.

"Thomas' situation is status quo," his agent Bill Zito said via text message Thursday night. "As far as I know, none of this had anything to do with Tim. In fact, it was news to us when we learned of it."

Which means the Islanders won’t ever give up a thing if Thomas stays away.

If the Islanders “toll” Thomas’ contract to next season and the goaltender plays or is traded next season, the Bruins would still get the second-round pick.

In the meantime, they get a little insurance from being in danger of going under the $44 million cap floor by adding Thomas’ $5 million cap charge, even though they don’t have to pay him a dime because he’s a suspended player.

This is pretty unique. Only players who signed their contracts when they were 35 years old or older have their cap charges still count despite not playing.

And if for whatever reason Thomas gets the itch before the April 3 trade deadline and a contender wants to take a chance on him, the Isles can get an asset for him in a trade. Unlikely he changes his mind, but I think by now we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected from the quirky 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

For the Bruins, meanwhile, this is a brilliant move by GM Peter Chiarelli. He alleviates his cap of Thomas’ $5 million charge, which gives the Stanley Cup contenders more room to add before the April 3 trade deadline.

No doubt Boston’s fellow contenders aren’t too excited by all this, but when I asked the NHL on Thursday evening, the league said it passed the smell test.

"As long as a player has an active contract that he has the right to return to, absent unusual circumstances, our view is that he remains a 'hockey asset' that a Club has a right to trade or acquire," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via email.

Besides, there’s precedence here. The first thing I thought of when I heard of the Thomas deal was Vladimir Malakhov. Confused?

It wasn’t quite the same scenario, but on Oct. 1, 2006, the New Jersey Devils got some breathing room under the salary cap by moving Malakhov’s rights to San Jose. He was also a suspended player. The Devils also moved a first-round pick to the Sharks to sweeten the deal, while getting Alexander Korolyuk and Jim Fahey in return.

So where there’s a will, there’s a way, I guess, in a cap system.
Keep an eye on the Carolina Hurricanes when it comes to how things play out on the Jordan Staal front with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As I wrote recently, the Penguins' top priority is to sign Sidney Crosby and Staal to contract extensions this summer -- both centers are UFA-eligible on July 1, 2013 -- but if they can't get both done in a cap-sensible manner, it could open the door for Staal to be dealt.

Several teams have already expressed an interest regarding Staal, but I believe the Hurricanes will be aggressive in trying to trade for him, with the idea to have him on same team as his brother, Hurricanes captain Eric Staal.

If the Penguins decide to open the trade market on Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh could get more out of Carolina in a traditional hockey deal than from other teams.

Why? While other teams might point to the fact that Staal has only one year left on his deal and won't want to give up too much for a pending 2013 UFA, the Hurricanes may be willing to take more of a long-term gamble that, given the sibling tie-in, they could re-sign Staal.

Either way, the Hurricanes are going to be an interesting team this summer. I believe they're going to add to their payroll and want to upgrade with one or two forwards.

Crosby update


Speaking of Crosby, no surprise that the Penguins have already begun talks with the captain's camp on an extension.

"Yes, we've had preliminary discussions with the Penguins. I've talked to [GM] Ray Shero about a contract extension for Sidney," Crosby's agent Pat Brisson told ESPN.com on Friday. "It's early in the process. Hopefully we're able to make some progress, obviously."

Deals can't be officially signed before July 1.

Thomas' future

Tim Thomas certainly chilled his trade value with his decision not to play next year. Or did he?

As one NHL team executive told ESPN.com, there is perhaps one solution still out there for the Bruins. There will be a few teams struggling to get to the minimum payroll floor -- expected to be around $54 million -- and they might be willing to pick up Thomas' $5 million cap hit just for that reason alone. As a suspended player next season, they wouldn't have to actually pay him his $3 million salary, but they would get his cap hit. Pretty good deal for a low-payroll team looking to make up the gap to $54 million.

Having said that, there will be a new collective bargaining agreement starting next season (whenever that is). What that new system entails in terms of the salary cap and the payroll floor remains unclear -- not to mention the rules governing cap hits on suspended players, etc.

Still, it might be something to keep an eye on.

Sens interest in Kuba


Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Friday that he has touched base with Filip Kuba's camp (including agent Richard Evans) and hopes to do so again in a week or so.

Kuba played most of the season alongside offensive machine Erik Karlsson in Ottawa and is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We're interested in keeping him, but obviously it has to make sense for us financially," Murray said.

Kuba, 35, just finished a three-year deal that paid him $3.7 million per season. My guess is that Ottawa would want him back for south of that figure.

Karlsson, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent July 1. Murray said there was nothing new on that front at this point.

Suter thoughts


No news on the Ryan Suter front in the wake of his daylong meeting in Madison, Wis., on May 31. But here is what I believe is going to transpire: UFA-to-be-Suter goes to July 1 and explores what's out there on the market while keeping Nashville in the mix. Two years ago, Ilya Kovalchuk did this with New Jersey and ended up re-signing with the Devils.

Whether the Predators could match the kind offer Detroit is likely to lay out there, well, that's another question.
Tim Thomas might be playing elsewhere next season, or he might not be playing at all.

A source told ESPN.com on Thursday that the 38-year-old Boston Bruins netminder was contemplating taking next season off. Which doesn’t mean he will, but it’s something he’s apparently raised.

Thomas has one year left on his contract that pays him $3 million, although his cap hit is $5 million. His no-trade clause lifts July 1.

The Bruins have a No. 1 goalie in waiting in Tuukka Rask, so they’d be open to trade offers, especially after a controversy-filled season sparked by Thomas’ decision not to attend the Cup champions’ visit to the White House.

Calls about Staal


Teams have begun to call the Pittsburgh Penguins about Jordan Staal. That’s not to say the Penguins are looking to move him, though.

I believe the plan for the Penguins is to try to extend both Staal and Sidney Crosby once they’re allowed to begin talks the first week of July -- both players are one year from unrestricted free agency. If the Penguins can pull it off -- get both signed -- I think they’re fine keeping the big three together (Evgeni Malkin has two more years on his deal).

But should the Penguins hit a snag in contract talks, it might make them rethink their stance on the big three, notably Staal.

Parise might just stay -- or go west


So much speculation about Zach Parise’s future, and it certainly might still include New Jersey.

But should the top UFA forward of the 2012 class decide to explore the market, one team to keep an eye on is the team he’s trying to beat right now in the Stanley Cup finals.

Most people think the Los Angeles Kings can’t go after Parise after they splurged in acquiring Jeff Carter’s big contract, but what I’m hearing is that the Kings still believe they can take a run at the highly coveted Devils captain if he hits free agency.

No question the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings will also be among a very long list of teams leading the charge for Parise, but don’t forget about the Kings.

Where's Alfie going?


With Nicklas Lidstrom announcing his retirement, I got to thinking about his fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson. Still no decision on that front.

"I’ve left it up to Daniel to let me know when he wants," Senators GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Thursday. "I assume he’ll let me know before the draft, but I don’t know that for sure. I certainly hope he comes back, that’s for sure."

Crease chatter


Two goalies I believe are on the radar for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their quest to upgrade their goaltending are veteran UFA-to-be Tomas Vokoun and young Nashville backup Anders Lindback (RFA on July 1).

And what of the Tampa Bay Lightning? I believe they spoke to Los Angeles last season about young Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, although it didn’t get very far. I think Bernier would love to go to Tampa if given the chance this summer. With Vezina Trophy nominee Jonathan Quick the man in L.A. for years to come, Bernier has to move on to become a No. 1 goalie. Mind you, with one year left at $1.25 million, would the Kings prefer to wait another year before they move him? Food for thought.

Now what for Wings?


Lost somewhat in the enormous news of Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement and the Wings’ likely pursuit of UFA-to-be Ryan Suter, is that Brad Stuart is also likely out the door in Detroit. It’s believed he wants to move back to California for family reasons. So there’s two of your top three blueliners gone in Detroit.

Afternoon jam: WAS-BOS facts

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
1:48
PM ET
Capitals Punishment: Tonight’s Capitals-Bruins game is the 141st Game 7 in NHL history. Washington has been less than stellar in these situations, posting a 2-7 record. Of the 22 all-time NHL franchises with at least five Game 7 appearances, only the Sabres (1-6) and Coyotes (0-5) are worse.

No Doubting Thomas: If Tim Thomas can hold the Capitals off the scoreboard, he will become the first goalie in NHL history to record three Game 7 shutouts. Only two other goalies have registered two such shutouts (Patrick Roy and Curtis Joseph). Thomas shut out the Lightning and Canucks in Game 7s last season.

Things to know from Sunday's games

April, 22, 2012
4/22/12
10:58
PM ET
Flyers-Penguins series: The Flyers were decidedly better -- the 5-1-in-Game-6 kind of better. That's what you need to know. They will keep playing, the Penguins go home. Also worth knowing: Claude Giroux earned first-round Conn Smythe honors.

Bruins-Capitals: Tim Thomas is back. But so is Alex Ovechkin. Man, don't you love Game 7's?

Kings-Canucks: Goaltender battles can be entertaining too, especially those that pit two guys against each other who have been working a cage match since they were wee lads. But after the Kings clobbered the Canucks in OT, count on Jonathan Quick to be the favorite as the second-round Conn Smythe winner.

Things to know from Thursday's games

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
10:03
AM ET
Oh, this is why we traded for that guy: Martin Havlat missed half the season after coming over last summer in a trade from Minnesota. It's not a deal (for Dany Heatley) that paid dividends early on for the Sharks. But with 28 points in his last 26 playoff games entering these playoffs, the point of it all was for San Jose to gain from his habit of rising to the occasion in the postseason. Um, good start. Havlat's two goals, including 3:34 into double overtime, led San Jose to a 3-2 Game 1 win in St Louis, fortifying his playoff reputation. -- Pierre LeBrun

The night of the Martins: Martin Hanzal did the trick as the Coyotes clipped the Blackhawks 3-2 in OT. Mike Smith stood on his head -- parlance for "he played well" -- as the higher-seeded Coyotes rolled at home. Dog days are not over, thank you very much, Florence.

In other OT news ... The Bruins struck quickly in OT, Chris Kelly firing home the winner with the Zamboni sauce still drying. Tim Thomas was sold for the B's in a duel with Braden Holtby, whom Thomas praised. Good to see Thomas return to pumping tires again.

Meanwhile, in Gotham: The Rangers, completely disregarding talk that they might be upset, wiped the rink with the Senators in a 4-2 win. Score was closer than the game indicated, blah-blah-blah. Don't be surprised if the Senators bounce back with a big game Saturday night. The NHL playoffs are funny like that.

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