By Allan Muir
Controversial goaltender Tim Thomas made it known earlier this summer that he was ready to end his year in the wilderness and return to the National Hockey League. The response was a sound he'd become familiar with during his exile in Colorado: crickets.
To this point, there has been little interest expressed in the unrestricted free agent, but that may be about to change. According to ESPN's Craig Custance, Thomas is in discussions with several teams and could sign with one soon, possibly later today.
There's no reason to dispute Custance's reporting. He's as good as they come in the business. Still, the landscape is such that there can't be many teams willing, or able, to take on Thomas. So where would he land?
Custance doesn't specify that Thomas is talking to NHL teams, and that might be noteworthy. Thomas molded himself into a world-class goaltender while playing in Finland's SM-Liiga, so there's always a chance that he sees a return to Europe as a real option -- especially if he thinks playing on the big ice might put him in a better position to make Team USA for the Sochi Olympics.
But he has young kids now, and he might be disinclined to drag them overseas. If that's the case, he doesn't have a lot of options.
With Scott Clemmensen sidelined after knee surgery and Jacob Markstrom still unproven, the Panthers might be a good fit for Thomas. In fact, Florida might be the only fit for him. Thomas' agent, Markus Lehto, told a Vancouver radio station this morning that his client wants to be a No. 1 goalie again. And while Lehto said that a signing wasn't coming today, he confirmed that he and Thomas are in discussions with several teams.
Posturing? Probably. Despite yesterday's official retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, it's highly unlikely that the rebuilding Flames would have any interest. And while a return by Thomas to the Islanders isn't out of the question, the timing doesn't make much sense. Evgeni Nabokov is set for the majority of starts, and it's believed that New York would also like to give Kevin Poulin a chance to prove himself. If one of them falters, then maybe Thomas fits in down the road. Now, though, he would just be a spare part.
Every other team appears to be fully committed in net, at least to its starter, so Lehto is probably hoping to get one club to bid against itself for his client's services.
Let's just hope there's something to this rumor. Love him or hate him, Thomas is the rare athlete who is both entertaining on and off the ice. It would be fun to have him back.
UPDATE: Multiple sources, including Bob McKenzie
are reporting that Thomas was offered, and has since rejected, a training camp invite by the Panthers. He's holding out hope for an actual contract, rather than a PTO, but if Florida isn't willing to commit, his only real chance to be a No. 1 might be overseas.