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Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: February 8, 6:49 PM ET
B's send Tim Thomas on his way

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Tim Thomas can be considered one of the greatest goaltenders in franchise history for the Boston Bruins.

Even though he was a bit of an enigma during his nine seasons in the organization, there's no denying his contributions and performances that ultimately helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

When Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced Thursday that Thomas had been traded to the New York Islanders, in what basically is a paper move that financially benefits both teams, the goaltender's elite career in Boston officially ended.

Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas will always be remembered for helping the Bruins hoist the Stanley Cup in 2011.

"He was a great, significant part of our Stanley Cup-winning team. He had a very good career here and I can't say enough about his contributions to the team," Chiarelli said.

"The journey he took us on in the Stanley Cup was amazing and I was happy to be along for the ride."

The Bruins will receive a conditional second-round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015 -- if Thomas plays a game for the Islanders, or if New York trades his rights elsewhere. The possibility that the Bruins will actually receive a draft pick? It's about as likely to happen as Thomas is to apologize to Barack Obama for refusing to accept the president's invitation to the White House.

Even before the White House incident, Thomas and the Bruins had, at times, a tumultuous relationship. He always knew he could compete and win at the NHL level, but the team always had its doubts about his abilities.

Thomas had to watch as the likes of Andrew Raycroft, Hannu Toivonen, Manny Fernandez and even Tuukka Rask were all expected to start over him. Time and again, however, it was Thomas who outlasted them all. When the team needed him the most, he responded with a historic run en route to the Cup.

"What I've learned from Tim is the compete [level], you really have to look at the compete in goalies," the GM said. "There's the size, the technical stuff, all that stuff, but if the compete is there, that's a position you can work your way through it. Tim had more than the compete, but his compete was outstanding. Watching him progress with us, and watching the compete, it made me look at goalies in a different light."

No matter how you view Thomas' career in Boston, he definitely leaves a legacy.

"I do know we don't win the Cup without him," Chiarelli said. "He was a character here and he was a terrific goalie. He had a great story and he had some interesting side stories that became distractions at times. I had to manage this stuff, but I can't stray from the fact that this guy won two Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe, and he was terrific when we won the Cup."

Barack Obama, Bruins
Tim Thomas didn't show up at the White House, and he's unlikely to report to the Isles.

As Chiarelli was driving to the Garden on Thursday morning, he was reflecting on Thomas' career in Boston. His final thought as he pulled onto Causeway Street? The goaltender was "outstanding" despite his quirkiness.

Thomas is the type of goaltender who needs to be physically and emotionally attached to the game in order to be effective. After the Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last April, he was exhausted both physically and emotionally.

It was soon after, according to a source close to Thomas, that he contemplated retirement even though he had one year, and a cap hit of $5 million, remaining on his contact with the Bruins. So, he decided to take a year off, resulting in the Bruins' suspending him and eventually trading him.

After the NHL lockout ended early last month, Chiarelli said that Thomas' agent, Bill Zito, had expressed the goaltender's desire to return in 2013-2014. During a conference call on Thursday, Chiarelli corrected himself, saying he misinterpreted the agent's comments and did not know whether Thomas would return.

According to a source, that scenario is unlikely.

"If anyone can do it, it can be him," Chiarelli said of a possible return. "Regardless of his conditioning, he's done some pretty special stuff at a later age. But I can't go beyond that because I don't know what he's been doing. At age 38, 39, I think it would be tough physically and mentally to take a year off and then come back.

"Tim can be a character and he can also be principled on a lot of different fronts. He is, was a heck of a goaltender. He helped us greatly win a Cup. I likened him sometimes to that left-handed pitcher that's a little quirky but throws 200-plus innings and wins 18 to 20 games a year. He's valuable to the team but can be a little quirky."

When the Bruins had Thomas and Rask as a goaltending tandem, Chiarelli had a succession plan in place for when Thomas' contract expired. The GM was prepared to give Rask the opportunity to become the No. 1 goalie for the Bruins. When Thomas opted for hibernation, Boston's plan was pushed ahead by a year.

Rask no longer needs to play in the shadow of Thomas.

When Rask returned to Boston after playing overseas in the Czech Republic during the NHL lockout, he mentioned he was trying to contact Thomas, but the veteran netminder had changed his cell number. Rask eventually spoke with Thomas at the start of the season, but the two have not talked since.

Rask will credit Thomas with helping him along the way, but the 25-year-old Finnish native always had the confidence to become a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. Rask now has that opportunity and he's playing outstanding between the pipes this season.

He boasts a 6-1-1 record with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in eight starts for the Bruins. If there were any questions in regard to his ability to steal a game when the team needed him to, Rask has answered those a few times this season, including the past two games with a 1-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday, and a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask has jumped from quality backup to clear No. 1 with Tim Thomas out of the picture.

"Maybe due to confidence, he's not afraid to challenge shots," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Again, [Wednesday] night you've got to give him credit because that first period, if it's not for him, it's a different game. But after the first period, we didn't give them much in the second period. In the third, they pushed a little at the end, but the opportunities they had were real quality ones and he came up large. You can thank him in a big way for winning [Wednesday] night because he allowed us to do that with his performance, especially in the first period."

Rask is clearly playing with confidence and appears to be more aggressive, but Julien doesn't think there's much of a difference in the goalie's game than in years past. Maturity, experience and the opportunity to perform were all Rask needed.

"I think it's pretty clear in his mind that he's our go-to goaltender," Julien said. "I don't know if there's a lot different. When you don't play on a regular basis, and then you play on a regular basis, how do you compare those things? We knew he was a good goaltender, but we also had another good goaltender that was proven at that time.

"He's been good for us. He's won some games. A lot of times, I remember last year, where he'd played so well but we didn't play that great in front of him and he'd end up losing, either by a goal or a shootout, and had we been a little bit better, he would've had a better record.

"We've always had confidence in him and I've said that from the start. When Tim left, we've got somebody who can step in and so far he hasn't disappointed."

Rask doesn't think his game or his abilities have changed, either.

"No, not really," he said. "It's just playing those consecutive games and that's the only difference. It's good to get off to a good start and I just gotta stay focused and keep that going."

At the start of the lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule, Julien knew he would have to carefully plan his goaltending schedule between Rask and backup Anton Khudobin. So far, Rask has played all but one game and has not shown any ill effects from all that playing time.

"I feel good. I don't feel tired at all," Rask said. "This week is pretty good for us because we have two-day breaks, twice, so it gives us a chance to recover and get our rest for the games. For me, it's been pretty good."

Finally the No. 1 goalie in town, Rask understands that the mindset of a starter is different and maintains his solid work ethic in order to be prepared for the amount of rubber he's going to face this season.

He has been spectacular so far, which is exactly what he and the Bruins were hoping for when the organization signed the restricted free agent to a one-year deal last June. Chiarelli admitted Thursday that he wants to extend Rask's deal at some point this season.

"Nothing's imminent, I can leave it at that," Chiarelli said. "Breaching my own policy, we will pick up talks with Tuukka at some point this season in hoping to extend him."

From the time he was the backup, to his brief stint as a starter in 2010, until now as the No. 1, Rask always believed he could become the foundation of another championship team in Boston.

"That's always been a dream and that's what you work for every day," Rask said. "I just tried to stay patient and wait for the opportunity to get the starting job. Now, once I've got some games, the hardest thing is to keep that up."

Keeping up that pace is a difficult task. Thomas became tired the past few seasons, and even though he was still winning, it took a toll on him physically and mentally. Thursday's trade did not change the way he feels about his future playing career, and when Chiarelli informed his former No. 1 goalie of the transaction, Thomas understood.

"He was at peace," Chiarelli said. "He was walking his dogs and he sounded like he was in a good spot."