In less than 20 months, Tim Thomas went from Stanley Cup hero to suspended player to ex-Bruin.
On Wednesday, Thomas’s peaks-and-valleys ride in Boston ended. The Bruins traded Thomas to the New York Islanders for a conditional second-round pick in 2014 or 2015.
The trade is the exclamation point on a career that was equal parts brilliant and curious.
In 2010-11, Thomas submitted one of the finest puck-stopping performances in NHL playoff history. Thomas’s signature stops — his first-round right-to-left push on a Brian Gionta shot, his diving stick save on Steve Downie in the Eastern Conference final — highlighted the Bruins’ march to the Stanley Cup.
On June 15, 2011, Thomas hoisted not only the Cup but the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP.
But Thomas’s final season in Boston was crammed with controversy. Thomas declined to attend the Bruins’ White House ceremony on Jan. 23, 2012. Last May, Thomas shocked the Bruins by declaring he would not play in 2012-13. Via Facebook, Thomas cited his dedication to friends, family, and faith.
On Jan. 14, the Bruins officially suspended the 38-year-old Thomas for not reporting to camp. Because Thomas was working under a 35-and-older contract, the Bruins were responsible for carrying his pro-rated $5 million annual cap hit, although the goalie was not eligible to receive his $3 million in salary.
But now Thomas is an ex-Bruin. The Bruins can apply Thomas’s cap hit toward trade acquisitions.
“I do know that we don’t win the Cup without him,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a conference call Thursday. “He was a character here. A terrific goalie with a great story. He had some interesting side stories that became distractions at times. I had to manage this stuff. But I can’t stray from the fact that this guy won two Vezina trophies and a Conn Smythe. He was terrific when we won the Cup. Going back on the run we had with Tim, he was outstanding.”
The Bruins now have approximately $63 million (pro-rated) on their books, including Marc Savard’s cap hit. The ceiling is $70.2 million. The Bruins can add a significant player prior to the April 3 trade deadline. They can also exceed the cap by Savard’s hit by placing the center on long-term injured reserve.
The Bruins would like to find more punch at left wing on the third line. Their recent outbreak of injuries (Brad Marchand, Daniel Paille, and Shawn Thornton) also underscores the importance of depth during the 48-game season.
“I wanted to be in a position where if something comes along now, because sometimes there’s deals where [GMs] try to move guys early, I wanted to be in a position that we would be in the ballgame,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve got a good team. That doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and get someone because we have this cap space right now. But sometimes in my experience, there’s good deals that come early, and you have to be in the ballgame. We’re in the ballgame now. That was the proactive approach that we wanted to take there.”
Chiarelli acknowledged the condition of the pick centers on if Thomas ever plays again. Chiarelli declined to disclose further specifics of the condition.
Following the trade, a source familiar with the situation said that Thomas will not play this season. The source said Thomas’s thoughts about restarting his career in 2013-14 have not changed.
Thomas will turn 39 on April 15. It is unknown whether Thomas, who resides in Colorado Springs, has been training at an NHL level during his sabbatical. Thomas would also like to play for Team USA in the 2014 Winter Games.
“If anyone can do it, it can be him, regardless of his conditioning,” Chiarelli said of Thomas playing in 2013-14 after sitting out this year. “He’s done some pretty special stuff at a later age.”
The Bruins fretted that they’d have to carry Thomas’s contract for the duration of the season. When the lockout lifted, the NHL and NHLPA agreed on a $44 million cap floor. Every team was above that threshold.
But the Islanders kicked the tires on Thomas because of concern regarding Lubomir Visnovsky. The Islanders acquired the defenseman for a 2013 second-rounder from Anaheim on June 22, 2012. But Visnovsky balked at reporting to Long Island for various issues, including his belief that Anaheim violated a no-trade clause. The Islanders suspended Visnovsky, who carries a $5.6 million annual cap hit.
Had Visnovsky not reported, the Islanders would have been at risk of dipping under the cap floor. But the Islanders lifted Visnovsky’s suspension on Thursday, and his cap hit is now applied toward the Islanders’ number. Even so, the Islanders still pulled the trigger on the Thomas trade.
The Islanders are tied for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Evgeni Nabokov (4-4-1, 2.99 goals-against average, .903 save percentage) and oft-injured Winthrop native Rick DiPietro (0-1-0, 4.14 GAA, .852 save percentage) are their two goalies.
The Islanders have options. They could try to convince Thomas to play this season. They could trade Thomas prior to the trade deadline to a goaltending-hungry contender that believes it could change his mind about playing this season.
Or the Islanders could toll Thomas’s contract forward another year. Thomas would then owe the Islanders a year of service in 2013-14. Nabokov will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Thomas’s cap hit also gives the Islanders additional cushion above the $44 million cap floor. If the Islanders fade, they can trade players such as Visnovsky, Nabokov, or Mark Streit to contenders for picks and prospects.
Thomas concludes his Boston run with a 196-121-45 record with a 2.48 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie is arguably the sharpest puck-stopper in club history. Thomas could be a Hall of Famer, once a pipe dream for a player passed over by 29 other teams when he was recalled to Boston on waivers.
On Wednesday, Chiarelli delivered the news to the ex-University of Vermont star via phone. Thomas was walking his dogs, according to Chiarelli.
“He sounded,” Chiarelli said, “like he was in a good spot.”