Thomas & Vezina

With “Tuukka Time” firmly established as the Bruins’ time, and Tim Thomas’ $5 million-a-season contract acting as an albatross on Boston’s salary cap, it appears the Bruins are entertaining the option of trading the former Vezina Trophy-winner and finding a cheaper option to back up Tuukka Rask.

Even offseason hip surgery doesn’t seem to have scared away potential suitors, who are looking for top-notch goaltending at a somewhat reasonable price (considering Thomas’ numbers, not his age or what he might accomplish going forward). Of course, there’s also the matter of Thomas’ no-trade clause and whether the adopted New Englander would accept a deal out of town at this point.

It might be tough to deal Thomas before July 1, because teams in the market for a new No. 1 netminder might want to explore the unrestricted free agent pool, which could include Evgeni Nabokov, Marty Turco, Jose Theodore and others.

Then you factor in that he has three more seasons left on his deal and just turned 36 in April. A team looking to make a 2010 Stanley Cup run would definitely be wise to try to ride Thomas for at least one season and see how far he could carry it.

With just a little consideration for where Thomas might waive his no-movement clause, and ignoring what potential trading partners have to offer the Bruins (that’s for another blog), here’s a thumbnail look at some teams that might inquire about Thomas’ services:

•One team that keeps coming up is Tampa Bay, which has just Mike Smith currently under contract at $2.2 million for next year (according to Adding a goaltender one season removed from a Vezina would be a great way for new general manager Steve Yzerman to re-invigorate a franchise and a fan base. Yzerman seems committed to making his team competitive quickly by adding to a foundation that starts with Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis rather than moving one or both of those stars and rebuilding. Smith could always be part of the return to serve as Rask’s backup. There are much worse places an NHL player could move than Tampa, especially for a fishing aficionado like Thomas.

•Thomas worked well with New York Islanders head coach Scott Gordon when both were with Boston’s Providence (AHL) farm club. In addition to the Isles’ lifetime commitment to the constantly injured Rick DiPietro ($4.5 million per season through 2021), they have Dwayne Roloson signed for $2.5 million for one more season. Again, the Bruins could take that contract back and still clear some space. As far as staying near New England, Long Island is only a three- or four-hour drive and various planes, trains and shuttles could keep Thomas’ family close by on weekends. Adding Thomas would help the Isles meet the salary-cap minimum and give a young team a great goaltender to rely on.

•The defending Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Flyers might be serious about not spending money on a big-time goaltender or they might be bluffing. Of course, in order to add Thomas or anyone making a No. 1 salary, they’ll have to clear space after they get deals done with their restricted free agents. Most reports have them moving Jeff Carter. If they do that or find another way to unload some salary, I can’t believe they wouldn’t at least explore the possibility of adding Thomas, whose fiery spirit seems well-suited to Philly’s fighter’s mentality. If winning is important enough to Thomas, he’d have to agree that being the last piece of the puzzle for the Flyers is more attractive than sitting on Boston’s bench.

•If things don’t work out for retaining Nabokov, San Jose going to want to replace him with someone that could share time with youngster Thomas Greiss and serve as a mentor. As long as he gets a fair chance at playing time, Thomas has proven he can share the crease with a youngster when asked. Sure a cross-country move might not be appealing, but the Sharks are annually a Cup-contender and the goaltender that finally gets them over the hump will be deified.

•I cannot believe that Washington is really going to put its championship dreams on the shoulders of Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby. They’re going to need a legit, veteran No. 1 to help them erase the nightmare of the ’10 postseason meltdown. Like Philly, the Caps have some key restricted free agents to get done and then will have to wiggle around for cap room. But if they can make space and then go shopping for a goaltender, Thomas would have to be on their list.

•With $3.8 million committed to Pascal Leclaire for next season, I think Ottawa would be a longshot for the Thomas sweepstakes. However, Leclaire will be a UFA after this coming season and maybe the Sens would want a veteran mentor that could share the playing time and make them a more formidable foe. It would take some maneuvering to commit more than $8 million to goaltending, but with a 1-2 punch like that it might be worth it, especially if they’re serious about making a Cup run.