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Options for NHL free agent Tim Thomas fall between slim and none

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NHL free agent goaltender Tim Thomas has few options.

Tim Thomas is likely finding the market for his services to be a lot smaller than he expected. (Elise Amendola/AP)

By Allan Muir

There’s no telling what Tim Thomas imagined his future employment options might be when he waved goodbye to the Boston Bruins and made a hasty retreat to the wilds of Colorado last summer.

But if he left with the idea that there would be a ready market for the winner of the 2011 Vezina and  Conn Smythe trophies, well, he guessed poorly.

Thomas made it known earlier this month through his agent, Bill Zito, that he’s ready to come in from the cold and resume his NHL career. But the reception so far has been chilly, and there’s not much reason to think it will warm up.

It’s not just a matter of whether Thomas can still play goal, although that’s a legitimate question for a 39-year-old who hasn’t faced an NHL shot since Apr. 25, 2012. Practicing yoga in between chopping wood probably kept him in shape, but that’s not the same as hockey shape. And it’s unreasonable to expect a team to assume the risk of a contract without seeing him in game action.

But the bigger issue for Thomas is fit. As in, finding a team that needs a goalie, can afford him financially, and provides a setting where he can be happy.

That team might not exist.

There was talk initially about the Flyers being interested because hey, they’re interested in everybody who has his own set of pads and stop a puck or two, but that deal is not happening. Philly is set between the pipes with free agent signee Ray Emery and Steve Mason, and the Flyers probably don’t have enough under the cap now to buy a Tim Thomas hockey card, let alone the real thing.

The Islanders were also said to be in the mix, but they could have tolled his contract and kept him if they were seriously interested. They’ve since re-signed Evgeni Nabokov and are committed to giving Kevin Poulin a chance to prove that he’s ready to assume a larger role. A sketchy combo to be sure, but the Isles are committed for now.

The opportunities vary from slim to none with the other playoff contenders. So would Thomas be willing to suit up for an also-ran?

Calgary has the cap space to afford him (it should be noted here that while no one has thrown any numbers around yet, Thomas is believed to be looking for something close to the $5 million he earned on his last deal), but assuming that Miikka Kiprusoff retires (and that’s still not official yet), the Flames are going with Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald, which makes sense for a rebuilding team. No use scratching out a few extra wins with Thomas that would only hurt their long-term plans.

Florida and Edmonton have the cap space, too, but both already have tandems in place. Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish promised bold moves this summer and hasn’t yet delivered. Thomas would certainly qualify as bold, and he’d likely be an upgrade over Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera, but he’d be a short-sighted addition for a young team that’s not quite ready for prime time.

That leaves the Panthers. A team selling $7 tickets is clearly in need of a credibility boost, and while goalie-of-the-future Jacob Markstrom just signed a new two-year deal, the first year is two-way, meaning he could be sent to the minors to clear a spot between the pipes if he’s not ready .. .or if someone better comes along.

Florida is coming off a tough campaign that saw the Panthers slink back into the basement one year after breaking a 10-season playoff drought. That means GM Dale Tallon might be inclined to do something dramatic, not just to regain some traction but to take the pressure off young players like Sasha Barkov, Quinton Howden and Nick Bjugstad, who are expected to play major roles next season.

Markstrom is still penciled in as Florida’s opening night starter, with veteran Scott Clemmensen backing him up, so Thomas is unlikely to simply be handed a contract and given marquee billing. But a training camp invite with an eye on proving himself game-ready is an option. And if he looks like he can still stop more pucks than some other guy, then maybe the Cats bite.

Or maybe they don’t, but he shows enough that he becomes Plan B for a team that gets off to a slow start or runs into injury problems. Maybe Emery’s hip acts up in Philly. Maybe Nabokov struggles out of the gate and the Islanders, fearful of taking a step back after last season’s playoff breakthrough, are desperate for reinforcements.

Seems kind of demeaning for a guy who has been the winning goalie in the past four All-Star Games, but that’s probably what it comes down to.

But it could always be worse. He could be Ilya Bryzgalov.

  • Published On Jul 24, 2013
  • 25 comments
    DEJ1948
    DEJ1948

    Thomas' run for the Bruins in their cup winning year was as good goaltending as you're ever likely to see.  He was unconscious.  Deciding to take a year off at his age was also unconscious.  What was he thinking?  

    bmyfive
    bmyfive

    Maybe nobody wants to sign Thomas because he's such an obnoxious puke.

    ianforbes
    ianforbes

    You can play for my team anytime Timmy!

    muser
    muser

    Belfour went through this. Could have had 500 NHL wins but went off in a huff to play in Sweden for less money, expecting to be a hot commodity when he came back. Instead he was forgotten. Ego is a bad thing. 

    The Canada Kid
    The Canada Kid

    I'm afraid that people are factoring in Thomas' personality and penchant for being outspoken about his personal politics, as well, into this matter. The guy is a bit of a wing nut, and an unpredictable personality. I don't blame anyone for not being interested.  He's old and unstable!

    101philosopha101
    101philosopha101

    I'm a Habs fan but  I'll take Thomas for a year over Price and his inconsistency.  Thomas can win us a cup, Price can't do it.  But there's no way we're getting Thomas.

    SteveClodfelter
    SteveClodfelter

    When you just flat quit a job, especially one that you're unlikely to do as well as you once did, people aren't going to welcome you with open arms. What did he and his people THINK would happen? What a doofus. Great performance in the playoffs that year ( behind a great defense, btw), but he wasn't Wayne Gretzky in his prime when he quit. No one is going to be tripping over themselves to sign someone like Timmy. Sorry man, but admit to yourself that you made a mistake, just walk away and call it good. Or lower your price way down or even go play in the minors if you just want to keep playing.

    Dr. S
    Dr. S

    He had a fluke year (should not have been awarded the Conn Smythe) and the league knows it.

    Mkmck
    Mkmck

    Teams don't want a quitter, especially one that left his team in a really bad place, cap-wise...a place that the Islanders thankfully bailed them out of.  Add in the fact that, by many reports, he was a "me-first" guy with his teammates, and it all adds up to "fuggetaboutit". 

    We Bruins fans will never forget his Cup run, but we'll also never forget that he screwed the team in the end. Time to head back to the bunker and wait for the black helicopters Tim. You're done in the NHL.

    nbpt
    nbpt

    This is an article written 'for' Tim Thomas. He won't be out of work long. 

    Oh and Gumper . . . you don't talk for us Boston fans. I don't spit when Thomas's name is mentioned. Where did that come from? The guy won us a Stanley Cup you dope. 

    therednorth1
    therednorth1

    Ahem... the Leafs.

    Having failed in their Luongo chase, they could easily pursue Thomas.  It's not like having Bernier and Reimer would stop them.

    GumpsterWorsley
    GumpsterWorsley

    I love the NHL and, obviously, I have a soft spot for goalies: (simply check out my user name for proof). I moved to Vermont 4 years ago after spending most of my life in the Pittsburgh area. I arrived here in June of '09 just a short time after the Pens won Lord Stanley's Cup. Man, I was riding high until I was overwhelmed by all the Bruins fans, and especially, Tim Thomas fans. Thomas played collegiate hockey at the U of VT and was everyone's hero in these parts. Even though Thomas was getting on in years, his many fans kept telling me that the Bruins were primed for glory if Thomas could rise to the occasion. His play in the Cup finals was like a dream come true for him, for the fans, and for goalies young and old everywhere. Then, Timmy decided to disappear from the public eye for a year in order to spend "quality time with my family." What Bruins fans said next and have been saying ever since cannot be put into print. Suffice it to say that Bruins fans spit whenever his name is mentioned. OK. I get it, but I also know that Thomas desperately wanted out of Boston because he knew full well that he could NEVER, EVER repeat his finals performance and could not face taunts and ridicule from fans expecting him to

    NickWright
    NickWright

    @GumpsterWorsley Spoken like someone who doesn't root for the Bruins. We welcomed him back, even after he decided to put the spotlight on himself midseason after refusing the invitation to the White House. Lots of players skip the meet and greet with the Prez, but they don't feel the need to have a press release about it. The team never really cared for Thomas as a person. He didn't hang out with anyone on the team. He marched to his own drum, as some goalies are known to do, but the fans let him be. He lost us when he decided to take a year off to find himself or whatever excuse he made. No one was booing him during the Capitals series. He decided that hockey, and winning, weren't that important. Check his facebook. Winning "on Earth" means nothing to him. Winning "in heaven" was more important than on the ice, and you could see it when he smiled and cheered to the crowd after giving up the game-winner against the Caps. Act like you care and the fans will love you. If hockey's not that important, go off to your bunker in CO. 

    GumpsterWorsley
    GumpsterWorsley

    (comments con't)....rise to the insane level of success he had in 2011. Call him a quitter, call him a coward, call him a head case, but don't call him stupid. He took a colossal gamble that he knew would probably cost him his reputation and, on a practical level, his income. I believe he still REALLY wants to play but purposely burned his Boston bridges so that he could sign with a team where expectations had not reached the stratosphere. Timmy is weird and Timmy may even have a screw loose somewhere, but those of us who have played this game KNOW that he can still play and be of use to some team in the league. Maybe I'm the crazy one, but I still believe he has miles to go before he sleeps.

    GumpsterWorsley
    GumpsterWorsley

    Read my post above, NickWright. You misjudge my intent, but I think that's the way you want to leave it. So be it.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @GumpsterWorsley A quitter?  A coward?   You know he wanted out of Boston?  Seems like you are taking cheap shots and pretending that you know the guy.   Weak.  Very weak.  Boston fans spit his name?   Shows the true colors of some people pretending to be fans.   Given that, I don't believe that even the arrogant and out of touch Bruins fans would ridicule and taunt the guy if the Bruins did not win the Cup again the following year.   Why are you begrudging the fact that the guy wanted to leave the game?  It is his life and you act like he owes the city of Boston, the state of Vermont, or all of New England something.   People leave their jobs every day.  Does this make them quitters?  Cowards?  Head cases?   Worthy of having their name spit out?

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @Kenny S Now that paragraph is one load of sanctimonious blather.   Funny how you guys don't get all worked up when some guy that you don't want on the team gets cut mid-contract.  Suddenly you don't care so much about an adult keeping his word and honoring a contract.  Really the only word that comes to mind is hypocrite.

    Kenny S
    Kenny S

    No one's yelling here buddy, you obviously aren't into the whole personal responsibility thing and there's not much anyone can do about that. You're mischaracterization of the facts in your posts is laughable, where I'm from, you give your word, you keep your word. Mr. Thomas can do anything he wants you're correct, but when you, as an adult, break your word, people are going to react to that. Ya know, this is something your parents should have taught you a long time ago and I'm sorry they didn't.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @GumpsterWorsley You called him a quitter and a coward.  Cheap shots, considering that they are things that I would guess that you would not say to his face.   Players are human beings as well, and their lives are their own to live.   It seems as if you are not one of those that is spitting the name of Tim Thomas, but those that are are acting like spoiled children.   I've seen these same Boston fans boo and heckle players until they were traded, released, or retired.   Yet when a player leaves of his own free will, suddenly he is an outcast.  And this after leading the team to their first Cup in decades.  Hypocritical at best.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @Kenny S You are yelling again.  Slow down.  He retired for the year.  It's been done before and will be done again.  As long as you don't file official retirement papers with the league you can be traded.  I'm not making excuses for the guy.  He needs no excuses.  His life is his.  Not the Bruins.  And his life is especially not yours.  He can do as he wishes with his life, and seeing the childish manner in which some of you so-called fans are acting, I am glad that he did take a year off.   You guys act like these guys owe you something.   They owe you nothing.  They are getting paid to do a job, just like you may or may not be.

    GumpsterWorsley
    GumpsterWorsley

    Dog Hockey, I do not know Thomas, but I know dozens of people who know him very well. Some who I met even played with him at U of VT. You are correct, as I read it, in saying that I assume too much, and that I don't know Thomas. I have become a fan because I love the coach, the way the Bruins play defense, and I care very much what happens to Tim Thomas. You and I must know a very different fan base. I have met hundreds of long time, diehard fans who have accepted me because I respect their team, even if I am a transplant from Pittsburgh. To say they are unhappy with Tim leaving the Bruins is a gross understatement. And yes, I know fans (many of them) who do spit when his name is mentioned. I chalk it up to misplaced passion and too much beer. There are no cheap shots in my post, Dog Hockey. Read it again. If you still disagree, then I accept your verdict. You think I overreacted, and I think you overreacted. That's why sports is an endless debate and an endless pastime. We're cool if you want us to be.

    Kenny S
    Kenny S

    But he didn't "retire" he said he was taking a year off and left the Bruins and their fans in the lurch, if he "retired" how did the Bruins trade him last year genius? Listen, if you want to make excuses for the guy, go ahead. Check the facts though before you start making the kind of assertions you're making. Tim Thomas signed a contract with the Boston Bruins and then quit during the life of that contract, he did not retire.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @Kenny SPlayers in all sports retire before their contract expires.  A player is not obligated to play to a contract's end.   Funny how you holier-than-thou types never whine about a player that you dislike getting released prior to the end of his contract.   Seems like your street is one-way and extremely hypocritical.  Oh, and players owe you, the fan, nothing.   The fact that you pay to go watch someone else do his job is your issue not his.  The fact that a bunch of you act like kids and toss a tantrum when a guy chooses to retire says a lot more about you than it does about him.

    Kenny S
    Kenny S

    No, it makes you a quitter when you sign a contract and then quit before that contract is up. He quit on his teammates and the fans of Boston. This isn't so hard to figure out is it? In life, when you quit on people, they don't like it, particularly when you've held yourself up as a stand-up guy, as Thomas did.