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What now for Thomas?

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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Tim Thomas got his first NHL opportunity in Boston. He played in Providence for the Bruins’ AHL club. He spent four years in Burlington, Vt., starring for the University of Vermont. He makes his year-round home north of Boston.

The native of Flint, Mich., considers himself a New Englander. But that status may be in doubt, considering the changing of the guard that took place this season.

“Certainly different than any other experience I’ve had as a pro,’’ Thomas said of 2009-10, when the reigning Vezina Trophy winner found himself on the bench for the entire postseason, supplanted in the Boston goal by Tuukka Rask. “It was challenging. You go through these types of situations and years. You’ve just got to try to find the lessons out of them and find a way to make yourself a better pro goaltender and a better person.’’

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Thomas was projected to retain the No. 1 job, perhaps into 2011-12, with Rask gradually seeing more and more action.

But with Rask grabbing the starting job and projected to be the go-to goalie in 2010-11, the future is unclear for Thomas, who will enter the second season of his four-year, $20 million contract, which includes a no-trade clause. If Rask plays himself into the starting role again next season, it would not be prudent to have Thomas and his $5 million annual salary growing moldyon the bench.

For Thomas, a move — and a waiving of his no-trade — could put him back into a No. 1 position. It is a scenario that Thomas said he has not had time to consider.

“After the kind of drought that Boston’s had and the way this year’s playoffs ended up, it would be poetic justice if the Bruins could get over that hump and really accomplished the ultimate goal of winning a Cup,’’ Thomas said. “A certain part of me, for sure, would like to be here for that. It’s part of the whole thinking process that has to go into it. That’s nowhere near complete.’’

Trading Thomas, however, may not be so simple. While new Panthers general manager Dale Tallon may rethink the issue, Florida had made it known that Tomas Vokoun is available in trade. The 33-year-old Vokoun (23-28-11, 2.55 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) is due $5.7 million next season. Goalies who will reach unrestricted status July 1 include Marty Turco, Chris Mason, Evgeni Nabokov, and Dan Ellis. Carey Price will be a restricted free agent, but the Canadiens will be sure to make Jaroslav Halak, who will also be an RFA, their first priority.

There is also the worry that Rask could regress as a second-year NHLer. The Bruins’ puckstopping prospects (Matt Dalton, Adam Courchaine, Michael Hutchinson) are not close to NHL-ready, so a motivated Thomas could be a valuable asset for the Bruins to retain.

“They know that no matter where I’m at or what’s going on, I’m going to be competing, for sure,’’ Thomas said. “If you look over the course of my career, every time I’ve had some sort of setback, I came back even stronger. I think that’s what people should plan on. Because that’s what I plan on.’’

Let’s talk
Last year, July 1 came and went for Dennis Seidenberg with no movement on the open market. So did Aug. 1. And when Sept. 1 rolled by and Seidenberg was still unemployed, the defenseman figured he could do without the uncertainty of life as an unrestricted free agent.

“It wasn’t a fun time,’’ said Seidenberg, who signed a one-year deal with Florida Sept. 14 after training camp had already started. “I got nervous. I got scared. I didn’t know where I was going to be.’’

So Seidenberg, who sat out the entire postseason after undergoing surgery to repair a tendon in his left arm, was pleased to report that agent J.P. Barry and the Bruins had started discussions about a new deal within the past week. The 28-year-old Seidenberg earned $2.25 million this year, the same figure that Andrew Ference will pull down for each of the next three seasons.

“I’d like to get something done today,’’ Seidenberg said with a laugh. “We’ll see. I think it’s a process. I hope both sides are going to work it out.’’

The Bruins have $15.075 million invested in Ference, Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, and Matt Hunwick, the four defensemen under contract for next season. Mark Stuart and Adam McQuaid are restricted free agents, while Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk are UFAs.

“Dennis, I think, was a very solid defender who could move the puck well,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “Strong, strong player. Having Dennis in the mix pushes down other defenders and allows them to have better matchups. So we missed him.’’

Surgery for Chara?
Chara, who played the majority of the season with a dislocated left pinkie, will visit a hand specialist this week to determine whether surgery is the best option. Chara said he became used to playing with the compromised finger . . . Marco Sturm underwent surgery yesterday to repair the torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Sturm blew out the knee in Game 1 of the second round. Recovery and rehab is projected at six months, which would make Sturm unavailable for the start of 2010-11, the final season of his four-year contract . . . Ference is scheduled to undergo groin surgery Friday for the second consecutive summer. Ference said his groin held up well during the playoffs. With recovery and rehab expected to take 6-8 weeks, Ference should be ready for camp.

Sobotka hurting
Vladimir Sobotka played with an injured left shoulder against the Flyers. Sobotka originally suffered the injury in the first round, then aggravated it in Game 1 against Philadelphia. He might require surgery . . . Milan Lucic said he aggravated his sprained left ankle in the second-to-last regular-season game when he scored an empty-net goal against Carolina. Lucic said the ankle bothered him against Buffalo but felt better in the second round . . . Shawn Thornton and Steve Begin, both UFAs, said they have not heard anything about contract extensions. Both said they’d like to stay in Boston.

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