Should the Edmonton Oilers trade for Tim Thomas?

As has been widely reported, Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas – the two time Vezina winner, as well as the playoff MVP just one year ago – has decided to take a year off from hockey.

The problem for Boston – a contending, high-salary team – is that because Thomas’ contract is a 35+ deal, they have to absorb his cap hit whether he reports to training camp or not. Presumably, the team will attempt to trade him this summer.

The interesting this is that for a team with some distance between themselves and the salary cap, there’s no real disincentive to acquiring Thomas; they don’t have to pay him. If he holds true to his decision to take the season off, the team with his rights can simply suspend him, absorb the cap hit, and not pay out a dime.

Boston has the cap room to handle it if they absolutely need to, but presumably would prefer not to. Tuukka Rask needs a new contract this summer, a number of forwards and defensemen are entering free agency, and the club has ~$10 million in cap space to work with. With Thomas off the books, that figure jumps to ~$15 million. For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, that’s a big improvement.

There’s another interesting wrinkle. If Thomas takes the year off, the team that holds his contract has the option of tolling it; if they chose to, Thomas’ year off would not burn the final year of his contract. The Bruins would be unlikely to do that, as Fluto Shinzawa explains:

It is hard, however, to imagine the Bruins bringing back Thomas in 2013-14. Thomas would be 39, coming off a dark season. Also, Thomas’s $5 million cap obligation for next season might leave the Bruins bosses less than eager to grant him a return. The most likely scenario is for the Bruins to allow Thomas’s contract to expire after 2012-13.

For a team with salary cap space, the calculations are different. Thomas is only paid $3.0 million in the final year of his deal, so he’s cheaper than his cap hit. He should still have value as an asset even if he chooses not to play in 2012-13. A team with cap room to burn might very well opt to toll Thomas’ contract, forcing him to choose between another year off and reporting for work.

With that taken into account, does it make sense for the Oilers to acquire Tim Thomas?

I would argue that they could do so, but it makes less sense for them than for other teams. The Oilers are not a budget club out of necessity; they are a budget club because they are rebuilding. In the summer of 2013, the contracts of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle expire. The entire blue line, save for Nick Schultz and Corey Potter, will need new contracts between now and then. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have a single year on his deal.

In other words, while the Oilers would have no problem taking on Thomas’ cap hit this year, if they opted to toll his contract there might be negative ramifications in 2013-14. Their situation is not ideal for a long-term game of hardball.

For other teams, however, Thomas could be a real boon. The floor of the salary cap is always $16 million below the upper limit, which means every team needs to find a way to hit $54.3 million on the salary cap this summer. If Thomas plays, than they get an elite goaltender with a $5 million cap hit for $3 million dollars. If Thomas does not play, they get $5 million in bogus cap hit for nothing, and the chance to get an elite goaltender the next year for $3 million dollars (again with the $5 million cap hit). Under the current CBA, for a team like the New York Islanders or Florida Panthers, that’s a heck of a bargain.

Someone out there should be very interested in Tim Thomas. The Oilers are probably not that someone.

Thomas’ no-move clause expires on July 1.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • CaptainLander

    At this point all players may be taking a year off. I have little confidence that either the players or the owners will swallow their greed to satisfy fans. If this does not happen the a trade for Thomas is perfect.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s thinking like this that could get you a second first round pick in return. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Hemsky in exchange for Thomas and the Bruins first rounder.

    There’s a whole lot of possibilities in play if you’re willing to take that cap hit off the Bruins hands.

    • ubermiguel

      Agreed, I wrote a little follow up to this piece on my site. Looking at trading for Tim Thomas in a different light.

      Perhaps something the Oilers should consider.

  • Oiler Country

    Lay off the sauce John..just leave it alone! We do not need a 38+ year old was decent goaltender. If age wasn’t a factor, he isn’t worth the month if his character is his reference.

    No to Thomas, silly suggestion. Not even worth considering.

    • The sort of locker room cancer that won the Conn Smythe Trophy, the sort that the Bruins wouldn’t own a Cup without?

      I think he’s a better fit for teams other than Edmonton, but at some point I stop caring what a guy does in the locker room. MVP on a Stanley Cup team meets that bar.

  • DJ Dynasty Handbag

    I’d do it if they take Khabibulin. Tambo could use the line “sure they’re both 35+ contracts but when (not if) Khabby gets hurt you can go over the cap by his contract! Everybody wins!”

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @Oiler Country

    The whole point of doing this wouldn’t be to actually get Thomas back as an asset… it would be more to take the cap hit away from the Bruins which could possibly get us a better return for what we would send them in the trade.

    For example, like the Dark Parade said, Hemsky for Thomas and a first round pick.
    Would Hemsky be enough for a first round pick? Probably not. Would Hemsky, plus the fact that we are taking a huge cap hit off of the Bruin’s books? Perhaps

  • dawgbone98

    Depends on what it nets us. Would the Bruins trade their 1st round pick either this year or next year just to have some more cap space?

    If so, that’s a no brainer for the Oilers. Let him sit, don’t toll his contract and get a pick out of the deal.

    If he decides he wants to play, bury Khabibulin in the minors and see what you can get for Thomas at the deadline.

  • BurkeTheTurd

    Problem with that is we don’t need a potential decent to okay player (if bruins are top half of the league) in exchange for one of our top 6 forwards. We need to get better this year and need Hemsky or at least a player that can play and contribut immediatly.

  • I like the idea if we let him expire. I would not want his selfish attitude near our young guys. If we could get a promising asset or draft pick by doing this it would be brilliant.

    It may also be a way to get rid of an ugly contract. Trade Hemsky, Horcoff, or Khabby. They all serve a purpose to an NHL team but are overpaid. If we absorb this cap hit they could have an active player with upside for close to free.

    • ralph_u

      I dont think Hemsky’s contract is bad. I would hold on to him at least until the trade deadline in hopes that he can return to form. That way we should be able to get a 1st and player for him. I mean really his value can’t get much lower than it is now. But if you can find a way to off load Horcoff of Bulin than I say do it if the deal makes sense.

  • dawgbone98

    @Romanus

    What value does Tim Thomas have? The Bruins trade him out of their conference and get a cheap option for their bottom 6 forwards. This is probably the best case scenario for them.

    The Bruins will be lucky if they can trade him without having to give up a valuable asset as well.

  • dawgbone98

    @TigerUnderGlass

    Yeah, a 1st rounder is a no brainer. I’d probably take a 2nd and Thomas for a 7th kind of trade without much debate either.

    Anything lower than a 2nd and I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle though.

  • Hahah man… You’re right, Willis. I can see tons of teams looking to trade assets for a guy that may potentially never play another NHL game.

    Then again, maybe Boston could include some magic beans and a unicorn to sweeten the deal.

    • Yeah, nobody’s going to trade anything valuable for him… I thought the obvious, obvious read was that, at most, an interested team would put in a waiver claim, and that a G.M. with any sense ought to be able to get an asset back in addition to Thomas, in exchange for helping Boston out of a bind.

      I should have stated that explicitly; I thought it was obvious.

      • In thinking about it for a bit, Thomas might be the trade assets with the widest difference in valuation, team to team, that I can remember.

        He’s worth far less than nothing to a team like PHI, I would argue a bit with JW that no team would trade anything valuable for Thomas. Yes, BOS would like to move the Thomas cap hit, but it’s not like the acquiring team would get nothing out of it either – 5 mil in money saved is pretty valuable. Might a team move a 2nd or 3rd round pick for Thomas to save 5 mil? I wouldn’t completely dismiss that possibility. There’s only one team with Thomas, but there might be a number of teams that would like to save 5 mil in real money to make the cap floor

  • ralph_u

    Would it get us in the conversation to get Dougie Hamilton. Then I would consider it. Obviously it would take something back from us so yes I would consider it for right package. What have bad contracts been fetching in this marketplace Jonathan?

    • Except that in this scenario, there is no expectation this player will actually play. In fact it’s more about the benefit of everything that is a side to Tim Thomas.

      With Khabibulin, the expecation (and wrongly so) was that he’d be the MVP.

      Whole different set for circumstances.

  • Ten minutes ago, from Pierre LeBrun:

    As one NHL team executive told ESPN.com, there’s perhaps one solution still out there for the Bruins. There will be a few teams struggling to get to the minimum payroll floor — expected to be around $54 million this summer — and they might be willing to pick up Thomas’ $5-million cap hit just for that reason alone. As a suspended player next year, they wouldn’t have to actually pay him his $3-million salary, but they would benefit from his $5-million cap hit. Pretty good deal for a low-payroll team just looking to make up the gap to $54 million.

  • dawgbone98

    @Jonathan Willis

    The downside is that what if come the start of training camp Thomas decides that he does want to play?

    I think if you are taking Thomas, you have to be in a situation where if he does decide to play, you don’t screw yourself over.

    Same with Boston. They don’t want to trade him to Florida and then watch him decide to play and play 50 games for them and then play the B’s in the playoffs.

  • dawgbone98

    Why leave out this part of the LeBrun article?

    Having said all that, there will be a new CBA starting next season (whenever that is) and what that new system entails in terms of the salary cap and the payroll floor remains unclear. Not to mention the rules governing cap hits on suspended players, etc.

    I’d venture the floor goes down. It is way to high for too many teams.

    • Shaun Doe

      Further to what LoDog says quotes here, Ray Ferraro brought up this topic on the radio earlier this week. He said it was an idea that teams might entertain but would surely be shot down by the league as an obvious attempt at cap circumvention. It is painfully obvious that the team acquiring him would be looking to add cap space in the form of a player who they have no intention of icing nor does the player intend to even dress. Seems like a no go to me.