By Allan Muir
Although the Bruins never said as much on the record, word got around the league pretty quickly. Want to make a deal? Fine. The phone lines are open...just don't ask for the big, athletic goaltender they'd taken in the first round the previous year.
Only it wasn't Malcolm Subban they were talking about.
It was Hannu Toivonen.
It's worth remembering that it wasn't long ago that the Finnish puckstopper was the apple of the organization's eye. The season after being drafted 29th overall in 2002, Toivonen went 16-2-4 in the Finnish league, then followed that up with two strong years in the AHL. With his size and athleticism, he was poised to seize the No. 1 job in Boston for the next decade.
Only it didn't work out that way. A solid rookie season with the Bruins in 2005-06 was cut short by an ankle injury that lingered into a disastrous sophomore year. His technique (and confidence) deserted him, leading to a 3-9-1 record, a 4.23 GAA and an .875 save percentage before he was shipped back to Providence.
Toivonen ended up playing just 38 games for the big club before being written off as a failed experiment.
I bring him up as a reminder that it's notoriously difficult to accurately assess the potential of an 18-year-old. It's even tougher when that kid is a netminder. Which makes me wonder if the Bruins really are as determined to keep Subban as they're rumored to be...or if they're simply maximizing his value of the 2012 first-rounder (24th overall) and Canadian national junior goalie ahead of the trade deadline.
No doubt Subban looks like a player. But so did the 22 goalies who were selected in the first round between 2000 and 2009. Of those, just seven went on to play as many as 100 games in the NHL. And while Vancouver's Cory Schneider and Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier are sure to top that mark in the next season or two, that still puts the "success" rate of those premium picks at less than 50 percent. More than half of the netminders who at one point were equally revered as Subban failed to hurdle even that low bar.
It's not just the high odds of Subban flaming out that impact his availability. It's also timing.
Tuukka Rask is just 26 and while he's not signed past this season, it's expected that he'll be given a long-term deal over the summer. He's Boston's guy. So why would a team pass on making a significant addition if the cost of doing business is surrendering a goalie who may or may not start for it until sometime around 2018? (SPORTING NEWS: Dealing for recent first-round picks is risky business.)
The Bruins' organizational hole will be easy enough to fill in the coming draft. Even if Zach Fucale is gone by the time Boston picks, Eric Comrie, Tristan Jarry or even a dark horse like Frolunda's Fredrik Bergvik might fill the need. And as the glut of goaltenders who are either available now (Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop) or rumored to be available (Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Miller, Mike Smith) proves, there are always veteran options to be had. It's never easy to give up on a recent first-rounder, but it's a lot easier than capturing the Cup. When you have a window to win a championship, you have to focus on the now, not the future. GM Peter Chiarelli knows that. That's why he's setting up someone else fall in love with Subban.