The changing of the guard.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know by now that Tim Thomas (as of this moment) has plans to take the 2012-13 season off. Consensus appears to be that this isn't a great thing for the Bruins. As Thomas has an over-35 contract, they are liable for his cap hit, no matter what. Are the Bruins screwed? Well, not quite. They have some options:
1. Suspend Thomas, run the contract this year. They don’t pay him a dime, the cap hit comes off at the end of the season and it doesn’t affect the coming Milan Lucic/Tyler Seguin/Brad Marchand negotiations. Thomas becomes a free agent in 2013-14, and the Bruins get a clean break. The downside is that they’re rewarding him for his behavior, as this is almost certainly the outcome he’s aiming for.
2. Buy him out. Actually, forget what I just said. THIS is the outcome Thomas would surely be hoping for. Thomas gets a check for $2 million and gets his freedom. Because this is an over-35 deal, however, the Bruins still take the $5 million cap hit up front. This is about as likely as Thomas being invited to speak at the Democratic National Convention this summer, so let's not waste further time on it.
3. Suspend Thomas, toll his contract, and see if he comes back in 2013-14. For the uninitiated, "tolling" means the Bruins would hold Thomas to the contract, and he would remain team property, and not free to sign anywhere else. They'd basically be demanding that he do his final year of service for the team, and wouldn't be free until he finished that. Unlikely, and probably the worst idea because it means they take a $5M cap hit in 2012-13 and then again in 2013-14 for a guy who may never play again at all, and almost certainly will never play for Boston again. This is the Scorched Earth strategy: report to us, or you’ll never play hockey again, and we’ll roll that damned cap hit over as many years as we have to. Peter Chiarelli, true to his background as an attorney, has repeatedly demonstrated pragmatism over principle, and so this seems like a longshot.
More (less conventional) options after the jump...
4. Trade Thomas to a team looking to make the cap floor or that wants to take a chance on getting a top 10 goaltender for peanuts. No more NTC to deal with, no more worries about trying to cater to his wishes out of some sense of fair play. There are all sorts of teams that wouldn’t mind taking on a $5M cap hit without paying a dime. Hell, at this point, I don’t even care about getting value in return; getting $5M in cap space would be a bonanza and could make the B’s significant players in an interesting FA market, or (sigh) more aggressive in their pursuit of Rick Nash. Best case scenario, at this point, and one that Peter Chiarelli has already hinted that he's going to pursue.
5. Wait it out. I’m amazed at the number of people who are really, truly buying that Thomas has a screw loose to the point that he really thinks that "taking a year off" is somehow going to be beneficial. If he lost his passion for the game, he’d retire. He’s 38 years old; a year of sitting in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains eating cheeseburgers, stockpiling canned goods and playing pond hockey with his family is not going to be beneficial to his chances of being a quality goaltender in 2013-14. You can assume he’s crazy (doubt it; he’s held his life together pretty well to this point), or you can assume he’s just being indecisive (it’s possible that he thinks he wants to retire, but hasn’t made up his mind, though this is one screwy way to go about it), or you can assume he’s playing chicken with the front office because he wants to enforce a NTC that isn’t there. The third option seems by far the most likely. So wait it out. Let him see that it’s not working, or throw him a bone and say "okay, fine, you can veto trades to Edmonton and Columbus if you end this foolishness now."
6. Trade Rask for Kane and promise Timmy the starting job. Just kidding.
7. Wait for the new CBA. I don't like this idea, but this is a bizarre situation that they probably didn’t consider when they did the last CBA. The NHL rightly wants to avoid teams circumventing the cap. And so over 35 deals count no matter what happens to the player. Injury, retirement, suspension, death by shark attack, tough luck, you’re on the hook. Might they consider revising that to say that if the player is suspended, the cap hit doesn’t count? Ordinarily, I would say no, but the NHL has pulled ex post facto rule changes before (right, Ilya?), and Jeremy Jacobs is one of the most powerful owners in the league. So it’s at least an option, though I think it’s an awfully big gamble to count on the new CBA for relief. It makes more sense if they decide that option #1 is the way to go, and figure that as an afterthought, they’ll push for a change in the CBA and hope for the best.