A hot rumor swirling is that the Blackhawks have interest in Boston Bruins, and Team USA, netminder Tim Thomas. While on the surface it sounds great, reality doesn’t seem to validate the hype.
The rumors started when Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported that two league executives told him the Bruins were shopping Thomas. From there, speculation that the Hawks would want Thomas was created because of the inconsistent play of Cristobal Huet. Most league analysts and fans agree that Huet has not done much to build confidence that he can be the primary goaltender for a Stanley Cup contender, and Antti Niemi’s lack of experience is scaring off some people as well. So really, the Thomas-Blackhawks rumors simply putting two separate rumors together and trying to make some sense out of them.
However, where this rumor took a turn was on Sunday, when NESN’s James Murphy tweeted that Blackhawks scouts were in the press box. Between the speculation that the Bruins want to move their 35-year old netminder, who won the Vezina Trophy just last year, and the Hawks perceived interest in improving their situation between the pipes, this would appear on the surface to be something of interest.
To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.
First, the on-ice numbers don’t add up. Thomas’ save percentage (.915) isn’t that much higher than Huet’s (.903), but his goals against average (2.52) is well above Huet’s (2.29). Thomas, like Huet, has four shut outs but has faced over 28.5 shots per game; Huet is facing only 22.8 per night. Huet has had moments where he’s been pretty bad, but he’s also been pretty good on other occasions. For example, Huet’s start in San Jose on the recent road trip was superb, allowing only three goals on 37 shots. But then he turned around and allowed three goals on 19 shots to the St. Louis Blues at home, and lost any confidence he may have gained with the United Center faithful.
There are reasons Thomas lost the starting job in Boston to 22-year old Tuukka Rask; he’s allowing 2.02 goals per game, second to Niemi, and he ranks third in save percentage (.929).
So the numbers, at least on the surface, wouldn’t improve very much if the Hawks made a deal for Thomas. Despite his experience, there are other reasons why Thomas won’t be coming to Chicago. Money is the biggest.
Thomas has three more years left on his contract at a $5.000 million cap number. Part of Garrioch’s assertion was that the Hawks would simply send Huet, and his $5.625 salary for the next two years to the minors to get it off the books at the NHL level. Again, on the surface, that might look great. But in reality, hockey is still a business and Huet’s salary has to come from somewhere. By adding Thomas, and considering the strength of the free agent goaltender market, it’s doubtful that the Hawks would want two big contracts for older netminders on their books, especially when the future appears to be with Niemi, who needs a new deal after this season.
Which, of course, brings up the buyout option again. Never popular, if the Hawks were to run with Garrioch’s plan and rent Thomas while sending Huet to Rockford for a Cup run only to buy out Thomas after this year, it wouldn’t help the Hawks at all. Because Thomas is over 35, his cap number would not change if the Hawks bought him out according to the CBA. As we’ve discussed before, if the Hawks kept Thomas and bought out Huet, the Hawks would be on the hook for $1.875 million for the next four years.
Again, for a team in a tight cap situation, adding Thomas is not financially responsible.
If you take the numbers, both on the ice and the payroll, out of the equation and look simply at the experience of Thomas versus Huet, there’s little question who would be a better option for a run at the Cup this spring. Unfortunately, professional sports aren’t superficial fantasy teams that can take one piece of the puzzle and not others. Why the Hawks had scouts in Boston over the weekend might have been because they’re in the market for an upgrade on the blue line, and a player like Derek Morris might be attractive. The Blackhawks making a deal for an older, expensive goalie like Thomas isn’t likely though.