By Allan Muir
Tim Thomas, the man who was an island unto himself in Boston's locker room, is now an Islander.
At least as far as the salary cap bean-counters are concerned.
The trade, first reported by blogger Eklund and confirmed by Arthur Staples of Newsday, has the Bruins receiving a conditional second round pick in 2014 or 2015 for the netminder who chose a life of seclusion in Colorado over playing out the final season of his four-year, $20 million contract with Boston.
The condition, though, is that Thomas play at least one game for the Isles. Since that's unlikely to happen, the deal is all about swapping cap dollars rather than tangible assets.
Giving away the world-class goaltender who led the team to the Stanley Cup just two years ago isn't as crazy as it might seem.
Although the 38-year-old Thomas refused to play for Boston this season, his pro-rated $5 million cap hit counted because he signed his deal as a 35-or-older player. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli's achievement was clearing cap space. For a team that was pressed against the ceiling, it's a significant move because it gives the Bruins the option of taking on a significant salary ahead of the trade deadline.
"It doesn't mean we'll go out and get somebody now because we have cap space," Chiarelli said during a conference call on Thursday evening. "But if there are good deals that come early, you have to be in the ballgame. We're in the ballgame now. That was the proactive approach that we wanted to take here."
Already, speculation is swirling about Boston's desire to add secondary scoring for a playoff push, with Calgary's Jarome Iginla believed to be a prime target.
Even if Thomas never plays for them, this was a huge win for the Islanders. Thomas' hit ensures they will avoid fines for being below the NHL's salary cap floor that were set to kick in on Friday. And they hit that floor without actually having to pay actual salary.
Thomas has been suspended all season and was not being paid by the Bruins. Assuming that he doesn't report, the Islanders will not have to pay him, either.
It's a loophole exploitation that likely won't go over well with the NHL Players' Association, but one that's perfectly legal under the new CBA. TSN's Bob McKenzie is reporting that the Islanders will be able to toll Thomas' contract, essentially keeping him on the books until he decides to play or retire. That could allow them to flip the netminder for an asset down the road, but more importantly it leaves his cap hit there for the indefinite future.