Just 19 months ago it wouldn’t have seemed farfetched to include Tim Thomas in the pantheon of all-time great Boston athletes, if not quite equal, then pretty darned close to Williams, Russell, Orr and Brady.

Yesterday, that seemed long ago.

Thomas’ controversial tenure as a Bruin ended with the AWOL goaltender’s trade to the New York Islanders for a conditional draft pick, conditional on whether the 38-year-old actually returns from his self-imposed exile and plays for the Isles.

The Bruins will get a second-round pick in 2014 or 2015, if Thomas plays for the Islanders. Thomas indicated he wants to come back not this season, but next year. It seems doubtful that a guy who’ll turn 39 in April can play NHL hockey after a year off.

But B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli noted, “If anyone can do it, it can be him, regardless of his conditioning. Look at his story. He’s done some pretty special stuff at a later age. (But) at the age of 38, 39, I think it would be tough physically and mentally to take a year off and come back.”

Thomas had a year remaining on his contract but walked out on the team in order, he said, to spend more time with his family at their home in Colorado. Though suspended, the Bruins were stuck with Thomas’ $5 million salary cap hit. After months of discussions, the club moved Thomas because the Islanders needed that $5 million hit to get up to the salary cap minimum of some $54 million.

In clearing that $5 million from their payroll, Chiarelli said the B’s now have the flexibility to acquire talent should useful players become available soon or closer to the April 3 deadline. Some $8.5 million is now available.