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Thomas considering return to Panthers next season

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Veteran goalie Tim Thomas had just finished a practice with the Florida Panthers this week when he was asked whether his return to the NHL this season had been everything he had anticipated.

"A lot of it has been," Thomas said. "It's a tough one to answer. I was hoping by this time to be seeing more team success than what we've seen. That's been a little bit difficult. Having said that, it's a process. I knew coming into it where the team was last year. I bought into this process. That's what we're trying to do, is turn it around."

The big question with the NHL Trade Deadline one month away is whether Thomas will be around to try to turn the Panthers into a Stanley Cup Playoff team.

Tim Thomas has enjoyed his season with the Florida Panthers so much that he might remain with the team through the trade deadline and play with them again next season. (Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI)

Thomas is playing in Florida on a one-year contract and figures to be attractive to playoff contenders looking to add goaltending experience. However, Thomas' contract includes a no-movement clause and he said this week he's "certainly willing to entertain the idea" of returning to Florida next season.

"I haven't talked to the club about that," Thomas said. "I've been in this process. I've been with Boston when they were right where the Panthers are right now, actually. I do know how rewarding it is to be a part of that turnaround. If it does work out that I'm part of that process, I know it can be a rewarding one."

In Thomas' first two full NHL seasons the Boston Bruins failed to make the playoffs. Boston was back in the playoffs in 2007-08 and won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with Thomas capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Thomas, who signed with the Panthers in September after going to training camp on a professional tryout, said he was anticipating talking to team officials before the trade deadline but hinted he simply might discuss the possibility of coming back for a second season in Florida.

"I'm sure there'll be some talk but it'll be along those lines [returning next season]," Thomas said. "I don't know."

Thomas is 14-16-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 34 games. His season also has been interrupted twice by groin injuries that forced him to miss a total of 14 games.

"At the beginning of the season I felt pretty good where I was at, then there was a groin injury and some time off and then took a couple of games to get back to a level I was happy with," Thomas said. "Then I started to get on a roll and then I got another groin injury, which set me back. But I think after that groin injury I picked it up pretty quick and then I think I had a real good December and most of January. Just the last few games it hasn't looked good on the scoreboard."

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