The Bruins general manager gave himself some salary-cap flexibility Thursday by trading Thomas to the New York Islanders for a conditional second-round draft pick in 2014 or '15. Thomas is sitting out this season, the last one on a four-year, $20 million contract, but the Bruins were still carrying the goaltender's $5 million salary-cap hit even though he is suspended.
Chiarelli said the draft pick from the Islanders would be contingent on whether Thomas plays in the National Hockey League. The move gives the Bruins the cap room to add to a roster that's already one of the NHL's best.
"We felt it would give us flexibility immediately," Chiarelli said during a conference call not long after the trade was announced Thursday afternoon. "Available players are going to be scarce. Sometimes good deals come earlier, and we want to be in a position where if someone comes available now, we're in the ballgame."
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Chiarelli said he had spoken with Thomas about the deal.
"He understood. He was comfortable with it," the GM said. "He sounded like he was at peace with himself."
Chiarelli also said he received no indication that Thomas planned to return to the NHL this season, but said he had been told by Thomas' agent, Bill Zito, that the goaltender "still contemplates playing next year."
While the deal gives the Bruins flexibility at the top of the salary cap, it assures that the Islanders, who are one of the NHL's lowest-budget teams, will stay above the salary-cap floor.
"It's an asset that we traded for," Islanders GM Garth Snow said. "It does give us flexibility with our roster moving forward."
And, while the deal has been viewed as a salary-cap move by both teams, it is an acceptable deal, according to the League
"As long as a Player has an active contract that he has the right to return to absent unusual circumstances, our view is that he remains a "hockey asset" that a Club has a right to trade or acquire,'' NHL Dep uty Commissioner Bill Daly said.
Snow, speaking before the Islanders' game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, said he had talked with Thomas after making the deal but wouldn't say what they discussed or if Thomas planned to play.
Snow also said there had been no discussions about whether to toll Thomas' contract into next season if Thomas does not play this season, meaning Thomas would still have to fulfill the final year of his deal before his contract could expire. Snow added that, to the best of his knowledge, Thomas has not been skating.
Snow, a former NHL goaltender, noted that he has some history with Thomas, a Michigan native.
"Tim is obviously a world-class goaltender. He has a great resume. And, ironically, I played with Tim in a World Championship, [Islanders goalie coach] Mike Dunham and myself, so there's a relationship there," Snow said. "As a former teammate, he's a guy that is very proud of what he has accomplished and I'm very happy for him."
Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2009 and 2011. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP in 2011, when he led the Bruins to their first championship in 39 years.
"He obviously was a significant part of our Stanley Cup-winning team," Chiarelli said. "He had a very good career here. The ride he took us on when we won the Stanley Cup was amazing. We don't win the Stanley Cup without him."
Thomas attracted a lot of early interest, according to Chiarelli, but that died down as the work stoppage went along.
"We discussed it over a couple of months," Chiarelli said of his dealings with the Islanders. "We made it known it was something we would like to do."
Thomas made headlines last season when he declined to attend the Bruins' visit to the White House, and he has never been shy about making his opinions known. That didn’t always go over well with some of his teammates, and Chiarelli was asked what kind of reception Thomas would have received if and when he returned.
"That's tough to say. I don't want to speculate," Chiarelli said. "Tim can be a character and he can also be principled on a lot of different fronts.
"He is, was, a heck of a goaltender. He helped us win a Cup. I liken him sometimes to that left-handed pitcher who's a little quirky but throws 200 innings and wins 18 or 20 games a year. What I learned from Tim is that you have to look for the compete in a goaltender. He made me look at goaltenders in a different way."