Rob Tallas couldn't believe how well his year was going. He was the starting goaltender for HPK Hameenlinna, one of the best teams in Finland's Elite League. But then his life on and off the ice changed -- suddenly and dramatically. Last New Year's Eve, he suffered cardiac arrest as a result of a blood clot. He may never play hockey again. Tallas, who played in the Bruins organization from 1995-2000, was diagnosed with viral myocarditis and is recovering at his offseason home in Coral Springs, Fla.
His ordeal started in November when he returned home after a game and thought he had severe heartburn. As the night went on, he told his wife -- the former Danielle Messina of Medford -- that he thought it was more serious, and he went to the hospital. After Tallas underwent tests, doctors told him his heart was swollen, and he was ordered to take some time off.
He was cleared to return around Christmas, and his first game back was uneventful. He faced only 20 shots and said he felt OK. The next night, his team played on the road. He faced 40 shots and felt fine. After the 45-minute bus ride back, however, he got home and his condition began to deteriorate. He started to experience the same symptoms as earlier, but they were much more acute.
"I told Danielle, `I think I'm having a heart attack,' " he said. He promptly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
"They put me on a table and did an [electrocardiogram]," he said. "Within 20 seconds they ripped the EKG off me and they [went to work on] me. They were spraying nitroglycerin in my mouth. I was in full arrest."
Following that, his body went into shock. He spent nine days in the hospital but was told by doctors they could come to no conclusions, and they recommended he return to the United States. He thought it was a good idea, but there was the issue of his contract. Tallas said the team offered to pay off his contract, but he wanted his medical insurance to continue to be covered. The team initially agreed but then balked. Tallas flew back to Boston to stay with his wife's family. It was a dark time.
"I came back to the States with no insurance and a heart condition," he said. "I was really scared. We flew into Boston, and I didn't know who to call."
He called former Bruin Cleon Daskalakis, who handles marketing and publicity for a number of players, including Ray Bourque, and Bourque happened to be with Daskalakis at the time. Bourque rallied to Tallas's aid, putting him in touch with the Bruins' medical personnel. Tallas said he was blown away by the support he received. Dale Hamilton-Powers, the Bruins' director of administration, and trainer Don Del Negro helped him get appointments with doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he was put under the care of Dr. Adolph Hutter.
"I have nothing but unbelievable words to say for the Boston Bruins and Dr. Hutter," said Tallas. "I can't thank them enough. It's just incredible the support they gave me. And they checked up on me, too. I felt like I had no other options. That's how scared I was."
Tallas said he thought the virus would pass from his system in six months, but on June 2 he was told by Hutter that it had migrated from the back of his heart to the top, making it a much more dangerous situation, with at least another six months of recovery time. If he were to exert himself too soon, he would risk needing a heart transplant. He had hoped to be back playing in Europe this summer, but now, because of his condition, he's exploring other options, one of which is working with the Florida Panthers' alumni association.
"I can do light exercise but I have to take this year off," he said. "I'm hoping by Christmastime to be virus-free. Maybe then I can start training for next summer to play in Europe again. I'm only 31. I know I can play for a few more years."
Few free spenders
If there has been a notable absence of frenzy in the free agent market since the negotiation period began Thursday, there has been plenty of decision making. The cutting of payroll and of older players seems to be the order of this uncertain summer. For example, the Rangers predictably decided not to exercise their $10.25 million option on oft-injured center Eric Lindros. Reportedly the Edmonton Oilers have interest but for a far smaller amount . . . Atlanta decided not to pick up the $1.1 million option on defenseman Chris Tamer and opted not to make defenseman Yannick Tremblay a qualifying offer, which means both players -- who are original Thrashers -- are unrestricted free agents. The only player left from the Thrashers' first team is forward Patrik Stefan . . . The Thrashers also let go former Bruins forward Randy Robitaille and didn't qualify defenseman Frantisek Kaberle . . . The Mighty Ducks were hoping to restructure the deal of defenseman Keith Carney but couldn't work it out. However, they felt he was worth keeping enough to exercise the club option of $2.7 million for each of the next two seasons . . . Many observers of the NHL have made the point -- correctly -- that the people who will feel the most impact from a work stoppage are the working class -- the concessionaires, etc. However, there are players who are in a sympathetic position as well. Take 29-year-old Rory Fitzpatrick of the Sabres, who had been a career minor leaguer until spending last season in the NHL and earning $375,000, a significant bump from what he'd been paid in the AHL. He and his wife, Tracey, are expecting their fourth child in November, and he's concerned about the future. "From a selfish standpoint, I don't want the season delayed, canceled, whatever," he said. "I finally got a full season in [at the NHL level], so this is not very good timing for me. I can make it, but a year without a paycheck won't be fun. I've been making an average person's salary the last eight years. I haven't been making millions of dollars. I want to see everything get worked out for the good of the game. If we go a year, a month, two months without hockey, I can see the backlash being terrible." There's a dramatic gulf between what players like Fitzpatrick make and the salaries of those in the top echelon, such as Bobby Holik and Bill Guerin, who each pull in $9 million a year. It could make for an interesting dynamic when the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 . . . Calgary Flames goalie Roman Turek has agreed to restructure his deal, which could save the team more than $3 million. He was due to make $5 million in 2004-05, but the new terms are a three-year contract that provides a bonus (applied to last year) and far less money annually, plus incentives. Ironically, some of that money Flames general manager Darryl Sutter is saving is likely to be used to re-sign netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who took away Turek's starting job . . . Former NHL enforcer Bob Probert, now 39, is in trouble with the law again. He was arrested June 4 in Delray Beach, Fla., after his first day as an attendant at the Colony Hotel and Cabana Club. According to reports, Probert -- who has battled substance abuse for years -- was attempting to buy drugs. He faces charges of battery on a police officer, resisting an officer with violence, threatening a public official, and a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
Former Bruins goalie Steve Shields is looking for a job after the Florida Panthers opted not to bring him back. It's not easy being a backup to the estimable Roberto Luongo, who played 72 games last season, but Shields's numbers were rough. He got into only 16 games, posting a 3-6-1 record, a 3.44 goals-against average, and .879 save percentage . . . The Los Angeles Kings have parted company with two former Bruins -- ex-captain Jason Allison and Anson Carter -- as well as Adam Deadmarsh. Allison, who earned $8 million last season but was unable to play because of a head injury, played only 26 games in 2002-03. Deadmarsh has played a total of just 20 over the past two years. Carter wasn't tendered a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. It was an unsettled year for him. He started the season with the Rangers, playing 43 games before being dealt to Washington. He logged 19 games with the Capitals before being moved to the Kings to help them get into the playoffs. It didn't work out, however, as Carter had a disappointing one assist in 15 games for LA . . . The Maple Leafs may have been foiled in their quest for a championship but didn't hesitate re-upping forward Gary Roberts to a one-year deal for $3.75 million (a half million-dollar reduction), Joe Nieuwendyk to a one-year, $3 million contract (a $1 million raise), and goalie Ed Belfour to a two-years-plus-an-option pact for $22 million plus incentives . . . Nice touch by the Tampa Bay Lightning to allow Phil Esposito a turn with the Stanley Cup. Since 1995, members of the winning team have been given a day with the trophy to do as they please (within reason). Because Esposito was instrumental in bringing hockey to Tampa, Lightning president Ron Campbell thought it was the right thing to do. "Hockey would not be in Tampa Bay if it wasn't for him," said Campbell. "He's one of the greatest players of all time. He's not the GM anymore, but he certainly deserves to share in the celebration." Esposito has his name on the Cup twice as a result of the last two Bruins championships, in 1970 and '72. This time, Esposito had a party at his home, showing the Cup to family and friends. "As players we weren't allowed to take it, although we tried to steal it or sneak it into a bar, but we didn't get it there," said Esposito. "But I'm going to take this to a couple of bars."
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.