Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Bruins big gamble

You know what the best thing about October is? Hockey season begins again. And for the first time in at least 15 years, expectations for the Bruins are very high. After last season's surprise showing, the Bs are one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.

Near the end of last season, the Bruins decided that their best chance to win a cup would be with Tim Thomas as their starting goaltender. So they went out and signed the then 34-year-old to a 4-year, $20-million contract. Well, I hope Bruins' management is right. Because they've tied themselves up in a salary cap knot for the next four years.

The problem with the Thomas contract is that the Bruins are hoping that he can do what almost no goalie has ever done before. Here's what I mean...

I've gone to and looked at every goaltender since expansion in 1966-67 to find those who started more than half of their team's games at age 34. There were only 28 goalies other than Thomas who met that criteria. Of the 28...
  • At age 35, 19 were still their team's primary starter (appeared in more than half of their team's games).
  • At age 36, 13 were still their team's primary starter.
  • At age 37, 11 were still their team's primary starter.
  • At age 38, 6 were still their team's primary starter.
  • Of those 6, only three of them were their teams primary starter for every year between ages 35 and 38. (Ed Belfour, Tony Esposito, and Dwayne Roloson).
  • Only two of the 28 won a cup as their team's starter between ages 35 and 38. (Patrick Roy at age 35 and Dominik Hasek at age 37).
Chances are at sometime over the next four years--if not for most of them--Thomas will be getting $5m to sit in the press box because he's hurt, or sit on the bench because his skills have atrophied. And because 8% of the cap is tied up in someone who can't play, someone else--Lucic, Savard, Wheeler, Rask--will be gone.

Obviously the Bruins felt that the best chance to win a cup in this window was to keep Thomas. Either they had to give him 4/$20m or they would have had to pay him $7m per year for a shorter deal. I guess they figured that it would be better to be hamstrung in '12 and '13 than to be short on money (or an experienced goalie) in '10 and '11.

But Thomas had better turn out to be Dominik Hasek (the only goaltender in the last 45 years to win his first cup over the age of 34--and even he missed half of his 35 season due to injury and did not play at all at age 38) or they'll be in trouble in the out years.
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