Much is made over Tim Thomas’ personal beliefs as the reason behind his demise as a Bruins hero, but the course of his career may have also played a part.
If anyone had told me a year ago Tim Thomas would alienate a portion of the Boston Bruins fan base with far-right political and social opinions, upset his Bruins teammates and front office by refusing to attend a White House ceremony honoring their Stanley Cup championship, then decide to take a year off (effectively ending his tenure with the team), I would’ve told that person to quit abusing solvents.
Last summer, Thomas was a hero in Boston, winning playoff MVP honors in the Bruins march to their first Cup championship in nearly forty years, and won his second Vezina Trophy in three years as the league’s best goaltender.
At 37, Tim Thomas was the toast of the National Hockey League. Today, at 38, his views have made him the target of scorn and the butt of jokes, while his reasons for his year-long sabbatical (family, friends and faith) have been questioned by cynical critics.
He’s also left a Bruins fan base understandably puzzled over his views, the sudden move of his family from the Boston-area last season to Colorado, and apparent desire to ring down the curtain on his career in Boston.
It remains to be seen what Thomas’ plans are for the near future. It’s rumored he wants to spend time working with Team USA at their training facilities in Colorado Springs. Some critics are convinced his sabbatical is little more than a ploy to force the Bruins to trade him. There’s talk he’ll sign with another NHL team next summer as a free agent following his year-long vacation.
Thomas’ political and social opinions have upset a number of hockey fans, but in a country where free speech is championed, he’s also entitled to those views. He’s also received support from other hockey fans, so he’s obviously not alone in his beliefs.
I neither condone or condemn Thomas’ views, but I question his sensitivity toward criticism of his public statements. Just as he has the right to state his views, he should expect his detractors would employ the same right to criticize them.
Prior to the kerfuffle over Thomas’ actions and statements, his was a truly inspiring hockey story, the stuff for at least a “made-for-TV” movie.
I believe Thomas is comparable to Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower, who played 11 years in the minors in the late 1940s through to the late-1950s before finally becoming a regular starting goalie with the Leafs in 1959-60 (at the age of 35) and going on to a Hall of Fame career.
Thomas played four years of US college in Vermont from 1993 to 1997, was drafted 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques, but never played for them.
From 1997-98 to his eventual full-time NHL debut with the Bruins in 2005-06, he embarked on an odyssey that reads like a throwback to the Original Six era, bouncing around the ECHL, IHL, and AHL, as well as stops in Finland and Sweden, plus a brief four-game call-up with the Bruins in 2002-03.
Even when Thomas finally made it as an NHL regular, at the age of 31 in 2005-06, he still had to prove to Bruins management he was starter material. He began the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons as a backup, first to Hannu Toivonen and then to Manny Fernandez, only to finish as their starter as Toivonen struggled and Fernandez was sidelined by injuries.
It wasn’t until 2008-09 that Thomas began a season as the Bruins de factor starting goalie, establishing himself as an NHL star, winning his first Vezina trophy, and earning a lucrative contract extension.
Yet the following season, he was hampered by a hip injury (which required eventual off-season surgery), and was replaced at mid-season by the up-and-coming Tuukka Rask, whose performance - particularly in the 2010 playoffs – fuelled rumors the Bruins tried to shop Thomas, despite the “no-movement” clause in his contract.
All of this happened before his memorable 2010-11 campaign.
I’m no psychologist – and I’m only speculating here – but Thomas’ long journey to the NHL, and the near-constant need to prove himself along the way (particularly to Bruins management once he finally cracked their roster) could provide some explanation behind his recent actions.
Most NHL players usually establish themselves in their early-to mid-twenties. It’s rare a player finally makes it in their early-thirties, rarer still for them to go on to NHL stardom.
He made it to the NHL by dint of hard work, self-reliance and determination over a much longer period of time than most of his peers, following a more circuitous route. He never lost faith in himself and his abilities, and found the inner strength to rebound when it appeared he was washed up only a year after winning a Vezina Trophy.
Thomas is currently unwilling to explain why he’s taken to Facebook this year to make his far-right views known, leaving only guesswork on my part (and those of his fans and critics) as to why he’s doing so now.
It could be because Thomas only recently discovered social media like Facebook, where he makes most of his political and social statements, or perhaps because the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party – a group whose views Thomas apparently shares – only rose to prominence in 2009.
Still, Thomas could’ve voiced his views earlier to a sympathetic right wing media source well before this year.
Perhaps he reached the point where he feels the American government truly has, in his opinion, gone off the rails, and couldn’t keep silent anymore.
That being said, the Tea Party has been a very vocal, influential faction within the Republican Party since 2009. One would assume, given Thomas shares their beliefs, he might’ve spoken out then. Or in 2010. Or last summer, when his playoff heroics would’ve made him a hot media commodity.
Maybe he just didn’t feel comfortable sharing those views until this season. Perhaps he finally reached a point where he felt he had to take a stand, and blowing off the White House was the best way to do so.
Perhaps something changed in his attitude by 2011-12. Having finally reached that elusive mountaintop of Stanley Cup champion, and with nothing left to prove, maybe Thomas just didn’t give a damn anymore about what people thought of him.
Maybe the doubts from management – real or imagined – had been stored up for too long, manifesting in his now-public political and social opinions. Perhaps, as he claims, professional hockey has taken a toll on his personal life.
Maybe the answer is Thomas, at 38, knows he doesn’t have much time left in the NHL, especially as an elite goalie, and is preparing to go out on his own terms.
Whatever the reason, something seems to have changed for Thomas over the past year, leading to his current situation.
If Boston fans have truly seen the last of Thomas as a Bruin, at least he’s left them with a lasting, positive memory of a long-awaited Cup championship.
Best to hang on to that as he moves on to the next stage of his hockey career, whatever that might be.