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Bruins not expecting Thomas to play

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / June 2, 2012
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Sometime in May, Bill Zito, Tim Thomas’s agent, contacted Peter Chiarelli. The Bruins general manager prides himself on preparation, covering every angle, and not being caught unaware in any situation.

But Zito’s thunderclap of a message surprised even Chiarelli. Thomas, the team’s most important player, was considering not playing in 2012-13, the final season of his four-year, $20 million contract. ESPN.com first reported Thomas’s plan on Thursday.

Since’s Zito’s bombshell, when conceptualizing the blueprint of next season’s team, Chiarelli has assumed that Thomas will not be part of the roster. If Thomas sits out, the Bruins will have to carry his $5 million annual hit toward their cap number. It is the team’s third-highest cap hit after Zdeno Chara ($6,916,667) and David Krejci ($5.25 million). Thomas is due $3 million in salary in 2012-13. Chiarelli asked Zito if Thomas was seeking a contract extension and Zito told the GM that Thomas was not interested in a new deal.

“As of right now, I’m operating under the premise there is a strong possibility of him taking the year off,’’ Chiarelli said on Friday during a conference call. “We’d have to go about our business without Tim Thomas for the year.’’

There is no timetable as to when Thomas will make a final decision. The Bruins would be best served with an answer by later this month. The draft will take place in Pittsburgh June 22-23. Trades often take place just prior to the draft, on the floor itself, or upon its conclusion. Free agency opens July 1.

According to Chiarelli, Thomas cited fatigue and the desire to spend time with his family as the primary factors in his impending decision. Thomas and wife Melissa have three children: daughters Kiley and Kelsey and son Keegan. Zito did not return a message seeking comment.

In 2011-12, Thomas made 59 regular-season appearances, going 35-19-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. In the playoffs, Thomas went 3-4 with a 2.14 GAA and a .923 save percentage.

Thomas has been involved in numerous off-ice enterprises. He is a spokesman for Arbella Insurance. With the help of former University of Vermont teammate Pavel Navrat, the goalie has operated Tim Thomas Hockey Camps. He launched the Tim Thomas Foundation. Thomas has promoted the ARPwave system, a pain relief and injury prevention program. Thomas credited ARPwave for helping him heal after his May 2010 hip surgery. Thomas also became involved with Prove People Wrong, a company that sells athletic apparel.

“He said to me after this exit meeting that he was definitely worn down a bit,’’ Chiarelli said. “With all the stuff that’s gone on the last couple years - playing, all the other appearances, the fame that goes with winning - I think he’s a little worn down.’’

Thomas is perhaps the organization’s best goalie ever. The 38-year-old has 196 career wins and 31 shutouts. Thomas has a .921 career save percentage, second-best in NHL history after Dominik Hasek (.922).

This season, Thomas fell short of replicating the 2010-11 brilliance that led to his second Vezina Trophy and first Conn Smythe Trophy. But for 2012-13, Thomas projected to maintain a performance worthy of inclusion in the second tier of elite goalies below Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Jonathan Quick.

Instead, if he decides to take a one-year sabbatical, Thomas will diminish his team’s position of strength. Thomas and Tuukka Rask have formed one of the NHL’s sharpest puck-stopping tandems the last three seasons.

“A little disappointed. Well, more than a little. I’m disappointed,’’ said Chiarelli. “These things happen. You’ve got to roll with them. You’ve got to deal with them. When someone talks about their family, you have to respect that. You’ve got to deal with it. We’re not too disabled on the cap side. But sure, that’s the strength of our team.’’

Thomas is not one to change his mind. Prior to Thomas’s decision not to attend the White House ceremony for the team Jan. 23, Chiarelli tried several times to convince him to participate.

If Thomas does not report for the 2012-13 season, the Bruins will most likely suspend him. Rask, who becomes a restricted free agent July 1, and Anton Khudobin would be the goalie duo. Given Thomas’s situation, Rask now gains leverage in contract negotiations. Zito also represents Rask.

“We have two very capable goalies in Tuukka and Khudobin,’’ Chiarelli said. “I’d be more than satisfied if that’s who we have to go with.’’

The Bruins could place Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve to absorb most of Thomas’s cap hit. Savard has a $4,007,143 annual cap hit. The Bruins have not had to place Savard on long-term IR previously because they never exceeded the cap by the center’s number.

The Bruins could toll the remaining year of Thomas’s contract to 2013-14, and he would owe the Bruins one more year of service. Or the Bruins could allow the final year of Thomas’s contract to expire after the 2012-13 season.

It’s questionable, however, whether Thomas could maintain an elite level of performance after taking a season off. Thomas wants to play in the 2014 Olympics. The NHL has not committed to sending its players to Sochi, Russia, for the next Winter Games.

“It depends on the athlete,’’ said Chiarelli, when asked if Thomas could preserve his current standard of play. “I would think, at first blush, it would be hard for a 38-year-old not to play and come back.’’

The Bruins could also cut ties with Thomas. On July 1, Thomas’s no-movement clause will expire, and the Bruins will be free to trade or waive him. Toronto, for example, which needs a veteran goalie, could claim Thomas for zero assets if the Bruins place him on waivers. Thomas played for Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. If Thomas is claimed, the Bruins would be free of his contract.

Thomas’s consideration of not playing next season, however, makes his trade value virtually nil. He would have to change his mind for a team to make a trade. The return to the Bruins would be future considerations or a low-level draft pick.

Chiarelli said he would consider both routes.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s a world-class goalie,’’ Chiarelli said. “He’d help somebody in a big way if he decided to play.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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