It's either the start to something very odd, or just another blip in the NHL's system, but Tim Thomas and the Boston Bruins have confirmed the veteran goaltender is looking to potentially take a year off from the sport. Is this a move for a man looking for time off, or another sneaky salary cap decision?
The reasons for Thomas' likely departure, as Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli expressed, are that Thomas is worn down after winning the Stanley Cup, having to make appearances (like the White House) since getting the chance to drink from Lord Stanley, and to spend time with his family. That is all well and good and all, but most fans have mixed feelings about the decision.
Thomas is heading into the last of his four year mega-deal he inked with the Bruins at an average cap hit of $5M. It took a few years (until his 30s) for him to finally get an opportunity to prove his value at the NHL level, and once he had he landed this deal. But now that his deal is moving into the last season (of which it dropped from $6M for the first two, $5M the third and now $3M) it's hard not to suggest the money just isn't there for him to want to continue, although $3M is a pretty solid pay for an aging netminder.
It's these deals, although nowhere near the extreme of those of Kovalchuk, Pronger or Luongo, that had people saying "he'll just quit before the money falls off." But this was supposed to be a four year deal for the final years of Thomas' prime, and then teams around the NHL could evaluate if he had the proper fitness to go the extra mile. Apparently he doesn't have the drive to even finish out his current contract.
Even Chiarelli feels the decision to take a year off is probably not the greatest move for his career.
"It would be hard for a 38-year-old to come back" after a year off, Chiarelli said. "I would think that."
And he's right. The only true benefit the Bruins get out of this is knowing they have an extra $5M to spend next season, but this brings out an even more intriguing point, regarding the salary cap.
According to the Globe and Mail, the NHL salary cap is set at a temporary $70.3M for the summer. Yes, the summer, because while the overall revenue of the league reached new heights again, there is a certain new Collective Bargaining Agreement that is nearing negotiations, and those negotiations could effect the cap as much as $7M or more, meaning that while teams are out there spending up to $70.3M, the "new and actual" cap that will be set around September 15th could handcuff all of those clubs.
But right now, the Boston Bruins are a one-year off Stanley Cup winning team that has managed to keep most of its parts together. With the newly provided $70.3M cap, the team is hovering at just under $10M shy, but have Tuukka Rask to sign, as well as Benoit Pouliot as their RFAs, and Gregory Campbell, Joe Corvo and Greg Zanon as UFAs. If Thomas leaves, the Bruins are still hit by his $5M cap hit, regardless if any potential decision to buy him out, as he signed his deal when he was 35 years of age or older. But the Bruins will be able to take Marc Savard's contract off the books next year and save an additional $4M+ for the upcoming season.
That would put the Bruins in and around $56M, and if the cap does drop to around $60 to $63M, then the Bruins would have $4M to $7M to bring back the ones they want, turn to Tuukka Rask as their new number one, and essentially maintain, once again, their Stanley Cup roster.
Had the Bruins signed this contract with Thomas when he was 34 years of age prior to June 30th of the first year his contract would begin, they could have bought him out, taken the 2/3 cap hit over twice the amount of years (1 year, so 2 years for the cap hit on the buy-out), and that would be that. But that isn't howthis will play out.
You can argue the Bruins took a chance on an aging goaltender and thus signed the deal a year too long, but every which way you look, the Bruins are screwed - unless the NHL does introduce the rumoured one-time-only buy-out effect in the new CBA which would allow all teams to buy-out one contract that would NOT count against the cap. You can see that article by clicking here. If that comes into place, Thomas would get his year off, the Bruins would shed the additional $5M, and everyone walks away happy.