Tim Thomas Trade Adds to Bruins’ Cap Space, But Big Move May Not Be Imminent

Peter ChiarelliIt’s been fairly evident all along that Tim Thomas wasn’t going to play for the Bruins (or anyone else) this season. The team knew that, and so did the rest of hockey.

So it may have been a little puzzling as to why the B’s unloaded Thomas to the New York Islanders for a conditional second-round pick on Thursday afternoon. But it all makes sense when you take into account salary cap considerations. Unless for some absurd reason Thomas actually plays this season, the B’s won’t see that second-round pick. However, that doesn’t mean this trade is a loss for them.

Even though Thomas forfeited his $5 million in salary which he would have received by playing this season, the Bruins still had a $5 million salary cap for Thomas. By trading him, that cap hit is now transferred to the Islanders, which helps ensure they will get to the salary floor this season.

For Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins, though, the deal makes all the sense in the world. They knew that Thomas wasn’t going to return this season. Chiarelli added to that by publicly confirming Thursday that the club is interested in talking about a contact extension with Tuukka Rask during this season.

It’s not like Chiarelli won’t have the money to do it, either. According to CapGeek.com, the Thomas trade means the Bruins now have roughly $7.6 million in projected cap space. You could obviously do a lot with that sort of cap space in terms of adding a player or players to improve your club moving forward.

However, the Bruins may actually have even more than that in terms of cap space. They’re still taking a $4 million cap hit for the injured Marc Savard this season. It would appear that Savard’s career is likely over, so any talks of his return are out the window. That means the Bruins could still exercise  the long-term injured reserve clause on Savard, which would erase his cap hit as well. The Bruins did the same thing with Savard’s cap hit in 2011, which allowed them to be active around the 2011 trade deadline when they acquired Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tomas Kaberle.

“[The trade] gives us some flexibility, from the cap perspective” Chiarelli said on a conference call Thursday. “We had, going into this transaction, we had ample cap to the tune of $3.5 million. And we had [long-term injury] space from Marc Savard’s contract, which isn’t really the same, but is is in essence cap room, not dollar for dollar.”

What Chiarelli does with that freed up cap space, will invariably become the big question. The Bruins, and just about every other team, will always be looking to add forward depth. With the recent rash of injuries to forwards like Brad Marchand, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, the very real chance of injury is right in front of the club’s eyes.

That obviously means that names like Jarome Iginla, Corey Perry or even Jaromir Jagr will come to the lips and fingertips of Bruins fans everywhere. Of course, just about anyone on this list of unrestricted free agents-to-be may also come up in conversation when it comes to trade talks.

However, there always seems to be a kicker in these sorts of discussions, and this one is no different. The shortened season may mean that teams feel they have a better chance of making the playoffs than they actually do, and thus, may be more likely to hang on to their assets. All it takes is a six- or seven-game winning streak paired with a slide from a conference rival, and you could find yourself going from cellar-dweller to upstart playoff contender.

“I think available players are going to be scarce and because of the condensed season, myself included, we’re trying to figure out kind of that market and when it starts and with the ebbs and flows of it,” Chiarelli explained. “And I wanted to be in a position where if something comes along now [to be ready] because sometimes there’s deals where guys try to move early.

“I wanted to be in a position that we could be in the ballgame and w’eve got a good team and that doesn’t mean we’re gonna go out and get someone because we have the cap space right now but sometimes, in my experience, there’s good deals that come out early and you have to be in the ballgame and we’re in the ballgame now.”

The Bruins are certainly in that ballgame, and they’re in good position to do some damage as well. However, they could also take  a longer-term approach if they so choose. If Chiarelli decides that his team doesn’t need to make an Iginla-like splash, the newfound cap room could prove to be helpful moving forward.

The salary cap was set at a prorated figure of $70.2 million for this season, but that will drop to $64.3 million next season. The Bruins have a few decisions to make in terms of free agents as well. Going off of what Boston currently has tied up in contracts for 2013-14, the B’s are about $7 million under that decreased figure right now, according to CapGeek.

That’s assuming, however, they go into the season without a goalie (Rask is a restricted free agent and Anton Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent) or they don’t re-sign a player like Nathan Horton, who is a UFA this summer.

There are certainly decisions to be made. There’s no denying, however, that Chiarelli continues to be one step ahead of the game when it comes to the salary cap. And while the trade that sent away a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who also has a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup may not bring anything tangible back, it certainly opens up a ton of possibilities for the Bruins moving forward.

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