Tim Thomas might be playing elsewhere next season, or he might not be playing at all.
A source told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun on Thursday that the 38-year-old Boston Bruins netminder was contemplating taking next season off. Which doesn’t mean he will, but it’s something he’s apparently raised.
A source close to Thomas later confirmed his thinking to ESPNBoston.com and also said that Thomas had brought this idea up on more than one occasion over the course of the 2011-12 season. The source also said that Thomas moved his family to Colorado last fall because he wants to live there when he retires, and the motive behind taking a season off would be to train there for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Thomas was a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
If Thomas were to take a sabbatical for the 2012-13 season, he would be leaving the Bruins in a cap crunch. Thomas is heading into the final season of a contract that will pay him $3 million but will carry a $5 million cap hit for the Bruins.
Per the current collective bargaining agreement, if Thomas decided to sit out the final season of his contract, he would not get the $3 million owed to him but the Bruins would still be stuck with his $5 million cap hit because he was signed to the deal after he turned 35 years old. Boston, however, could suspend him for the season, thus pushing the cap hit to 2013-14.
That all might change, however, under a new CBA this fall, but with Thomas' no-trade clause expiring July 1 and the chance he may not play, Boston will want to unload that cap hit one way or another.
The Bruins have a No. 1 goalie in waiting in Tuukka Rask, so they’d be open to trade offers, especially after a controversy-filled season sparked by Thomas’ decision not to attend the Cup champions’ visit to the White House. But with word now out that Thomas is pondering this break, his trade value will almost certainly decrease.
There is one scenario that might make sense, however: Might a team that’s a significant amount under the NHL’s salary cap be willing to absorb that $5 million cap hit if it also meant receiving a draft pick or other compensation from the Bruins? Teams could still be hesitant, however, with stipulations of a new CBA still unclear.
If Thomas sat out next season but returned for 2013-14, he would be an unrestricted free agent.
Thomas finished the regular season with a 35-19-1 record, including five shutouts, a 2.36 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 59 games. Shortly after the Bruins were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in late April, Thomas didn’t sound like a goalie pondering a year away. He instead discussed ways to improve his game in the offseason.
"I'll have a lot more time to improve myself physically," he said. "Two summers ago, I basically rehabbed all summer long and then went straight into the season and it ended up being a very, very long season. Then we had a very short off time after that and obviously you need recovery from that long season. I was able to put in some work last summer but nowhere near the time I would want to. So actually with this extra time here, I'm going to spend it improving myself physically and in any area I can figure out."
He also shrugged off questions about the team potentially trading him.
"The future will work itself out,” he said. "You can't plan the future. The plan was for Tuukka to not ever get hurt this year, so what's the use of speculating on plans that are down the road when we're two days off from the playoffs. I don't even know what I'm going to do over the next few days."
The Bruins have not commented on the latest Thomas rumblings, but general manager Peter Chiarelli indicated in late April he had no plans to deal Thomas.
"I know I've seen speculation about moving a goalie, but I'm certainly not inclined to do that,” he said. “Tim didn't have statistically the year he had the year before, but I thought he had a very good year. We have, if not the best, one of the top goaltending tandems in the league."
Information from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun and ESPNBoston.com's James Murphy was used in this report.