On Sunday, via his preferred method of communication, Tim Thomas confirmed his plan not to play during the 2012-13 season.
Thomas posted a statement on his Facebook page, the same medium he chose when explaining his decision not to attend the Bruins’ White House ceremony on Jan. 23.
“From the earliest age I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a hockey player,’’ Thomas posted. “I’ve been blessed in my life to not only be able to live that dream, but to achieve more than I ever thought possible. The singleminded focus that is necessary to accomplish a dream of this magnitude entails (by necessity) sacrifice in other areas and relationships in life. 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. 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.’’
With that, Thomas closed the door on his Bruins career. On and off the ice, Thomas has proven to be defiant, tenacious, and unwilling to change his mind. They are the qualities that made him arguably the greatest goalie in franchise history.
The question that remains, however, is whether Thomas’s declared intention and its driving reasons are legitimate.
During a conference call Friday, general manager Peter Chiarelli said he believed Thomas’s explanation. Thomas, via agent Bill Zito, cited fatigue and a desire to spend more time with his family as the primary factors. Zito did not return a message for comment Sunday.
“I don’t think there’s anything mischievous from his point,’’ Chiarelli said.
In their internal discussions, the Bruins bosses remain unconvinced, according to a source familiar with the situation. Two variables are in play: that Thomas chose not to retire, and that he hopes to play in the 2014 Olympics.
Bruins fans would not have questioned Thomas had he announced his retirement. Thomas has a championship ring. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011. Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. He could make a case for Hockey Hall of Fame inclusion. From a team and individual standpoint, Thomas has accomplished goals worthy of any NHLer.
Had Thomas retired, the Bruins would have been responsible for his $5 million annual cap hit. Thomas has one season remaining on his four-year, $20 million contract. In 2012-13, Thomas is due $3 million in salary.
Instead, Thomas cited only next year as his sabbatical timeframe. Thomas’s goal is to participate in the 2014 Olympics, but the NHL has yet to commit to sending its players to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Games.
If the NHL approves Olympic participation, Thomas would have to contend with American goalies Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider, and Craig Anderson. None has declared intentions to take next year off.
To put himself in Olympic consideration, it would be in Thomas’s best interests to play NHL hockey in 2012-13. To that end, Thomas would have to be traded or waived after July 1, when his no-movement clause expires. Or, if Thomas and the Bruins can smooth over relations, they could work together on a pre-July 1 trade.
Prior to the 2010 draft in Los Angeles, the Bruins asked Thomas to waive his no-movement clause. Thomas agreed. The Bruins could not settle on a trade partner, and Thomas remained in Boston. Thomas, using the trade rumors as motivation, submitted one of the greatest goaltending seasons in NHL history en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
This offseason, Toronto, Chicago, and Tampa Bay will be among the teams desperate for a high-end goalie. If he plays next season, Thomas’s game does not project to slip significantly, if at all.
Thomas’s declaration, however, would set any team on guard. Even via waivers, a club would be taking a risk on assuming Thomas’s $5 million cap hit, only to see him not play. A team making a claim would have to receive a guarantee of Thomas changing his mind.
The Bruins would not receive much in a trade. In fact, they might have to deal an asset or accept a bad contract to cut ties with Thomas.
The Bruins also must deal with the increased leverage Thomas’s intentions give to Tuukka Rask. The Finnish netminder will become a restricted free agent July 1. Zito represents both Rask and Thomas. The Bruins cannot afford not to meet Rask’s demands.
If the Bruins can’t move Thomas, they will designate the goalie a suspended player next season. Thomas will not collect his salary, but the Bruins will be responsible for his $5 million cap hit. Thomas has the third-highest cap hit on the team, and it would be a considerable amount of cap space applied to a non-roster player.
Chiarelli said he could toll the contract forward. Thomas then would be under contract to the Bruins in 2013-14.
It is hard, however, to imagine the Bruins bringing back Thomas in 2013-14. Thomas would be 39, coming off a dark season. Also, Thomas’s $5 million cap obligation for next season might leave the Bruins bosses less than eager to grant him a return. The most likely scenario is for the Bruins to allow Thomas’s contract to expire after 2012-13.
On his Facebook page, Thomas concluded his statement with the following: “What does this portend for the future? We’ll see . . . God’s will be done.’’