- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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"At the age of 38, I believe it is time to put my time and energies into those areas and relationships that I have neglected," Thomas said on his Facebook page Sunday. "That is why at this time I feel the most important thing I can do in my life is to reconnect with the three F's. Friends, Family, and Faith. This is what I plan on doing over the course of the next year."
Though Thomas did not go so far as confirm he would definitely take the 2012-13 season off, Chiarelli said the team is moving forward as if Thomas won't be playing.
"I almost have to operate under the assumption he isn't coming back," Chiarelli said Friday. "I've had some discussions with Tim and he's told me that he wants to play in the Olympics the following year, so I'll have more discussions with him later on. But we've got two very capable goalies in (Tuukka) Rask and (Anton) Khudobin, so I'd be more than satisfied if that's who we have to go with."
If Thomas indeed sits out, Rask would be the Bruins' top choice to replace him. The 25-year-old Rask is a restricted free agent and could command a long-term contract from Boston. Rask has long been projected as a rising star; he supplanted Thomas as the starter in 2009-10, but Thomas regained his position the next year and remained there.
Thomas is entering the final season of a contract that will pay him $3 million and will cost the Bruins $5 million against the cap. Chiarelli said if Thomas hasn't made a final decision on whether he will play by the beginning of next season, he would suspend the goalie.
But even if the Bruins suspend Thomas, the cap hit still would count against the team for next season. However, the Bruins would gain $4 million of that back by placing injured center Marc Savard on long-term injury reserve.
"If he wasn't playing I would have to suspend him," Chiarelli said of Thomas. "His cap number would still be on the cap. We would have relief through Savard being on the cap, so it would almost be a wash that way, and that's the way we would proceed through the year. We're not seriously cramped from the cap perspective. As I've said, we've got Marc Savard on LTI and he's at $4 million, and Tim's at $5 million, so do the math and we're maybe a million short. So we're not seriously disabled there. It's something that I'll approach delicately with Tim."
If Thomas is suspended, Chiarelli also has the option to toll the contract into 2013-14. The team would maintain Thomas' services with the same $5 million cap hit, but Chiarelli stressed that no matter what, the cap hit remains for the upcoming season.
"I would be able to toll the contract, which would mean I would acquire the same terms of service in a subsequent year," Chiarelli said. "I would have the ability to decide if I want the contract to expire or for it to go another year."
Chiarelli plans on giving Thomas some time to make a final decision, possibly until July 1, when the 2011 Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner's no-movement clause expires. At that point, the GM would explore trade and transaction options to alleviate Thomas' cap hit and get some value in a potential trade.
"That would be something we'd look at and you do have that flexibility and the element of teams trying to reach the (cap) floor -- I don't know what that would be in the next CBA deal, so there's uncertainty there, too -- but yeah, that would be something we'd look at," Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli acknowledged Thomas' deliberations on sitting out -- regardless of whether he follows through with it -- has diminished the goalie's trade value; many teams are unlikely to part with a quality package in exchange for a 38-year-old who most likely is forgoing the final year of his contract with no guarantee he'll return.
A late bloomer who played in Finland before finally breaking into an NHL lineup at the age of 32, Thomas emerged as one of the league's top goalies when he won the Vezina Trophy in 2009. He won it again along with the playoff MVP in 2011 while leading Boston to the Stanley Cup championship.
But he is also an iconoclast who was known to wander far from the crease in games and occasionally leave his comfort zone off the ice as well. When the Bruins met President Barack Obama to celebrate their NHL title, Thomas skipped the White House visit and issued a political diatribe on his Facebook page as explanation.
Chiarelli said Thomas expressed an interest in playing in the 2014 Olympics, which will be two months before he turns 40. But he is not certain to be picked for the U.S. team over Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard or another young American goaltender who might have emerged by then. Thomas was a member of the U.S. team in Vancouver, but he did not play on the squad that won the silver medal.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance