BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins may be without one of the keys to their Stanley Cup victory in 2011 when they try to regain the Cup this fall.
Goaltender Tim Thomas is "seriously considering" sitting out the 2012-13 season due to family reasons and the strain the last couple seasons have taken on the two-time Vezina Trophy winner and 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy honoree, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli.
Chiarelli said Friday he was approached in May by Thomas' agent Bill Zito. Thomas, according to Chiarelli, doesn't plan to publicly comment on the matter. Chiarelli also noted that he has not given Thomas a deadline for a final decision and that the Bruins are operating this offseason as though they will not have Thomas next season.
"I'm disappointed. But these things happen and you've got to roll with them and you've got to deal with them," Chiarelli said during a conference call to announce contract extensions for forwards Daniel Paille and Chris Bourque. "When someone talks about their family and stuff, you've got to respect that. That's really all I can say on it. You've got to deal with it. I don't think we're too disabled on the cap side."
Thomas, 38, has one year remaining on his contract at a salary-cap hit of $5 million. That hit will count against the Bruins' cap if he plays or not. Chiarelli said that after the 2012-13 season the Bruins would have the option of letting the contract expire or tolling it forward to 2013-14, when the cap hit and salary would be the same.
Chiarelli compared Thomas' decision to similar situations teams have gone through with star players like Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom and Dominik Hasek after long playoff runs in the past. Hasek skipped the 2002-03 season and Niedermayer sat out half a season after Anaheim won the Cup in 2007.
Thomas has a no-trade clause that's set to expire July 1, which has started speculation the Bruins might look to deal him with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin forming a younger pairing that's seemingly ready to carry the load. Chiarelli said he didn't think Thomas' decision to sit out was a way to deal with a potential trade.
"He had said to me after this exit meeting that he definitely was worn down a bit," Chiarelli said. "So I just think that with all the stuff that's gone on in the last couple years with playing and all the other appearances that go along with winning, I think he's a little worn down. I don't think that would be the case, that it's coincidental with the deadline. Because he said he still wants to play after this."
Chiarelli also said that he asked Zito if a contract extension would affect Thomas' decision, and the agent said no.
Thomas followed up his Cup-winning run in 2011 with another All-Star season. He finished with a 35-19-1 record in 59 games with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. After Rask was injured in March, Thomas carried the load down the stretch and led the Bruins to a second straight Northeast Division title and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Bruins' season ended with a disappointing seven-game loss to Washington in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- though Thomas could hardly be blamed, as he posted a 2.14 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Although Thomas, on the strength of the Cup championship and his underdog story that's seen him establish himself as an NHL star at a late age, is an extremely popular player in Boston, his relationship with the organization and some of the fan base was strained in January. Thomas opted to skip the team's day at the White House, where the Bruins were honored by President Obama for winning the Stanley Cup. He addressed his reasons on his Facebook page but would not discuss them with the media.
In regards to the Bruins possibly trading Thomas after the loss to the Capitals, Chiarelli said he was inclined to keep Thomas and Rask together.
Ironically, now trading Thomas might become a more attractive option.
"That would be something we'd look at. … You do have that flexibility and there is the element of teams trying to reach the salary floor," Chiarelli said. "I don't know what that will be in the next deal and there's a little bit of uncertainty there, too."
Chiarelli expressed confidence that Rask, who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, and Khudobin, who has played well in a handful of NHL starts the last couple years, would provide the Bruins with the high-caliber goaltending they need to contend next season. As far as Thomas' ability to take a year off and then return to form, that's a little tougher to pinpoint.
Chiarelli noted that after Hasek took a season off at a similar age  after Detroit won the Cup in 2002, the Czech star put up solid numbers with the Red Wings and Ottawa over four seasons after he returned from his sabbatical.
"It depends on the athlete," Chiarelli said. "I would think at first blush it would be hard for a 38-year-old to not play and to come back. I would think that."