|CARL SODERBERG 6-3, 200-pound center|
He once was considered the Bruins' for-years-to-come No. 1 puckstopper, the 6-foot-2-inch, 197-pound Finn with the right blend of athleticism, technical consistency, Gumby-like flexibility, and confidence.
But all that splintered in 2006-07 for Hannu Toivonen, who found himself shipped out of Boston yesterday to the St. Louis Blues for center Carl Soderberg.
The 23-year-old Toivonen, the 29th overall pick of the 2002 draft, entered training camp last year in a showdown with Tim Thomas for the rights to the Boston net.
But Toivonen, a rookie last season, faltered early, never got on a roll, and found himself commuting on I-95 midseason, shuttling between Boston and Providence in hopes of finding his game and his confidence.
And when the Bruins signed prospect Tuukka Rask and acquired Manny Fernandez from the Minnesota Wild, the goalie of the future turned into the goalie of the past.
"Hannu was caught in between a little bit with respect to what I call a succession plan -- Tuukka in the future and Manny and Tim in the present," said general manager Peter Chiarelli. "Hannu is a very good person. He's a high-character person. He's someone that, at the end of the day, we felt would be better-suited somewhere else. It would have been hard for him to develop in the current state of the goaltending situation here."
Toivonen, who also has battled ankle and knee injuries, was swapped for a player with his own issues. The 21-year-old Soderberg, a second-round pick in 2004, had a solid season in 2006-07, collecting 12 goals and 18 assists in 31 games for Malmo of the Swedish Elite League.
But Soderberg's season was shortened last spring when he suffered a serious eye injury. Chiarelli wasn't sure which eye the lefty-shooting Soderberg injured, but he was diagnosed with a contusion that kept him from participating in the Blues' development camp earlier this month. According to Chiarelli, Soderberg was examined last Monday and will have 20/80 vision.
"We're satisfied as to his recovery," Chiarelli said. "He will have 20/80 vision in one eye, and a number of players play with that in the league. He's been given a clean bill of health and he's on the road to recovery."
The Blues also had questions about Soderberg's character. The 6-3, 200-pounder was expected to make the St. Louis roster to start 2006-07. But when he didn't make the club, Soderberg bolted for his native Sweden and was suspended by the organization. Soderberg had a clause in his contract that called for him to play at least 20 games for the AHL's Peoria Rivermen if he didn't make the club.
"It's something that I discussed with [St. Louis GM Larry] Pleau at length, the risk we're both taking," said Chiarelli. "At the end of the day, it's equal risk that we're both taking. That was a dominant theme in this discussion and this trade. Here's a player they had very high expectations for. He may turn into maybe not an elite player but a very good player. There were times when he dominated the world juniors when he was playing. On the flip side with Hannu, we've seen where his play's been outstanding. Hannu may end up being an elite goalie in the league. So yeah, there's risk."
Soderberg creates a traffic jam at center, although he can play wing and give the Bruins some beef along the boards. Chiarelli said Soderberg will pursue a big-league job in camp in September, but he has not discussed where he might end up -- Providence or Sweden -- if he doesn't land a position in Boston. Soderberg has two years remaining on his entry-level deal.
Toivonen will be in contention for an NHL job. The Blues enter the 2007-08 season with incumbent Manny Legace as the top candidate for the starting job, while prospect Marek Schwarz, who appeared in two games last season, will battle for the second slot. The Blues also have University of Maine netminder Ben Bishop in their system, although he's considered at least two years away from making the NHL.
"It's a fresh start for Hannu," said Bill Zito, Toivonen's agent. "He's going into a good situation there. It's going to be on Hannu's shoulders to do the things he's good at and focus on that. He'll get a chance."
The Bruins also announced the re-signing of forward Jeff Hoggan. The 6-1, 195-pounder collected two assists and 33 penalty minutes in 46 games last season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.