Ranking Which NHL Teams Would Be the Best Fit for a Tim Thomas Return

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2013

Ranking Which NHL Teams Would Be the Best Fit for a Tim Thomas Return

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    Could Tim Thomas's one-year absence from the NHL be coming to an abrupt end?

    It seems like it's a good possibility. Thomas's agent Bill Zito has been instructed by his client to  explore his options for a return to the NHL. It seems likely that several teams would be interested in the two-time Vezina Trophy winner. Thomas also earned the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

    Thomas strangely took a leave of absence after the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. The Bruins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Capitals in overtime of the seventh game, and Thomas skated right off the ice and did not look back.

    He told the Bruins he was going to concentrate on his personal life in 2012-13 and take the year off, and had given no indication that he was interested in coming back until now.

    Here's a look at the teams that should be willing to kick the tires on making a deal with the award-winning goalie.

5. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders should be interested in Tim Thomas.

    They traded for him earlier this year and would have owed the Boston Bruins a draft pick for him had he decided to end his sabbatical and return before the end of the 2013 season.

    Thomas did not do that and the Islanders could have tolled his contract had they wanted to and that would have meant he would still be Islanders' property. They did not do that, so the Islanders will have to come up with the best deal if they want him.

    They certainly should give Thomas strong consideration. Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov is a free agent. He had a decent regular season, but his poor play in the first round of the playoffs hurt them badly. Nabokov had a 4.44 goals against average and an .842 save percentage. Both figures are unacceptable.

    The Islanders have more salary cap room than any team in the NHL, according to CapGeek.com. They are committed to paying just under $36 million in salary next season with a salary cap of $64.3 million. Thomas was scheduled to earn $5 million last season and it seems reasonable that he would want a similar amount if he decides to come back.

    That figure may or may not be reasonable, but it would be a good jumping off point.

    The Islanders clearly need an upgrade in goaltending and Thomas would give it to them. They have the money to spend and they are a team on the rise. The Islanders appear to be a sensible option for Thomas.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have been hobbling around the NHL's desert the past two seasons.

    In 2011, they made it all the way the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final, but they were ultimately knocked out of the playoffs as Tim Thomas pitched a shutout in the final game.

    Since then, the Lightning have failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons and they have suffered from poor goaltending.

    Late in the season, they tried to address that weakness by acquiring Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators for prized rookie Cory Conacher. Bishop did a decent job in the Tampa Bay net and appears to have the kind of talent to develop into a strong goalie.

    However, general manager Steve Yzerman has no idea if Bishop will ever meet his potential. He might want to discuss the team's goaltending options with Thomas.

    The Bolts have slightly more than $9 million in cap space for the 2013-14 season if they want to pursue Thomas.

3. Colorado Avalanche

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    Tim Thomas moved his family to Colorado during his time off from the NHL.

    Perhaps he might want to come out of his exile off by playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

    The Avs appear to be headed on the right track from an offensive perspective. They drafted Nathan MacKinnon with the top pick in the 2013 draft and they already had rising stars Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene and 27-year-old veteran Paul Stastny.

    However, they need plenty of help on the defensive end. They gave up an average of 3.12 goals per game, ranking 27th in the league.

    While it's not all on the goaltending, Thomas would seem to be a better option for Colorado than Semyon Varlamov or J.S. Giguere.

    If the Avs decided they wanted to upgrade in goal and go after Thomas, they have $11.35 million in cap space according to CapGeek.com.

    The presence of Thomas would probably not turn the Avs into a Stanley Cup contender, but it would make them a better team.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    At first glance, it wouldn't seem the Pittsburgh Penguins would be in the market for Tim Thomas.

    They have a high-priced goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury who is scheduled to earn $5 million next season. They also have a veteran backup in Tomas Vokoun.

    Fleury led the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup, but his recent playoff performances have been abysmal. He had a 4.63 GAA and an .834 save percentage when the Penguins lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in 2012.

    It wasn't significantly better this year, either. Head coach Dan Bylsma pulled Fleury in the middle of the first round against the New York Islanders because he was struggling with a 3.52 GAA and an .883 save percentage.

    Vokoun was able to pull out the series and help get the Penguins past the Ottawa Senators in the conference semifinal, but the season came to an end in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Despite their shocking finish to the 2013 season, the Penguins are still loaded with talent. They have more than $7.8 million in cap room. If Bylsma and Ray Shero wanted to make something happen, they could probably get Thomas to listen

1. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Peter Laviolette has not been smiling much lately, and the state of the Philadelphia Flyers' goaltending is a big reason why.

    Laviolette won't have to deal with enigmatic Ilya Bryzgalov (2.79 GAA, .900 save percentage in 2013) any more, since the Flyers bought him out last week. That move also left the Flyers without a goaltender.

    If there was ever a team that needed a lock-down goaltender capable of bringing home a Stanley Cup, it's the Flyers. Laviolette and general manager Paul Holmgren have to be quite tempted by the idea of bringing Thomas into the fold.

    Tim Thomas exploring NHL return as free agent; Flyers likely destination?: Tim Thomas’s agent Bill Zito reveal... http://t.co/XegVvMOOYb

    — Puck Daddy (@YahooPuckDaddy) July 1, 2013

    The Flyers have Steve Mason on the roster and he was excellent after coming over from Columbus in a late-season trade. However, it would be difficult to see Mason matching the 1.90 GAA and .934 save percentage he had in his first seven games with the Flyers and accomplishing that for a full season.

    The Flyers have nearly $4.2 million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com.  They might need to make a few other moves, but the Flyers would seem to be the perfect team to offer Thomas a new home.