Some eight months after beginning their quest to patch holes in their netminding corps, the Bruins yesterday morning finalized a deal to acquire veteran backstop Manny Fernandez from Minnesota for forward Petr Kalus and their fourth-round pick in 2009 , a move that last night had Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli musing over the possibility of dealing Tim Thomas or Hannu Toivonen.
"In fairness to them, yes," Chiarelli said during a late-afternoon conference call, "that would be my preference."
The Bruins also added journeyman Shawn Thornton, a wide-bodied winger (LW/RW), who spent last season making the league minimum ($450,000) with the Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks. Thornton, who will turn 30 this month, came to terms on a multiyear pact on the first day of the league's annual free agency period.
Fernandez, who will turn 33 in August, is not considered among the game's elite netminders, and lost his job to Finnish backup Niklas Backstrom in January when he wrenched a knee. However, Fernandez played in a career-high 58 games two seasons ago, and he said in an afternoon conference call yesterday he felt he could handle that workload again.
"I want to play, I want to let loose," said Fernandez, speaking from his home in Montreal. "I want to go as far and as long as I can."
Meanwhile, Thomas, who only became an NHL regular midway through the 2005-06 season, was home in the Boston suburbs, building a utility shed behind the house he bought only weeks ago. Mild-mannered and ever gregarious, the 33-year-old matter-of-factly said, "I'm not excited they got another goaltender."
It would be only the rarest of circumstances, of course, for a goalie to roll out the welcome mat for someone who could take his job. Chiarelli acquired Fernandez to be the club's No. 1 stopper. During his conference call, in fact, he said he could envision the new hire playing in as many as 60 games this season. Hardly great news for Thomas.
In part because of Toivonen's struggles, Thomas played in 66 games last season, and he has been a workhorse in the Hub of Hockey since arriving as an emergency replacement midway through 2005-06. Like Fernandez, and like Toivonen, he wants to be a regular. But with a 60-game load projected for the new guy, it could make for a very odd mix come the start of training camp in September.
"My approach will be the same," said Thomas. "I don't see it as competing with someone for a job. I didn't see it that way with Hannu, either. I approach it as competing with myself, and it's not like I have to go out of my way to think like that -- that's honestly the way I've always seen it, at every level of hockey ."
Of the two returning goaltenders, the younger (23) and cheaper (roughly half the price) Toivonen would seem easier to trade than Thomas, who is guaranteed an average of $1.05 million each of the next two seasons. But Chiarelli might prefer to move Thomas, because Toivonen is a decade younger and has displayed flashes of brilliance that have hinted he one day could turn into an elite NHL performer.
For now, Fernandez is the favorite to take over the job, lock, stock and five-hole. The odd man out in St. Paul with the emergence of Backstrom, he fully expected to be dealt to Boston the prior weekend when speculation of the swap was flying around the NHL draft in Columbus. When the deal fell apart, said Fernandez, he initially was crestfallen, only to have his emotions soar when alerted Saturday night a deal to Boston was being closed.
"Thank God," said Fernandez, not sounding like the moody, petulant player many of the rumors made him out to be a week earlier. "I'm happy to be a Bruin today." He later added, "Right now, I just want to taste the moment. It has been in the air for a long time, and now that it's done, I want to taste it ."
Thornton, said Chiarelli, is a candidate to be one of new coach Claude Julien's key forecheckers.
"He is a strong, thick, physical player," said Chiarelli. " He is strong on the puck, and he'll back up his teammates, very exuberant, and a very good forechecker. I am striving to get vigorous players, and he's going to help us."
In 79 career games, Thornton has scored four goals and picked up eight assists. He also has accumulated 158 penalty minutes, an indication of his willingness to play what has been a badly-lacking physical game in Boston.
Chiarelli said Thornton is likely the only free agent acquisition he will make unless he is able to deal a contract or two. Trading Toivonen would free up only $532,000 in cap money, while Thomas would represent $1.1 million in relief. The biggest possible relief could come if Chiarelli found a new home for Glen Murray, due $4.15 million each of the next two years, which would all but cover Fernandez's cap figure ($4.33 million) .
If a deal for Toivonen comes together quickly, the most viable trade partner appears to be Edmonton, where he would be part of a tandem with another former Wild goaltender, Dwayne Roloson. In March 1988, the Bruins dealt 21-year-old netminder Bill Ranford to the Oilers and he went on to be the playoff MVP in 1990 when the Oilers defeated the Bruins in the Stanley Cup final -- Boston's last trip to the championship round.