Tim Thomas exploring NHL return as free agent; Flyers likely destination?

Tim Thomas’s agent Bill Zito revealed on Monday that the former Boston Bruins netminder has instructed him to “explore” his options for a comeback next season.

The New York Islanders had the option to “toll” his contract after acquiring Thomas’s cap space from the Bruins in February, but have long said they don’t plan on taking the option.

This means Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent on July 5, which means he rockets to the top of a crowded field of goaltending options for teams in need of a short-term solution.

Look, there are only two reasons to be weary of Tim Thomas: The backlash against his personal beliefs and the fact that he’s been in the metaphoric “bunker in Colorado” since Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in April 2012.

The former concern is something that could be defused through a training camp of probing questions from the local media and fan reaction. If Thomas decides he’s not going to address the issues behind his absence from the NHL, or his split from the Bruins, then it could remain a distraction throughout the season. If he decides to be candid, the case could be closed.

As far as his fitness … one assumes if Zito has the green light to explore options, Thomas believes that at 39 he’s got something left in the tank. Or enough left to earn an NHL salary for another season.

The goalie market in the NHL remains vibrant, even with some players (Mike Smith, Niklas Backstrom, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider) seeing their futures settled. Thomas joins Ray Emery, Evgeni Nabokov, Jose Theodore and Ilya Bryzgalov as UFAs, with Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak among the goalies under contract that are on the block.

As Pierre LeBrun reports, there are no promises Thomas will be back. But if he does return, the Philadelphia Flyers are immediately the top choice for a Thomas comeback.

They want a goalie to platoon with Steve Mason, and they’ve been after Thomas since the season before the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, when it looked like his days in Boston were numbered.

From Broad Street Hockey:

The big question: What would he cost, and would it be worth it? There aren't many teams still looking for goaltending on the free agent market -- especially not starting goaltending -- so the Flyers probably don't have to fear much of a bidding war. He was paid $5 million per season on his previous contract, and now that he's older and there's more risk coming off of his hiatus, I'd hope that number would go down a bit. What kind of contract length are we talking? I'd be comfortable with a year or two, but given his age, I'm not sure I'd go much higher than that.

Tim Thomas, playing in the city where the Second Continental Congress drafted the Declaration of Independence? Perfect.

Although we'd obviously prefer him as Luongo's backup in Vancouver, where it would be his job to pump Lou's tires ...

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