You don't have to be from Boston to know who Tim Thomas is.
After finishing the 2008-2009 regular season with an impressive 36-11-7 record, .933 save percentage, and a 2.10 goals-against average (GAA), Thomas led the top-seeded Bruins into the playoffs with confidence.
Although Boston was surprisingly knocked out of the postseason by Carolina in the conference semifinals, Thomas' efforts were still enough to earn him the Vezina trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.
But this past season, the 36-year-old Thomas took a plunge for the ages. Despite a still-decent .915 save percentage, Thomas was just 17-18-8 with 104 total goals allowed by midseason, just 10 fewer than he gave up in all of the previous year.
By then, Thomas was seeing fewer and fewer starts, and by spring, the veteran was using up $5 million in cap space on the bench.
However, shockingly, Boston wasn't doomed. Young 23-year-old Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask stepped into Thomas' place and nearly duplicated Thomas' efforts in 2008-2009. Posting a league-leading .931 save percentage and 1.97 GAA, Rask stepped up his game and led Boston to the sixth seed despite Thomas' crash.
Not surprisingly, the Bruins are now looking to cut their ties with the veteran. Even before the NHL free-agent market opened on July 1st, talks of a trade for Thomas were ongoing with reported teams such as Tampa Bay, San Jose, and Philadelphia.
While Tampa Bay recently dropped out of talks with the signing of Dan Ellis, there are plenty of teams that could be interested in acquiring Thomas in hopes of finding a short-term missing-piece player, a goaltender mentor, or a veteran leader. Whereas an abundance of franchises could definitely use his services, here are five teams (listed in no particular order) where Thomas might fit best.
Philadelphia was among the first few teams to contact Boston interested in acquiring Thomas, but recent signings has brought down that probability significantly. However, with no true proven goaltender on the roster, Thomas may be needed in Philly more than anywhere else.
The Flyers are closer to the cap than any other NHL team, but do have several salary-eating players drawing interest from other teams (perhaps including Boston) and a dire need for netminders.
For now, newly re-signed 29-year-old Michael Leighton, who was added off of re-entry waivers from Carolina last winter and became a playoff hero with the Flyers...until the Stanley Cup Final. However, before coming to Philadelphia, Leighton had been 16-35-10-2 with a .896 save percentage and a 2.96 GAA in eight seasons with the Blackhawks, Predators, Flyers (surprisingly), and Hurricanes.
Leighton was signed a couple weeks ago to a two-year, $3.1 million contract.
Backing him up is 33-year-old former Shark Brian Boucher, who is on the last year of a contract which will generate a $0.925 cap hit next season. Boucher has played even more inconsistently over his career, and had a disappointing 9-18-3 record last year with the Flyers and a .899 save percentage.
Despite this duo of underachieving goalies, the Flyers would likely have to trade at least two $3.0 million-plus cap hit players before having the space to absorb Thomas. Players who may be candidates for deals are injury-prone yet talented goal scorer Jeff Carter and overpaid yet productive winger Simon Gagne.
Whether Boston is interested in these players or not, them or several other players of their caliber would have to be dealt in order for Philadelphia to go after Thomas. It's up to the Flyers to determine if he's worth that or not...but, either way, a solid veteran goaltender like Thomas may be the missing piece for the 2010 Eastern Conference Champions.
With the trade of 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, Montreal controversially rested their net minding hopes on common scapegoat Carey Price (who actually is still a restricted free agent) and journeyman Alex Auld. However, with neither of those two looking like legitimate starters, Tim Thomas could be a much needed addition.
Price, after posting a formidable 24-12-3 record and .920 save percentage in his first year three seasons ago, has faltered lately by dropping his save percentage to .905 in 2008-2009.
Then, despite improving that category to .912, came in with a miserable 13-20-5 record this past season.
Similarly, Auld, who was acquired from Dallas this past winter, hasn't played a full season with one franchise since the Canucks in 2004-2005.
Furthermore, 29-year-old Auld only recorded a save percentage above .915 for one of the past seven teams he's played for.
While they may be long shots, the Habs do have the cap space to stomach Thomas ($5.5 million plus the space they free up in players traded away). They need a goaltender like him, and have plenty of candidates for players to trade away. While they might not be the most talked about candidate, Montreal could certainly be in discussions to make a deal for Thomas and keep him in the Northeast Division.
The New York Islanders have more cap space than any other team ($28 million), and with the Isles having seemingly dropped out of discussions with Kovalchuk, they might be interested in a trade with Boston.
Given Martin Biron's departure to the Rangers, the Islanders have been left with horror story Rick DiPietro and 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson competing for the starting job. The two, along with Biron, allowed the third-most goals-per-game of any team at 3.15 last year.
On a different topic, New York could seriously use a first-line center, and perhaps Marc Savard, who's also on the trading block in Boston, could be acquired to take that role from Jon Sim or Matt Moulson.
Savard, now 32, had a disappointing injury-laden season last year, only putting up 33 points in 41 games. However, he had produced four consecutive seasons of more than 75 points before last year. Savard has a cap hit of about $4 million this next season, with that total decreasing from season-to-season until his contract expiration in far-off 2018.
Were the Islanders to pull off a blockbuster and reel in those two veterans, they would certainly have to give some players up. However, they could easily take the combined $9 million cap hit on its own, setting New York up for a restraintless negotiating process.
Could we see both Savard and Thomas in Islanders jerseys next season?
Former Sharks' goalie Evgeni Nabokov has signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
While San Jose did find somewhat of a replacement in Antero Niittymaki, a tandem between him and youngster Thomas Greiss wouldn't exactly be the most intimidating one. At 30, Niittymaki has never played a lead role on a team before and has a career save percentage of .903 and a career GAA of 2.97. Greiss, on the other hand, has played in just 19 NHL games up to this point.
Tim Thomas could act as a tutor for the Sharks' plethora of prospect net minders as well as a temporary goaltender for a few years until San Jose develops or signs a long-term star. With as much talent and leadership as there would be around him, Thomas may have a better chance at leading his team to the Stanley Cup with San Jose than with any other team possibly interested in him.
San Jose may have to move a few decently sized contracts to fit Thomas in, and it would set up a few other cap issues if they were to take in his $5 million cap hit, but Thomas' level of play, when at his best, may be too much to pass over.
Dallas has completely mixed up their goaltending corps since last winter, acquiring Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta at the trade deadline and then signing can't-stay-in-one-place backup Andrew Raycroft away from Vancouver, despite letting longtime franchise centerpiece Marty Turco depart into the free-agent market.
However, although those two are already 28 and 30, respectively, they only combine for a .905 save percentage and 2.87 GAA in 466 NHL appearances. What's more, the Stars still have enough space to sign more than one high-salary player, with $20 million in cap space available despite having all required roster spots filled.
All of these factors make it seem as if, although no talks between the two sides have been reported, Tim Thomas could fit in very well in Texas. In order to not overwhelm the depth chart with three NHL goalies at once, the Stars may be able to ship Raycroft away in addition to another 2011 draft pick or average forward.
Nevertheless, Dallas just might be a perfect home for Tim Thomas as they try to work their way back into the postseason.
Indeed, both Capitals fans and staff seem happy with their new young goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, both just 22. The truth is, however, the two of them have only made 39 NHL starts combined, and although they were an impressive 30-9 in those, much of that was due to Washington's incredible offense (among the top three in the league the past two years).
Washington has just one more roster spot to fill and have $8.5 million to do it, leaving plenty of room for Thomas without any difficulty. In fact, the Capitals have their fair share of stars on the trading block: Alexander Semin and Mike Green.
While I'm not going to fantasize that we could see both of those two, Thomas and Savard, involved in a deal for the ages, it might just be worth drooling over, due to the fact that the circumstances have been set up so nicely. The Capitals have been quieter than quiet so far this summer...but could that change soon?