Tim Thomas trade won't cost Islanders

Fans were quick to mock the New York Islanders on Thursday after the acquisition of still-not-playing goaltender Tim Thomas.

Why give up an asset for a goalie that isn’t playing?

It’s actually a smart move by Isles GM Garth Snow.

First of all, that conditional second-round pick the Isles "gave up" for Thomas’ rights only sees the light of day if the 38-year-old goalie decides to play this season or if the Isles trade him to another team.

Neither is likely.

Thomas’ situation has not changed, he’s taking the year off.

"Thomas' situation is status quo," his agent Bill Zito said via text message Thursday night. "As far as I know, none of this had anything to do with Tim. In fact, it was news to us when we learned of it."

Which means the Islanders won’t ever give up a thing if Thomas stays away.

If the Islanders “toll” Thomas’ contract to next season and the goaltender plays or is traded next season, the Bruins would still get the second-round pick.

In the meantime, they get a little insurance from being in danger of going under the $44 million cap floor by adding Thomas’ $5 million cap charge, even though they don’t have to pay him a dime because he’s a suspended player.

This is pretty unique. Only players who signed their contracts when they were 35 years old or older have their cap charges still count despite not playing.

And if for whatever reason Thomas gets the itch before the April 3 trade deadline and a contender wants to take a chance on him, the Isles can get an asset for him in a trade. Unlikely he changes his mind, but I think by now we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected from the quirky 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

For the Bruins, meanwhile, this is a brilliant move by GM Peter Chiarelli. He alleviates his cap of Thomas’ $5 million charge, which gives the Stanley Cup contenders more room to add before the April 3 trade deadline.

No doubt Boston’s fellow contenders aren’t too excited by all this, but when I asked the NHL on Thursday evening, the league said it passed the smell test.

"As long as a player has an active contract that he has the right to return to, absent unusual circumstances, our view is that he remains a 'hockey asset' that a Club has a right to trade or acquire," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com via email.

Besides, there’s precedence here. The first thing I thought of when I heard of the Thomas deal was Vladimir Malakhov. Confused?

It wasn’t quite the same scenario, but on Oct. 1, 2006, the New Jersey Devils got some breathing room under the salary cap by moving Malakhov’s rights to San Jose. He was also a suspended player. The Devils also moved a first-round pick to the Sharks to sweeten the deal, while getting Alexander Korolyuk and Jim Fahey in return.

So where there’s a will, there’s a way, I guess, in a cap system.