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Thomas trade shows it's not just about hockey anymore

Boston Bruins Tim Thomas celebrates

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Doesn't anyone ever make a trade anymore for purely hockey reasons?

It sure doesn't seem so, and it certainly wasn't the case Thursday when the Boston Bruins made the biggest splash of the early season, shuffling off the rights to goaltender Tim Thomas to the New York Islanders for a conditional second round draft choice in either 2014 or 2015.

Of course, it would have been a bigger deal if Thomas was actually playing any hockey this year – or intended to play some once he was moved. According to the man with his finger on the trigger, Bruins' general manager Peter Chiarelli, that's not going to happen. Chiarelli only talked briefly with Thomas to inform him of the deal – apparently, the ex-Bruin goalie was out walking his dogs at the time – but said: "Nothing would suggest to me that he's coming back this season."

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Instead, the move was made purely for financial reasons, the twisty sort of cap machinations that colour everything these days. It aids the Bruins' cause because Boston was being charged the pro-rated value of Thomas's $5-million contract against its 2012-13 salary cap. By getting the contract off the books, the Bruins create additional cap space in case Chiarelli wants to enter the trade market sooner rather than later.

The Islanders' cap issues were at the other end of the spectrum. Technically, once they reinstated suspended defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky Thursday, they reached the salary cap floor and thus became cap compliant. But Thomas's deal gives them some flexibility to move Visnovsky or other assets if they choose to do so.

Also: Because Thomas is on hiatus this year, the Islanders could "toll" the contract, meaning they can count it against their cap again next year if they need the cap charge to get to the league's payroll minimum. And if they don't, then they can turn it around and swap the contract to someone else that needs help. In theory, Thomas's contract could be a perpetual "get out of jail" card for any cash-strapped team that wants to incur a salary cap charge without actually paying any of the dollars to a player.

Yes, that's what the NHL has come to. Not only do you need an advanced math degree in order to make the payroll numbers work, if you have any experience as a junk bond trader, there's an assistant GM position waiting for you in the front office.

Now, Thomas could throw a wrench into the works by actually deciding to play again next year. That was the one topic where Chiarelli said he could shed no fresh light. I asked him he got any vibe at all off Thomas about what he plans to do next. Chiarelli would only venture that Thomas was "at peace" and that his agent had indicated Thomas would "contemplate" playing next year, which means maybe yes, maybe no.

Thomas will turn 39 in April, but even with all the weirdness of last season – boycotting the team's White House visit, posting political screeds on Facebook – still put up thoroughly respectable numbers (35-19-1, 2.36 GAA, .920 save percentage). Chiarelli talked repeatedly about Thomas's competitiveness – and how, in the inexact science of evaluating goaltenders, he had learned to put more of a premium on competitiveness (as opposed to technique) by watching Thomas succeed.

Maybe the most interesting thought from Chiarelli was how the trade market might unfold in the shortened season. Chiarelli predicted "the available players are going to be scarce. Because of the condensed season, myself included, we're trying to figure out the market and when it starts and the ebbs and flows of it.

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"We've got a good team. It doesn't mean we're going to go out and get somebody because we have this cap space now, but sometimes in my experience, there are good deals that come early and you have to be in the ballgame and we're in the ballgame now."

The Bruins will only receive the second-rounder from the Islanders if Thomas plays, so it is in their best interests to see him return, even if New York is a conference opponent.

"If anyone can do it, it's him," predicted Chiarelli, who noted: "We don't win the Cup without him.

"He's done some pretty special stuff at a later age. I don't know what he's been doing. At the age of 38 or 39, it would be tough physically and mentally to take a year off and come back."

BLACKHAWKS RISING: In last year's playoffs, the first five games of the Chicago-Phoenix series all went to overtime, with the Coyotes winning three, largely because goaltender Mike Smith outplayed his Blackhawks counterpart Corey Crawford. What a difference a year makes. The teams have played twice, and both times, Chicago absolutely blew them out, and Smith finished the game on the bench. It was 6-1 after 40 minutes Thursday night in the first meeting between the teams since Raffi Torres's return from suspension. Torres scored a late goal for the Coyotes and Marian Hossa, who was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher, thanks to the Torres hit to the head, checked in with an assist for the Blackhawks, who are the only remaining team in the NHL without a regulation loss (9-0-2). … Wade Redden's NHL career was stuck for two years at the 994-game mark, after his exile to the Connecticut Whale for salary cap reasons. After signing as a free agent with St. Louis after the lockout ended, Redden finally reached the 1,000 game mark in last night's game, the Blues' second decisive loss in a row. Whatever magic Brian Elliott had going last year is missing now – at least in the last two games, one-sided defeats to the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings … Yes, that was Shea Weber finally creaking out his first point of the season, an assist in the Predators' 3-0 shutout win over the Kings.

THE PANCAKE MAN: You can't make this stuff up: On National Pancake Day, Feb. 5, the Kings made Dustin Penner a healthy scratch for the fourth time this season. It was the same day that the Kings' FoxSportsWest affiliate broadcast a feature on Penner's day with the Stanley Cup, which began in Winkler, Man. with his mother making, er crepes, for breakfast. Penner appeared to emerge from the meal injury-free … Andrei Loktionov played in 39 regular-season and two playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings last season, but didn't get his name on the Stanley Cup when they won last spring. Kevin Westgarth (25 regular-season, zero playoff games) did. Both are now ex-Kings, Loktionov traded this past week to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round pick. Loktionov didn't get a training camp invite for the shortened NHL season, even though the Kings' starting centre, Anze Kopitar, was injured, a clear sign he didn't figure in the organization's future.

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GABBY'S DUCKS FLYING HIGH: Think maybe the Washington Capitals are having second thoughts about firing Bruce Boudreau after a 12-9-1 start last year? Since then, they've used Dale Hunter and now Adam Oates behind the bench and things are getting worse, not better. The Caps were 30th out of 30 teams entering play Thursday, which is also where they were when Boudreau took over from Glen Hanlon on an interim basis in November, 2007. Overall, Boudreau had a .672 winning percentage in Washington (201-88-40) and became the fastest coach in the NHL's modern era to win 200 games. Oh and he has his current team, the Anaheim Ducks, off to a 7-1-1 start.

COACH OF THE YEAR?: The goalie controversy, the absence of Ryan Kesler, the minuscule secondary scoring – and still the Vancouver Canucks were 6-2-2 in their first 10 games. Will coach Alain Vigneault ever get a little love from the Jack Adams trophy voters for how he manages to steer the good ship Canuck through those daily stormy waters? … The goaltending guard rarely changes in the NHL, but the Ducks may have a keeper in Viktor Fasth, a 30-year-old from Sweden, who was the top goalie in the Elitserien the last two years and has outplayed Jonas Hiller in the early going. Fasth would not be the first 30-something goalie to become an overnight NHL sensation. Examples over the years: Everyone from Johnny Bower to Dominik Hasek and Dwayne Roloson to Tim Thomas … Unhappy with how he'd been playing, the Dallas Stars made defenceman Alex Goligoski a healthy scratch Wednesday night against the Oilers. Goligoski arrived in Dallas in February of 2011 from Pittsburgh to add an offensive presence to the blue line and is their second-highest paid player. So far the deal looks heavily skewed in the Penguins favor. James Neal, who went the other way, had 40 goals for the Pens last season and the throw-in, defenceman Matt Niskanen, is playing 18-plus minutes a night for them. …Three weeks in, only one NHL player has scored a point in every one of his team's games: The Edmonton Oilers' Sam Gagner, who last year was the only NHLer to score eight points in a single game. Gagner's contributions were heightened by the Oilers' long list of injuries to centres: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger were all out of action for Wednesday's OT loss to Dallas, a game which Anton Lander left with a foot injury. It gave Mark Arcobello a chance to make his NHL debut vs. Dallas, centering the top line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Arcobello had some success doing that in the AHL, after Nugent-Hopkins left the Oklahoma City Barons to play for Canada in the world junior tournament. Arcobello, who was in the ECHL (Stockton Thunder) just three years ago, was returned to the minors after the game because it looks as if Nugent-Hopkins will be back Saturday … The San Jose Sharks cooled off after their red-hot start, largely because of a power-play outage. After going 30.8 per cent in the first seven games (7-0), which propelled Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau into the NHL scoring lead, they went just one-for-14 in the next three games and managed just a 0-2-1 record.

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