Predicting Which NHL Team Will Land Goalie Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas is reportedly interested in making a return to the NHL following a one-year hiatus in which he chose not to report to the Boston Bruins despite having another season left on his contract.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun first reported the news that Thomas would join this year's free-agent class, but after the first weekend that teams were allowed to officially sign players, the 39-year-old veteran remains on the market.
Let's look at the best fits for Thomas as he pursues a comeback to the NHL.
5. Florida Panthers
The Panthers should, and likely will, make 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom the team's No. 1 goaltender for the 2013-14 season. But with Jose Theodore coming off a terrible season (he's also a UFA) and Scott Clemmensen reportedly on the trade block (per Renaud Lavoie of RDS), Florida needs a veteran backup.
That's where Thomas would fit in. Of course, if he's looking to sign with a playoff or championship contender, then the Panthers are one of the worst fits for him. They will likely finish at the bottom of the league standings again next year.
But if Thomas' preference is to make the highest salary possible on a team that needs goaltending help, Florida might not be a bad option. It has a whopping $18,457,125 in salary-cap space, the third-most of all 30 teams.
4. Colorado Avalanche
Semyon Varlamov failed to impress in his second season as the Avalanche's starting goaltender with a disappointing 11-21-3 record, a .903 save percentage and a 3.02 GAA.
The 25-year-old has yet to develop into the top-tier goalie he was expected to become after being selected in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Washington Capitals.
At some point, Colorado will have to determine if Varlamov is capable of being the franchise's goalie of the future. To challenge him and create some healthy competition for the No. 1 job, the Avalanche should consider signing Thomas.
Colorado isn't going to be a Stanley Cup contender next season, even with Thomas, but he would help the team compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Thomas has also spent his time away from the NHL over the last year in Colorado, so he's already familiar with its hockey culture.
3. Edmonton Oilers
As a team ready to take the next step and become a perennial playoff contender, Edmonton must ensure that its goaltending is strong. Current starter Deven Dubnyk is not good enough, at least at this stage of his career, to backstop a contending team.
Signing Thomas would be a smart move for general manager Craig MacTavish, especially if Thomas can guide the team to the postseason and show it how to win meaningful games.
Thomas could be a one- or two-year stopgap for the Oilers and help them contend right now. He could help Devan Dubnyk develop similar to how Tuukka Rask benefited from backing up the veteran netminder for two seasons in Boston.
With $11,460,833 in cap space, Edmonton has plenty of financial flexibility to sign Thomas and still re-sign important RFAs.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury is clearly incapable of leading the talented Penguins to another Stanley Cup title, evidenced by the 43 goals he's allowed in his last 11 playoff games. He was benched in the first round last year and never got his job back because veteran Tomas Vokoun played pretty well.
Should Pittsburgh sign Thomas?
But Vokoun, a 37-year-old who has never led a team to the Stanley Cup Final, is not the answer either. If the Penguins really want to upgrade the biggest weakness on their roster, they should sign Thomas to a one-year deal.
The lack of a goaltender who will remain calm in tough moments during the postseason and not allow bad goals to bother him has been a concern for the Penguins since they won a championship four years ago. In that span, Pittsburgh has a postseason GAA of 3.43, which isn't the mark of a legitimate championship contender.
As a team in win-now mode with very little salary-cap space ($676,667 to be exact), signing Thomas is the best option for general manager Ray Shero to upgrade his goaltending.
Trading for Buffalo Sabres star Ryan Miller is another one to consider, but taking on his salary and giving up quality assets to acquire him doesn't make the most sense when Thomas is available as a UFA.
1. New York Islanders
The same team that traded for Thomas during the 2013 season for salary cap reasons is also the best fit for the veteran goaltender.
The Islanders are one of the few teams who need a better No. 1 goaltender and have the cap space needed to meet Thomas' salary demands. In fact, New York's $22,955,524 in cap space is the most of any team.
You could argue that with more reliable goaltending during last year's playoffs, the Islanders would have upset the top-seeded Penguins in Round 1. Instead, they lost to Pittsburgh in six games largely because of Evgeni Nabokov's horrible .842 save percentage and 4.44 GAA.
Nabokov is capable of being fantastic in the regular season, but he's consistently underperformed during the playoffs throughout his entire career. In his last three postseasons, the Russian goaltender is 12-15 with a .879 save percentage and a 3.27 GAA.
As a team with a great offense (seventh in goals scored last season) and an improving defense, the Islanders would make the playoffs for a second consecutive year if they made a goaltending upgrade.
For Thomas, it would be an opportunity to earn a good salary and be a No. 1 goalie for a team on the rise that could become a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference very soon.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. Salary information via CapGeek.
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