What now for Thomas?

Tim Thomas got his first NHL opportunity in Boston. He played in Providence for the Bruins’ AHL club. He spent four years in Burlington, Vt., starring for the University of Vermont. He makes his year-round home north of Boston.

The native of Flint, Mich., considers himself a New Englander. But that status may be in doubt, considering the changing of the guard that took place this season.

“Certainly different than any other experience I’ve had as a pro,’’ Thomas said of 2009-10, when the reigning Vezina Trophy winner found himself on the bench for the entire postseason, supplanted in the Boston goal by Tuukka Rask. “It was challenging. You go through these types of situations and years. You’ve just got to try to find the lessons out of them and find a way to make yourself a better pro goaltender and a better person.’’

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Thomas was projected to retain the No. 1 job, perhaps into 2011-12, with Rask gradually seeing more and more action.

But with Rask grabbing the starting job and projected to be the go-to goalie in 2010-11, the future is unclear for Thomas, who will enter the second season of his four-year, $20 million contract, which includes a no-trade clause. If Rask plays himself into the starting role again next season, it would not be prudent to have Thomas and his $5 million annual salary growing moldyon the bench.

For Thomas, a move — and a waiving of his no-trade — could put him back into a No. 1 position. It is a scenario that Thomas said he has not had time to consider.

“After the kind of drought that Boston’s had and the way this year’s playoffs ended up, it would be poetic justice if the Bruins could get over that hump and really accomplished the ultimate goal of winning a Cup,’’ Thomas said. “A certain part of me, for sure, would like to be here for that. It’s part of the whole thinking process that has to go into it. That’s nowhere near complete.’’

Trading Thomas , however, may not be so simple. While new Panthers general manager Dale Tallon may rethink the issue, Florida had made it known that Tomas Vokoun is available in trade. The 33-year-old Vokoun (23-28-11, 2.55 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) is due $5.7 million next season. Goalies who will reach unrestricted status July 1 include Marty Turco , Chris Mason , Evgeni Nabokov , and Dan Ellis . Carey Price will be a restricted free agent, but the Canadiens will be sure to make Jaroslav Halak , who will also be an RFA, their first priority.