BOSTON — The long-term contract the Boston Bruins gave Tim Thomas seemed like a big waste of money just a year ago. They even explored trading him.
Now, after one of the greatest performances by a goalie in the history of the Stanley Cup finals, that deal looks golden. And there’s more good news on the contract front for the NHL champions.
Only three players on the team that beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games are unrestricted free agents and one of them, Mark Recchi, is retiring. The only restricted free agent is playoff star Brad Marchand, and the Bruins aren’t about to let him get away.
Coach Claude Julien, overshadowed through much of the postseason and in danger of dismissal if Boston didn’t get past the second round, isn’t going anywhere either. His assistants also are under contract.
“That’s actually the first time someone has asked me that question about our coaches,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said with a laugh Friday when asked if he was working on an extension for Julien. “They are currently under contract into subsequent years, so nothing forthcoming.”
The Bruins did consider, however briefly, trading Thomas last year, the second of a four-year, $20-million contract. He ended that season on the bench, hampered by a hip injury for the entire postseason after winning the Vezina Trophy a year earlier.
Chiarelli said at a news conference that he, Thomas and Bill Zito, the goalie’s agent, agreed to look into dealing Thomas, but a trade was never close.
“He kept stressing he didn’t want to leave. And I said, ‘I know, let’s just look at this very briefly’,” Chiarelli said. “I know there are a lot of stories that flowed from it, but I can’t stress enough the fact that Tim never wanted to leave. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I at least didn’t look at some things. And I did.”
He does the same with other players.
“You talk to other teams,” Chiarelli said. “And at the end of the day, you make the decision, yay or nay. And here it was nay. And it was an easy nay.”
That decision paid off when Thomas led the NHL with a 2.00 goals against average and .938 save percentage in the regular season. He was even better in the playoffs at 1.98 and .940 overall and 1.15 and .967 against the Canucks, who led the NHL in scoring during the regular season.
He had plenty of help from the top defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara, who is signed for eight more seasons, and Dennis Seidenberg, who has four left on his contract.
On the forward lines, Patrice Bergeron, who scored two goals in the Cup-clinching 4-0 win in Game 7, is signed for three more years, while Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Gregory Campbell each have two years remaining. Marc Savard also has two years to go, but a series of concussions is threatening the career of the outstanding playmaker.
Right wing Michael Ryder, inconsistent in the regular season but valuable in the playoffs, and defenseman Tomas Kaberle, a midseason pickup who didn’t meet expectations, are unrestricted free agents. They likely would have to sign contracts below their 2010-11 salaries to stay.
But Chiarelli has managed the salary cap well.
“We’re going to continue to tweak” the roster, he said. “We’re not going to be huge players (in) free agency, but you know we’re going to look at it.”
He’ll have to set aside a sizable chunk of money for Marchand. The 5-foot-9 rookie, drafted by the Bruins in 2006, had been a pest to opponents most of the season. In the playoffs, he added prolific scorer to that resume with 11 goals, five in the finals with two of them in Game 7.
The 11 goals tied Jeremy Roenick for second most in NHL history by a rookie, three behind Dino Ciccarelli’s total with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981.
“He rolls off checks so well, he makes good plays, makes good plays with speed. He’s got a great nose for that. He’s got a great shot,” Chiarelli said of Marchand. “We counted on him going into the playoffs.”
The deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kaberle cost the Bruins strong prospect Joe Colborne plus two draft picks, one each in the first and second rounds. But most of Chiarelli’s trades the past two years worked out.
He obtained Seidenberg on March 3 last year and Horton in the offseason, both from Florida. Then, he picked up forwards Chris Kelly from Ottawa on Feb. 15, and Rich Peverley from Atlanta three days later.
Those four, plus Kaberle, “were guys that we’ve always been targeting,” Chiarelli said.
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup “so I’m a genius,” he said, provoking laughter. “Tim’s performance is historic. … The common theme in the (team’s) plan was character. At the end of the day, that’s what I wanted for us.”
It may not be as easy to make trades now that the Bruins are champions.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re an Original Six team, we’re the Boston Bruins, that we have had good teams in the last two or three years and no one wants to help us,” he said. “This will only hurt it.”
The Bruins have a bright future even if they make no trades. Youngsters like forward Jordan Caron and defensemen Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski could be ready to step in next season.
Chiarelli said that Horton was playing with a separated shoulder before being lost for the season with a severe concussion in Game 3 of the finals. But he recovered sufficiently to make the trip to Vancouver for the clincher and put on his Bruins jersey to join his teammates on the ice after the Stanley Cup was presented.
So what does the man who put all the pieces together expect for next season?
“We’re in a good position. We’ve got a lot of the team under contract. We’re in a good cap situation for once,” Chiarelli said. “My charge is to win. So we have to continue to keep that standard.”