What’s Behind the Fall of Tim Thomas?

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.

Bruins fans are still trying to understand Thomas’ recent decisions and opinions.

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.


  1. Although I agree that Thomas is entitled to his opinion, posting this to a public Facebook thread exercises more than an opinion. Not just anybody has the power to post their political views on Facebook and have newspapers, Twitter and the rest of the hockey universe talking about it for weeks. And so with that type of power, comes responsibility. When you publicly voice your support against the rights of certain groups based on arbitrary distinctions (their sexual preference), you invite not only understandable, but NEEDED, criticism. How is he going to feel in 50 years when we open a History book and look at all the people who openly denied the rights of women, blacks and gays all in the same chapter? Well, actually, that’s easy–Why don’t you tell me how you feel about those who advocated against Black rights 70 years ago? Although freedom of expression is a right that is freely exercised and supported, not everyone’s opinion holds the same power. Furthermore, when you publicly use your opinion to turn the heads of millions, it becomes more than just a personal stance–it becomes hatespeech. If this was merely his opinion, his family and close friends would know about it–not the millions of people who are forced to read about Tim Thomas’s stance on gay marriage anytime they open their newspaper to the Sports section.

    • Your comment is only valid if your views are contrary to Thomas’s. If your views are the same as him, then you might counter argue that he has a responsibility as someone who has influence to make his views known.

      What you are suggesting is that people with a large public drawing should only post what the mainstream agrees with.

      The fact that he has an opinion and has a medium to express it only validates free speech, what you are suggesting is reverse censorship, or really just censorship with a spin. The same argument can be used for any type of discrimination.

      If it is ok to have gay pride day, is it not equally ok to have heterosexual pride day? If one were to dare, what would be the repercussions? Would they not be prejudism and discrimination in the vilest form?

      Thomas has an opinion, and he is making it known. Good on him.

      • What you say about the right to express heterosexual pride is like defending the right to be pro-slavery. I’m 100% hetero but I don’t proclaim it to antagonize gays. Life is difficult enough as it is, so why try to make it worse for others? Gays weren’t harassing Thomas but he felt he should take potshots at them. That’s bigotry in my book.

        • Wow. You have made my point for me. You are equating the treatment of gay people in society with slavery. Every descendant of the slave era ought to be in chagrin for such an outlandish assertion. You may as well have compared it to the holocaust.

          You have also gone off on the bigoted assertion that to be for traditional values is wrong, and it is something to be kept silent about.

          What if the argument were taken to another level, say, NAMBLA? Would you not use the same arguments that you are using now?

          First of all, lets understand some of the issues. Thomas came out in support of Chick-fil-A, and then re-posted a comment on marriage. Marriage is first of all a religious institution. If you are pro-faith of nearly any variety (the exceptions in this case being the minority) you believe in a traditional view of marriage.

          Second of all, you can not be gay and pro-religion. You can say you are, but you effectively cannot be because homosexuality clearly violates any of the books associated with a faith view. The Bible, The Quran, The Bhagavad-gita, The Guru Granth Sahib, essentially all faiths based upon these books are anti-homosexual.

          You are essentially attempting to silence the entire faith based community of the entire world, while allowing those with opposing positions free reign to express their views.

          • While I agree that drawing parallels between pro-slavery and anti-homosexuality is far-fetched, the fact that both blacks and gays and lesbians are persecuted isn’t. And the reasons behind both forms of persecution is virtually identical: Difference.

            As you say, R, let’s understand the issues. Thomas and Chick-Fil-A support the Christian view of marriage; yet the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion (and hence freedom FROM religion) … not just freedom for Christianity. So if a gays or lesbians want to willfully misunderstand Christianity and marry (… as in your view a person can’t be gay and Christian) then they are allowed.

            And as to that point, the bible being anti-homosexual … the bible is also anti-working-on-the-sabbath. Does anyone who works (indeed, does anything but rest) also count as non-Christian by your argument? (They may say they’re Christian, but they’re not, according to your logic.)

            So why gay marriage? Why among all the parallel issues is this the one that angers Christians so much? Why not working on the sabbath (did Thomas play in any Sunday games?); why not the proliferation and profit being made from gaudy graven images? what about lust (which is forbidden); what about menstruating women attending church?

            Why are these things, the word of God, allowed to pass unnoticed, while the idea of two same-sex people hoping to marry draws the ire of millions? I’ll tell you my opinion: it disgusts them, first, and second, they’re usually very liberal in their political beliefs. They don’t abhor sin–or, well, they do–but they especially abhor sins that gross them out; the other ones can be ignored. Shopping on Sunday? Fine, the world has changed and people from both political parties do it. Gays getting married? Never, the heathens.

          • “Second of all, you can not be gay and pro-religion. You can say you are, but you effectively cannot be because homosexuality clearly violates any of the books associated with a faith view. The Bible, The Quran, The Bhagavad-gita, The Guru Granth Sahib, essentially all faiths based upon these books are anti-homosexual.”

            Chiming in late, but the current mainstream interpretation of these books is that they are anti-homosexual. If it was really a big deal, it probably would have been spelled out somewhere important, ten commandment important.

            More importantly, marriage is a municipal transaction, not the strict domain of churches. I was married without stepping foot in a church.

  2. Seems pretty obvious that the Bruins are not unhappy with Thomas being gone. The Bruins were never the same after Thomas decision at the white house. It was totally uncalled for, and selfish, in a team environment.

    He slipped off the deep end with Glen Beck, and seems to be slipping further.

  3. Sean-

    It doesn’t matter who Thomas is or his influence. His views are only shoved down your throat if you or anyone else allows them to be. Sports writers choose to re-hash Thomas’ political/social views just like you or anyone else chooses to read/watch/listen to them. Skip that article in your local paper. Change the channel during the nightly news. Don’t become “friends” with Thomas on Facebook. I am willing to bet MOST people go this route. When it comes to Thomas he is not a world leader OR even that Charismatic not many people are getting their political views from a Goalie. I have a picture of my son with the Cup from last summer. Its on my desk at work and other than my son being born OR me marrying my wife that Cup run was the tops. Point is everyday I look at that picture and what pops into my head instantly is that Gionta save in OT that Thomas made in the 1st Rd. Then my mind starts to wander the B’s don’t even get out of the 1st Rd. if not for Thomas. To me thats Tim Thomas nothing more nothing less.

  4. 1) There needs to be a distinction made between the political viewpoints, performance and his contractual stance.
    2)The prevailing view here in the states anyway is, everyone is entitiled to their viewpoints as long as they agree with the mainstream liberal ideology. If Thomas were a strong Obama supporter his politics would hardly be mentioned.
    3) That said, we were gravely disapointed how Thomas selfishly decided to ‘sit out a year’ knowing full well it hurt his team with respect to lost cap space(along with losing one of the better goalies in the NHL). This is unforgivable and we lost respect for Thomas for doing this (Unless there is grave illness in his family)

    • Fauxrumors-

      I agree with points 1 and 2. I also agree with some of point 3. He hurt his team as far as the salary cap goes. But I cannot lose respect for a guy who last June put that team on his back and won a Cup. At the same time I think it was time to move on from Thomas this summer. It is time for Rask to be the starter and from what we saw this past regular/post season from Thomas I think its a wash between the two and Rask is 3M dollars cheaper.

    • I pretty much agree with that. There’s a huge double-standard here when “so-called liberal” views are allowed/ encouraged by the media (including you Lyle) but when someone has a different point of view he is labeled “far-right”… Well in this country Thomas has as many compatriots who agree with him as not…
      so i assert it is you that are FAR-LEFT!! Thomas is dead-center!
      I’m puzzled why he has chosen to sit out the season, but how can you link his political views to this decision?
      I’m sure the left-leaning local politics in Boston colors rhetoric pertaining to Thomas, but it’s less tolerable that Canadians feel justified to assume that liberal politics in the USA is representative of “the NORM”!!
      Check out the number of red vs blue states!

      • puckgod: I’m not the one making a big deal over Thomas’ views. Did you not read the part where I said I neither condone or condemn his views? And that he’s entitled to them? And that I noted he’s also received support from a number of hockey fans who share his views? Guess you missed that part.

        And you have no idea what my political and social views are, so you cannot call me “far-left” any more than you could call me “far-right”. My political views have nothing to do with this piece, and suggesting they do is going off-topic. I could care less what Thomas’ views are, as it has nothing to do with me, or my country.

        • I quoted YOU when i said “far-right”…
          enough said!!

          • Because that’s what his views are reported to be. I’m not the one putting the label on them, but merely reporting what they’re considered to be. Again, you missed everything else I noted to focus in on something which is irrelevant to the topic.

  5. 1) Vinny: No denying Thomas deserved the ConnSmythe and was the Bruins’ hero in 2011, but that doesn’t excuse what he did this summer. Unless he has serious family isses I maintain it was a selfish move on his part
    2) Puckgod: Lyle/Spector didn’t mention his own ideology so I wouldn’t attack the messenger here, BUT I agree and maintain if Thomas’ politics leaned in the other direction he would garner far less negative exposure/press

    • What’s the opposite? People who are more tolerant? If he wants to express his opposition to social welfare that’s one thing, but what he’s saying is directed at people who want to live their own lives. There are more appropriate targets, such as authority figures who victimize children, like Jerry Sandusky and rogue clerics.

  6. One has to respect the “free speech” of Tim, but as far his behavior,in the end he is the only one that has to deal with his own failings and success. At my age, I can understand his position in life. We’ve all been there. Who knows,someday he may sit down with someone and explain and define his position. The only “big” deal is the cap-hit. It’s not like he was making 75K with a company you and I work for. That is probably the only problem, as it equates to career suicide. But then, he doesn’t seem to care. These are the stories that make this country so unique. Never a dull moment. Best Regards to all!

  7. Lyle, by using someone else’s “characterization/ description” as if it’s fact you’re (at least) tacitly agreeing/ condoning their viewpoint! I notice you haven’t contradicted their assertion so you’re obviously only hiding your agreement! Are you saying i have to argue your whole article or shutup? My point still is that you, as a member of the media, are eager to bring TT’s politics into discussion, as if that is a given NEGATIVE!

    • If you want to go off on a tangent, godspeed.

    • I’m not baiting you here puckgod, but typically, refusing to visit the president because you strongly disagree with his politics, and following that later by announcing publicy that you side against same-sex marriage, an issue in the culture wars that is definitely partisan … I think there’s sufficient evidence to label Thomas as a right-wing supporter rather than left.

      I might agree with you that Thomas’s personal stance is painted more negatively than neutrally by most media, and that if his views were more blatantly pro-Obama there would be less coverage; but neither of those two issues are at play in Lyle’s article, I don’t think.

  8. It’s good to see somebody stand up for what they believe in. I thought the White Houes snub was great. Thomas stuck to his beliefs and did not compromise. That was his right.

  9. puckgod: take a few political science/sociology courses before you decide to enter a debate on the spectrum of political ideology. With some room for error, in a modern democratic construction, his views are at least within the realm of far-right. It is not a condemnation, merely an opinion, which I think he made quite clear everyone is entitled to.

    Secondly, Spector places no personal or implicit blame on this as the reason to his downfall; merely a possible reason with no more weight than his other assertions.

    At this point, with your pointed, heated, personal accusations, it appears that it is you that are pinning your view-points in a corner; while also condemning the open, opinionated free-speech you claim to be fighting for.

    Finally, if you were to argue the assertions of a publication, it actually is the standard to argue the whole of the theory; meaning you should cover all of its’ points in your argument.

    But we’re not at university here, are we? So chill out.

  10. Hi Lyle
    Was the White House visit a must attend affair or was he given the choice by the Bruins?? I didn’t hear of him getting fined or suspended so I must assume it was his choice. The furor his non attendance caused certainly seemed to have a negative affect on his on ice performance after the fact.
    Tim is not the first athlete to nix a W.H. visit as evidenced by the enclosed piece,
    and I don’t remember the furor when any of the others mentioned didn’t attend.
    One of your readers said Tim should have gone out of respect..respect is earned, it is not given.
    Not that it matters to anyone and at the possible loss of my career, hehe I wouldn’t have gone either.
    keep up the always great work Lyle