By Allan Muir
Maybe he ran out of food. Or ammunition. Or maybe the thought of missing out on the high-brow hilarity of “Grown Ups 2″ was just too much to bear.
Whatever the reason, Tim Thomas has finally emerged from his bunker deep in the Colorado wilderness. And after a year in seclusion, hockey’s favorite strict constructionist has put out the word that he’s ready to strap on the pads and stop pucks for a living again.
That’s good news for everyone who covers the sport. For years, Thomas was arguably the most thoughtful, well-spoken athlete in the game. And he just might have been the best goalie in the world.
But in the wake of the White House debacle, he became our own version of Amanda Bynes,
someone constantly on the verge of veering spectacularly off course, surrounded by people more than happy to give him a little shove.
It’s easy to understand why he bolted at the height of his career. It’s even easy to imagine why he wants to come back.
What’s tough to figure out is who would give him a chance.
Sure, there are plenty of teams out there looking for an upgrade between the pipes and a guy with the kind of hardware that litters Thomas’ CV — Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Vezina — deserves some consideration. But is he anybody’s best option?
Yes, he’s a free agent, which means acquiring him won’t cost assets like Ryan Miller or Jaroslav Halak would. But Thomas is a 39-year-old man who won’t have played a game of hockey in about 16 months when training camp rolls around. Time tends to be unkind to guys like that. Low mileage or not, that’s a big risk for a team to take on.
And it’s not just age and game-readiness that have to be weighed. Thomas won’t be playing for league minimum. He has a very healthy ego and he’ll expect to be compensated like the elite goalie he was when he walked away. It’s hard to imagine him signing for the $3 million he earned during 2011-12 with the Bruins, and it won’t be a one-year commitment.
Then there’s the sideshow element. As much as he, and a new team, would work to avoid it, there will be an air of “grab your popcorn, pull up a chair and wait for the fireworks” wherever he goes. Maybe that’s manageable. And if he’s winning, it might even be a reasonable price to pay. But if things don’t go swimmingly, why would any GM subject his team to that kind of distraction?
That’s why the Thomas-to-Philly talk is so completely insane. Sure, the Flyers need a goalie so they have to at least kick the tires on him. And yes, Paul Holmgren is not averse to grasping at straws if there’s any chance they can help his team win.
But coming off the silliness that surrounded Ilya Bryzgalov — and after having to swallow $23 million worth of his contract — Holmgren would have to be a gun-shy about taking on another goalie with even a whiff of trouble on him, wouldn’t he?
But what other options are there? Thomas will surely want to join a team that has a chance to win, so forget Florida or Calgary or Edmonton. And the Islanders could have tolled his contract if they wanted to keep him.
Maybe the Canucks will decide the bridges are irreparable between them and Roberto Luongo and buy him out. Er…maybe not.
So maybe his only option is Philadelphia. And since Homer refuses to move any of his young prospects to upgrade the position, maybe Thomas is the only option for the Flyers.
It’s crazy to think these two could wind up together.
So crazy, it just might work.