By Allan Muir
Interesting news this morning from from Boston.com's Adam Kaufman: Bill Zito, the agent to several well-known players including Boston's Tuukka Rask and reclusive free agent Tim Thomas, is leaving his position with Acme World Sports to become the assistant general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The new gig tops off an exciting summer for Zito, who last month negotiated a hefty new eight-year, $56 million deal with the Bruins for Rask, a goaltender who has played just one season in the starter's role.
There's been no official word yet from the Jackets, who've had an eventful offseason of their own. Chris MacFarland has been in the AGM position since 2008 and has dealt with scouting, player contract research and negotiations, salary cap management, and CBA administration, among other duties. He's also served as the GM of the AHL's Springfield Falcons. Zito could assume some of those roles, especially the ones that involve scouting, but that's speculation at this point.
It's no surprise that new GM Jarmo Kekalainen wanted Zito on his team. The two combined their own small agencies into Acme World Sports back in 1995, so their working relationship is well established.
While those details will be of interest primarily to Jackets fans, Zito's connection to Thomas is the one that makes this move so intriguing.
Thomas has been in seclusion since leaving the Bruins in 2012 with Zito serving as his consigliere from the world of hockey. It was Zito who made it known in late June that the reluctant puckstopper was ready to come in from the cold and looking for steady employment for the 2013-14 season. He hasn't been able to drum up much interest in his client, but there were rumors that Thomas was being considered as a Plan B option for Columbus in case Sergei Bobrovsky chose to return to Russia rather than re-sign with the Jackets. That avenue seemed to close for Thomas after the Vezina Trophy winner signed a two-year, $11.25 million extension.
What this means for Thomas is tough to say. He's a big enough name that he'll likely have several options to choose from if he decides to look for another agent, but it's hard to say what impact the loss of his trusted adviser will have on his thinking or how he feels about his future, given the apparent lack of interest in his services.
It may end up that Zito's departure is a blessing in disguise.
European rosters were pretty much in place by Aug. 1, and all 30 NHL teams seem to be set between the pipes, so at this point it's looking like a training camp invite is Thomas' only real option. Now that Zito has a say in the matter, will that invite come from Columbus?
It makes some sense for the Jackets, as Thomas would provide insurance against Bobrovsky suffering from flash-in-the-pan syndrome, and he'd be a clear upgrade over Curtis McElhinney, who was signed as a backup earlier this summer. But is it the best avenue for Thomas? With Bobrovsky in the way, it doesn't seem like it, but the chance for some playing time is better than none. And unless the Calgary Flames or Florida Panthers decide to swing for the fences, which seems unlikely, having a friend in a front office might prove to be Thomas' last best chance to get back in the game.
UPDATE: The Blue Jackets have now confirmed the hire. “Bill Zito is an astute businessman who understands all facets of our game and will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Columbus Blue Jackets,” said Kekalainen. “I have known Bill for many years and believe he will be a great addition to our hockey operations staff as we continue our efforts to build a championship-caliber team.” Meanwhile, Aaron Portzline reports that Zito will head the team's pro scouting department and will have a hand in college scouting.