Even as late as Sunday evening, when Scott Hartnell was finishing off a natural hat trick, and Tim Thomas was allowing 5 goals to a team that he usually dominates (that was missing 2 key forwards), the idea of trading Tim Thomas would have been unthinkable.
The American-born goalie who turned in a dominant performance to end Boston's cup drought. The underdog story for the ages, whose toughness seemed to fit right in with the Bruins physical style of play.
As of Sunday evening, for public relations reasons, a Tim Thomas trade this coming offseason when his NMC expires on July 1, 2012 would have been extremely difficult.
But for purely hockey reasons. A Tim Thomas trade this offseason, might make a ton of sense. Tuukka Rask has been a revelation this season, leading the NHL in save percentage at the All Star Break. Rask is also a restricted free agent this offseason, and age wise at 24, Rask fits right in with the core of the team. Could the Bruins simply decide to sign Rask at the going rate, and carry a $9m or so cap hit for a season until Thomas' current deal runs out? Most likely. But at the same time, you can only start one goalie in any given game, and generally speaking, come playoff time you can only play one guy, and in a salary cap world. $4-5m is a lot of money for opening a door and a little peace of mind.
Which takes us to the issue at hand: IF the Bruins decided to push forward with a trade, who would be interested, and what would he be worth?
This is by no means clear cut. We're coming off an offseason where one team signed a goaltender for 9 yrs/$51m, and another team was able to acquire a better goaltender for 1 yr and $1.5m. The same offseason saw Colorado give up its 1st rounder in 2012, for a goalie who apparently has lost his starting job.
There's also the troubling trend that in Thomas' last 8 starts, he's sporting a 2.88 GAA and a .907 sv %. Then there's the idea that It's tough to imagine that any team would look at the 37 year old Thomas with one year left on his contract as a long term solution in net.
At that point you're dealing with 2 sets of teams: teams that are looking for a short term solution in net (i.e. the last piece ot the puzzle to win a Cup) and cap floor teams (Thomas' salary cap hit is $5m next season, but his salary is only $3m) that are looking for just enough goaltending to possibly get them into the playoffs and generate some playoff series revenue.
In the first category, you'd find teams like Tampa Bay (despite their struggles this season), New Jersey (if Martin Brodeur retires), or even possibly Chicago. Teams that fit in the second category would be Florida, Phoenix, or Winnipeg.
Of course there are other options for the teams on that list. Tomas Vokoun is a UFA this offseason, and can be had for just money. With that sort of limited market, and the questions about Thomas' age and the lack of team control, it won't be as though the Bruins can request the Hedman, Yandle, Enstrom's of the world. That being said, it might not be the return in trade that the Bruins are looking for. As of right now, there are two very high profile (American!) UFA's that are hitting the market that would be incredible fits on this Bruins roster in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Would the Bruins make a run at one of those players and trade Thomas to make the cap work afterwards since Timmy can't be traded until July 1 without his consent anyway?
The next part of the equation is that off the ice, the Bruins aren't what they once were, having become very PR-conscious in recent years. The hiring of Cam Neely as team president; the switching of marketing firms, this is a team that not only wants to win, but wants to be considered at the forefront in the minds of New England sports fans. Chiarelli was quoted after Thomas skipped out on the White House as saying the following "I can require someone to attend a team event. If they don't, I can suspend him.
"I'm not suspending Tim. Whatever his position is, it isn't reflective of the Boston Bruins nor my own." But if the team was, as Neely and Chiarelli indicated, disappointed in Thomas' absence, and wanted to mitigate a potential PR nightmare in Boston (the fact that it's being talked about during the lead up to a Patriots Super Bowl is telling), and wanted to keep distractions at a minimum as the team defends the Stanley Cup, wouldn't they have required him to attend? The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if by isolating Thomas from the team on his decision, they may have intentionally brought a part of Thomas' personality to light, so in the (still) unlikely event they wanted to trade him for hockey reasons in the offseason, the public relations hit they'd have taken for pursuing such a deal (and getting what many fans will see as a paltry return) might be lowered.