By Steve Silverman
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Is there any doubt what the New York Islanders must do if they are going to build off their strong finish and continue to grow next year?
There's no doubt at all and they set the ball in motion with their compliance buyout of all-world failure Rick DiPietro.
DiPietro was supposed to be a goalie who could lead the team in much the same way that Billy Smith did during the 1980s. However, DiPietro lacked 10 percent of the fortitude that Smith had (as well as the talent) and he fell apart whenever the Islanders asked him to get between the pipes.
However, there is a goalie who is available who can step into Smith's long-empty shoes. His name is Tim Thomas.
A few months ago, the Islanders traded for Smith so they didn't have to pay his salary. Thomas, of course, was sitting out the season. He abruptly called a halt to his career at the end of the 2011-12 season and shocked the Boston Bruins.
The Islanders knew that Thomas wasn't going to play in 2013, and if they though he would play in 2013-14, they could have tolled his contract.
They didn't do that. If they had, Thomas probably would have had no inclination to play again. But he told his agent that he is interested in "pursuing" his career once again. He would be a solid fit for a number of teams – including the hated Flyers -- but he would be perfect for the Islanders.
Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. He also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He is not a classic goaltender who plays with the artful form of Henrik Lundqvist. He is a battler who will throw himself all over the ice to stop the puck and he is not above giving opposing skaters a two-hander if it will keep them out of his crease.
On first glance, it would appear that Thomas's ship has sailed for the Islanders.
Thomas is a bit of a strange bird who refused to show up at the White House with the rest of his Bruins' teammates because of his political beliefs.
In short, he believes in the minimization of government and he is a die-hard conservative. A conservative may not find New York to be his ideal location.
But that doesn't matter when it comes to hockey. Thomas is a goalie who has regularly been criticized and told he doesn't belong throughout his career. He had to play in the minor leagues and Europe for years before he got a chance to play regularly in Boston.
Critics are still out there. NHL Network personnel analyst Craig Button said he needs Thomas to show him that he can still play goal at the age of 39 after taking a year off. Button doesn't believe Thomas still has it.
Few people believe in the Islanders. They got hot in the second half of the season and they made the playoffs. Can they sustain their run next year and go further than the first round?
The answer is a resounding NO if they don't have a goaltender.
In addition to tossing DiPietro aside, starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov is a free agent. Let him go.
The Islanders need a real goalie. They need to sign Thomas and help him lead an Islanders' resurgence.
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