fernandez_manny_opeecheeThe numbers were there this season for Boston Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez.

One year after he was limited to only four games because of a knee injury, the veteran puck-stopper returned to form with  a 16-8-3 record in 28 games, with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. But that hasn’t stopped Fernandez’s thoughts of retirement.

Fernandez, who first mentioned the possibility of quitting hockey over the winter, reiterated today at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston that the back problem that kept him on the sidelines for the better part of January frustrated him enough that he’s still not sure if he wants to play in the NHL again.

“That month off I had to take in the middle of the season because of my back, that’s obviously not something I’d want to do again,”  said Fernandez, who shared the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed in the NHL this season with Tim Thomas.  “If I can’t last for 82 games, there’s no point in coming back. I don’t have to. That’d be something I want to do for myself, not for anything else.

“What’s important is just to talk it over with the doctors and see what they think happened. And maybe it was just because it was so fresh, and it was the first season(after the knee injury), I was asking for a lot. Maybe my body wasn’t used to it. You’ve got to get into a certain pattern where everything follows. But we can go from there and see.”

Fernandez is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and it’s highly unlikely that the Bruins will attempt to retain him now that they have Thomas signed long term and Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings to move up. There are plenty of teams, however, that would be in the market for a goaltender of Fernandez’s ability. At one point, he was rotating with Thomas and won seven in a row and 12 of 13 decisions. Minus that one month of injury, and the stretch of five straight losses that followed, even he is now able to look back with some satisfaction at the season.

“It was tough at the beginning. I was fighting it a little bit right off the bat,” said Fernandez about returning from Dec. 2007 knee surgery. “But I got to play more, for some reason. I got in a couple stretches where I started to feel really good. The more you play, the better you get.

“And it goes back to that month off I had to take in the middle of the season that kind of chopped my legs from underneath me. But for the most part, I felt pretty good. That leads to even in the playoffs. If anything happens to Timmy, I had to make sure I was ready. And I felt like my game was there in practice. I gave it everything I had.”