What's next for Thomas, Bruins?

What's next for Thomas, Bruins?
June 2, 2012, 12:10 am
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NEWARK, NJ So how do the Bruins proceed if Tim Thomas does indeed step away for the 2012-13 hockey season as hes thinking about, according to Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.

No decision has been made and Chiarelli said that hed be operating under the premise that Thomas wont be around next season.

So the bomb has been dropped, and that brings plenty of dominoes into place for the Bruins.
Whether it was for family reasons, due to fatigue, maneuvering to avoid getting traded or simply because hes lost that loving feeling in Boston, the first thing Chiarelli and the Bruins would do is suspend the 38-year-old goaltender.

There is a very strong possibility we could be moving on without the services of Tim Thomas for the year. The reasons why areIm not exactly sure. He did give reasons regarding the family, which I obviously respect. He wanted to spend more time with his family, said Chiarelli. If he wasnt going to play I would have to suspend him. His cap number (of 5 million) would still be on the cap.

Thats the way we would proceed for the year. I know there are players that after long playoff years and seasons at the end of their deals have needed time to decide whether they want to play again: Scott Neidermayer, Teemu Selanne, and Nicklas Lidstrom. They needed time to decide whether they wanted to play again. Neidermayer, I believe, was still under contract. Its what is happening with Tim and we have to deal with itand we will. Hes also told me that he wants to play in the Olympics the following year, so well have some discussions later on.

Per the rules of the current CBA (collective bargaining agreement) Thomas 5 million cap hit would still remain in place for next season, and the Bruins couldnt use any of that money for a replacement player. They could gain some cap space back by placing Marc Savard on long term injured reserve with a savings of slightly over 4 million of cap space, but thats space they should already have above and beyond the rather large cap hit for Thomas.

The Bruins could opt to trade Thomas after July 1 something they were seriously considering before Chiarelli met with the goalie and agent Bill Zito about his desire for a leave of absence but his trade value has been significantly compromised by questions about his desire to play.

Most teams would be wary of a 3 million salary for a player that appears to have no intentions of actually suiting up and playing, but there is one slight benefit: a 5 million cap hit for a team struggling to reach a 54 million salary cap floor that could be implemented for next season.

It would be something wed look at, said Chiarelli referencing a trade. Sureit would be something to look at. Wed have that flexibility and there would be some teams trying to hit the salary cap floor. It would be something wed look at.

Obviously it diminishes the trade leverage that you have, but hes a world class goalie. Hed really help somebody if he decided that he wanted to play.

Chiarelli stressed that he didnt think there was any mischievous agenda behind Thomas desire to step away from the team next season, but it certainly smells like a play to gain back leverage once his no-movement clause expires on July 1.

There was an element of surprise. I respect what hes trying to do. He wants to spend more time with his family, but I was surprised by it, said Chiarelli. We had exit meetings after we won the Cup and he told me he was really tired. That was definitely something he said again after this season: that he was worn down a bit. I think with all of the stuff thats gone on the last couple of years with playing and with going places and all of the fame that goes along with winning hes a little worn down.

I think its coincidental that this is going on with his no-movement about to expire. He says that he wants to keep playing. He wants to play in the Olympics.

They could put Thomas on waivers and send him to the AHL, and still be on the hook for 3 million. They cant buy out Thomas contract because he signed his extension after he turned 35 years old, per the current CBA.

They could also toll his contract for the 2013-14 season, and control his rights for an additional year if Thomas decided to sit out all of next season. That would keep him from playing anywhere else but Boston.

But the interesting thing about the situation is that the current CBA is over in September when Thomas next contract kicks in, and there could be a very different landscape for Chiarelli and the Bruins. They may have the power to buy Thomas out or suspend him without any salary cap complications.

Theres also the sheer difficulty of a 39-year-old attempting to return to the NHL and elite hockey after sitting out a full year. Dominik Hasek did it ten years ago after sitting out a full season and he helped lead a stacked Detroit Red Wings team for several seasons after he returned to the NHL.

But all of these decisions are months and years away.

The reality right now is that Thomas has said to the Bruins that he wants to spend time with his family, and he wants to play for his country in the Olympics. Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin will be the goaltending tandem for the Bruins at the start of the year, and the team will be forced to move on from the Thomas era.

Its clear Thomas doesnt want to play for the Bruins next season barring some unforeseen change of mind, and that isnt Thomas modus operandi most of the time.

Once the goaltender has made his decision then he usually sticks to it.

Dont believe me?

Just ask the Bruins officials that tried to cajole him into attending the White House ceremony last year.

One thing he made clear to me is that hes not going to comment on any of this, said Chiarelli. He may post something at some point on Facebook, but beyond that thats all that I can tell you.

A Facebook post would really be a fitting end to Thomas days in Boston, wouldnt it?