By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Blackhawks have designs on winning their second Stanley Cup in three years once the NHL season resumes after the all-star break this weekend.
Those plans will be nothing but pipe dreams unless Stan Bowman does something about the team’s problems in goal. Corey Crawford, the team’s No. 1 goalie ranks 35th in the league in goals against with a mark of 2.86 goals allowed per game. He is stopping 90.2 percent of the shots fired at him. Those pedestrian numbers are worse than backup Ray Emery, who is allowing 2.57 goals per game and stopping 90.7 percent of the shots on net that he sees.
Neither goalie is good enough to carry the Blackhawks through four rounds of the playoffs based on their play this season. That’s got to eat at Bowman, Joel Quenneville, captain Jonathan Toews and every player in the locker room. If the Blackhawks are going to get better in that area, they are going to have to make a trade before the Feb. 27 deadline.
Now take a look at the Boston Bruins. The defending Stanley Cup champions had a marvelous run through the playoffs last year, winning three seven-game series en route to their first championship since 1972. The key throughout their run was the stellar play of Tim Thomas in goal for the Bruins. His 4-0 shutout of the Canucks in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals gave the Bruins the championship on the road.
The team celebrated with the Cup throughout the summer, just as the Blackhawks did the year before. They raised the banner before their first home game and then began the defense of their championship. After a slow start, the Bruins turned on the afterburners and began a serious defense of their championship by rolling through the competition.
Talk of last year’s title lapsed into the history books until Monday. That’s when the Bruins were feted at the White House by President Barack Obama. The feisty team showed up en masse and was on its best behavior. Not a single hip check was thrown and not one secret service man took an elbow to the ribs.
There was one significant absence. Thomas, the Conn Smythe winner, decided his time would be better served by staying away from the team function. He offered a ham-handed reason for his absence, protesting that big government was infringing on individual freedoms and he was exercising his right as a free citizen to skip the ceremony. What? Come again?
It seemed like some anti-Obama wonk had gotten in his ear and influenced him. But Thomas told Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli months ago that he did not want to attend.
The news of Thomas’ absence from the White House celebration was bigger news than the rest of the team’s visit. The Bruins organization was embarrassed by Thomas’s move. The team was irritated that Thomas had made himself the headline. A team that seemed to be in good position to defend its title may have a significant rift in its locker room.
A story in the Boston Globe by Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa revealed that the goalie is a bit of a loaner and does not have many friends on the team.
Thomas is 37 and is in the next-to-last year of a 4-year contract. He is giving up 2.15 goals per game and has stopped 93.3 percent of the shots he has faced. Backup Tuukka Rask, 24, is second in the league with a 1.83 goals against and is stopping 93.8 percent of the shots he faced. The Bruins have an abundance of riches in goal and most team observers expect Rask to be the starter next year.
At one point or another they are going to have to give the job to the younger man. Thomas has a no-trade clause in his contract, but players have been known to waive those clauses in the past.
It would be a stretch, but if the Bruins feel like the situation is starting to divide the locker room, they might be willing to consider the idea of trading Thomas. It would be in Bowman’s best interest to make a call to Chiarelli.
Thomas is probably the best clutch goaltender in the league and he may have several good years. He could be just what the Hawks need. The Hawks might have to deal a front-line defenseman (not Duncan Keith) and draft picks, but Thomas would be worth it. It’s worth making the call.
The two original six rivals don’t see each other much anymore. The Blackhawks and the Bruins play once or twice a season and haven’t met in the postseason since Boston swept a four-game series in 1978. But the two teams made one of the most significant trades in the history of their sport in 1967. Chicago traded Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston for Pit Martin, Jack Norris and Gilles Marotte.
The trade was a blockbuster for the Bruins, who would go on to win two Stanley Cup championships. It was a disaster for the Hawks. By making a move for Thomas, the Blackhawks could turn around their problems in goal and even the score on a trade that has festered for 45 years.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.