The long list of injured Bruins grew a little longer last week when Tim Thomas, in net for Team USA at the World Championships, wrenched his left knee in a qualifying game against Team Canada at Halifax.
"Any time you get hurt, you're scared a little," said Thomas, who once again was Boston's workhorse in net this season, posting an impressive 28-19-6 record with a 2.44 goals-against mark and .921 save percentage. "And through my career, I've been lucky not to be hurt all that often.
"When you see how many guys do get hurt, and some of that bad stuff that can happen out there, I've been lucky. And by the looks of it, I was lucky this time, too."
Thomas, 34, was felled in the waning moments of the second period, the Canadians holding a 3-2 lead. With traffic in the crease, his right leg was taken out from under him and all his weight shifted to the left leg. Result: a sprained left MCL. The hyperextension, doctors told him, should heal over the summer.
"I'm walking around fine," said Thomas Friday afternoon. "It's one of those injuries, really, that only affects you with the butterfly move. I mean, you can feel there's a little tightness in there, but I'm not sitting around here in pain or anything like that."
With training camp some four months away, there should be ample time for him to recover before he battles anew in September with the likes of Manny Fernandez and perhaps Tuukka Rask.
"Mostly, for this to heal, it just means waiting it out," said Thomas. "In that sense, it happened at the perfect time - well, not perfect, obviously, because I'd rather still be playing in the Worlds. But I've been told by everyone that it will be normal, you know, like I never did anything to it, so that's a relief."
The Yanks, who replaced Thomas with Craig Anderson to start the third period, eventually suffered a 5-4 loss to Team Maple Leaf. A couple of nights later, Anderson was yanked against the Germans, bringing ex-Flyer Robert Esche into the action.
A late addition to the USA squad, brought aboard once the Bruins were eliminated by the Canadiens in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs, Thomas now finds himself in the midst of some unexpected time off.
"Feels a little weird," he said, "because I fully expected to be playing until May 18." The gold medal game is that day in Quebec City.
But Thomas's summer is filling up fast. He will run a couple of hockey camps in Vermont, bringing him closer to the Burlington campus where he starred as a Catamount in the '90s.
He also has a July trip planned to Helsinki, where he'll attend a 10-year reunion of the club that won the pro title there. In August, he expects to join Fernandez and Rask in a goalie tuneup camp here in Boston, directed by Bob Essensa and Eli Wilson, which will be the Eastern version of the Essensa-Wilson camp held last summer in Calgary.
It's possible that South Boston's Kevin Regan, who recently signed with Boston after four solid years with UNH, also will attend that camp.
Wheeler set to become a dealer
Blake Wheeler, a 6-foot-5-inch defenseman chosen fifth overall by Phoenix in the 2004 draft, served the Coyotes with a 30-day notice Friday, formalizing his intention to become an unrestricted free agent, as allowed by the CBA.
According to Wheeler's Boston-based agent, Matt Keator, the Coyotes have the next four weeks to sign Wheeler, who has chosen not to return for his senior year at the University of Minnesota, or he'll be free to sign with any of the other 29 NHL teams.
The new CBA, signed out of the 2004-05 lockout, allows clubs to retain a player's draft rights for only four years. Under typical circumstances, unsigned US college players can become free agents as of Aug. 15 in their senior years. But in cases such as Wheeler's, in which a player was drafted four years earlier and has chosen not to return to college, the 30-day notice provides the out.
"Part of what makes this a bit different is the fact that Blake played in Green Bay [USHL] his first year after the draft," explained Keator. "He's been a bit of a late bloomer physically, too. But now he's 6-5, 210 pounds, a man ready to play in a man's game. He's a smart, two-way defenseman with some upside on offense.
"It's the right move for him. And, hey, he could still end up signing with Phoenix, or they could decide to trade his rights. This sort of speeds up the process, that's all."
Wheeler, 21, is eligible to sign a two-year entry-level deal, one that likely will pay him the maximum $875,000 per year. He played on the Gophers' 2005-06 squad with Phil Kessel, who turned pro after being drafted No. 5 overall by the Bruins in June 2006. In 127 games with Minnesota, Wheeler scored 42 goals and collected 96 points.
Wheeler's departure brings to 10 the number of Gophers to leave college early since the end of 2005-06. Just this past season, Kyle Okposo bolted in December to join the Islanders, and Jeff Frazee hooked on with New Jersey upon the completion of his college season. Kessel packed up after his freshman year.
Empty feeling in Toronto
The dog-and-pony show in Toronto continued last week with the turfing of coach Paul Maurice, who had one year remaining on his three-year contract.
The Leafs now have no general manager and no coach, with free agency only seven weeks away and the 2008-09 season only five months in the offing.
Fill-in GM Cliff Fletcher said months ago, upon taking the interim job, that it would be up to the new GM to determine Maurice's fate. What happened? A combination of things, including: 1. The Leafs' inability to land Brian Burke as GM, at least for the upcoming season; 2. Possibly, as one NHL team executive suggested, Maurice's desire to be considered for other coaching posts around the league. The longer the Leafs took to fire him, potential jobs, such as Florida and Ottawa, would be filled.
Swede reaches for the Stars instead
The Bruins were hopeful to the point of feeling confident that they could land late-blooming Swedish winger Fabian Brunnstrom as a free agent. But that was before Brunnstrom began his magical mystery tour around the NHL a couple of weeks ago, one that ended officially Wednesday when he signed with the Dallas Stars.
"I have to say, yes, it's a little surprising to me," said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, who felt he was seriously in the running once Brunnstrom withdrew his interest in Vancouver. "But, hey, guys change their minds, and when we had no contact the last week or so, I began to see it wasn't going our way."
The Red Wings, like the Stars, had Brunnstrom in for a visit. The Maple Leafs had high hopes of bringing him to Toronto, with the prospect of him possibly sharing the room with Swedish icon Mats Sundin. No guarantee there, of course, because Sundin could be bolting Toronto as a free agent July 1.
Meanwhile, the Stars wooed Brunnstrom with a deal for two years at $875,000 per, with a bonus structure reportedly worth a total of $2.5 million per season (similar to Phil Kessel's deal with the Bruins). Provided he can make the jump right away, Brunnstrom next year could be riding on a No. 2 line with Brad Richards.
Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman was scheduled to have hernia surgery last week, but it was postponed, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli. "He got another consultation on it," said the GM. "It really settled down well after the season." Wideman, a restricted free agent, played nearly three-quarters of the season with the injury, said Chiarelli, and likely now will only have to rehab and add strength to the area over the summer.
The Flyers, already steep underdogs against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals, learned on the eve of Game 1 that they would be without valuable defenseman Kimmo Timonen. The Finnish backliner was hobbled by a blood clot, suffered in Game 4 of the Montreal series when he was struck by an Andrei Markov slapper. His agent, Bill Zito, said Friday that the Flyers were frantically "searching around the world" for ways to treat the clot. "Blood thinners would help," explained Zito, "but then he can't play - because of the potential to bleed if he gets cut." Zito said the injury was the result of a blood disorder. "I say it's a disorder," he added, "because if you or I get hit by a shot, we're not going to get a clot from it."
New price range for Jagr
Don't look for the Bruins to spend their free agent money at the far end of the age bracket, which would rule out the likes of, say, Brendan Shanahan (39) and Jaromir Jagr (36), two Rangers who likely will be up for bid July 1. Upon wrapping up in New York last week, Jagr said he would prefer to play no more than two more seasons - to keep a promise to his father to return home to the Czech Republic in 2010 - and he would prefer to be back with the Rangers. Jagr made $8.3 million this season, a healthy chunk of that paid by the Capitals, who essentially paid to get rid of him. What will he get in the open market? "Maybe I would find out something that I don't want to know," said Jagr, who likely is looking at around a 50 percent cut in guaranteed money. Players over 35, unlike anyone else who isn't on an entry-level deal, can sign deals that are beefed up with incentives.
If the Stu fits . . .
Nice combination on the Detroit blue line, where ex-Bruin Brad Stuart has been the perfect fit with Nicklas Kronwall, allowing the tough Swede to hunt the ice for big hits. Stuart, obtained from Los Angeles for second- and fourth-round picks, will be an unrestricted free agent for a second straight summer, unless the Wings tie him up. "Our hope," GM Ken Holland told the Windsor Star, "is to get a No. 4 defenseman this summer, and Stuart is the first guy we are going to talk to." Added coach Mike Babcock: "Stewie's been a great player. He fits in good for us because he doesn't have to do too much. He just gets to be Stewie." Another prime example of fit and expectation. In Boston, Stuart was asked to do too much, and often looked uncomfortable and out of place. Ditto for Hal Gill, who added depth and brawn to the Pittsburgh backline when the Penguins picked him up from Toronto.
Aged Bruins winger Glen Murray, hindered for some time by a large protusion on the outside of his right ankle, recently had surgery to help alleviate the condition. Murray said in November, after repeated consultations with Dr. George Theodore, a foot specialist, that scar tissue buildup around the bursa sac likely would have to be addressed by surgery. "The thing is," Murray said then, "while I'm playing, he believes, even with surgery, it probably will just keep growing back."
Penguins GM Ray Shero, asked last Saturday on the New England Hockey Journal radio show what he planned to offer free agent-to-be Marian Hossa: "I don't know. I keep reading that Peter [Chiarelli] is going to sign him." . . . Matt Keator, who is also Zdeno Chara's agent, last week added free agent winger Pavol Demitra to his stable of clients. Demitra's business was handled for years by ex-Bruin Mike Gillis, but Gillis gave up his client list upon taking over GM duties in Vancouver . . . Look for upwards of two dozen wannabes to attend the second annual Bruins development camp in Wilmington, July 8-12. All sessions at Ristuccia Arena will be open to the public . . . Junior sensation John Tavares, expected to be the No. 1 pick in the June 2009 draft, already has turfed his agent, Bryan Deasley. For now his mother, who has experience in banking, will handle her kid's business affairs. Last year, No. 1 pick Patrick Kane (Chicago) went into the draft without representation, and eventually hired veteran Pat Brisson, who also handles superstar Sidney Crosby . . . Patrice Bergeron is back in Quebec City, resting up after an arduous season that ended when he was dealt a Grade 3 concussion Oct. 27. "He was in good spirits when he left here on breakup day," said Chiarelli. "Really, he was the funniest I've ever seen him. He said to me, 'Don't you want to talk to me about the 10 games I played this year?' And I said, 'That's OK, Bergy, I think I've talked to you enough this year.' " . . . Isn't it about time Boston came up with an answer to the octopi that Detroit fans toss on the ice during Red Wings playoff series? An eight-spoked hubcap might work for the Hub of Hockey, but the potential for injury is probably too high. Time to ideate, people! Or is the correct spelling "idea-eight"?
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.