Four years ago, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. It was the first time the Black and Gold had brought home Lord Stanley’s hardware in nearly forty years. The Boston Bruins had a lot of players that pitched in that year to win the Stanley Cup, but one player stood out amongst them. That player was their goaltender, Tim Thomas.
Tim Thomas had one of the more unusual climbs to the Stanley Cup. He had played in four different leagues before he got into the NHL at the age of 28. A lot of journeyman players would have given up by then. He didn’t even earn his first job as a starting goaltender until he was 32 years old. During his time in Boston he struggled in the net some seasons, at times losing his starting job to Tuukka Rask.
Then the 2010-11 season started and it was all magic for the guy from Flint, Michigan. That season was certainly the best Thomas ever played. He earned nine of his thirty-one career shutouts that season. He had a solid 2.00 goals against average, and a borderline obscene .938 save percentage. While it was a close run at times for the B’s, they fought through three game-seven series to bring the Stanley Cup home to Boston.
Don’t you love hearing Gary Bettman getting booed? It’s music to my ears. It was a great year for Thomas as the awards kept being piled on the 37-year old goaltender. He was the first goaltender to win the Stanley Cup, Vezina, and the Conn Smythe trophies in the same season since Bernie Parent for the 1974–75 season. 2011 was Thomas’ second Vezina win (He had also won in 2009.) Tim Thomas ended up being a four-time All-Star for his work with the Bruins (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012).
For all the amazing things Tim Thomas did for the team, he obliterated his reputation in Boston by doing two things. First, he chose not to go to the White House for the annual celebration with the President. Thomas identified strongly as a Republican (something that did not go over well in strongly Democratic Boston), and his snub of the President led many to believe that Thomas put his individual politics ahead of his team and the city he played for.
While that was bad, it wasn’t necessarily a career killer. Then, Thomas chose to sit out the entire 2013-14 season. Tim Thomas went from the player most likely to get the next statue in front of TD Garden to persona non grata in Boston within the space of just a few months. The Bruins had to suspend Thomas for not reporting to training camp, and had no choice but to trade him to the New York Islanders for a conditional second round pick.
While Tim Thomas did return to hockey, it was clear the year off didn’t do him any favors. He had started the season with the Florida Panthers but was moved to the Dallas Stars when former nemesis Roberto Luongo was moved to Sunrise. In his final year in the league, Thomas went 18-24-4, with a goals against average around 2.9 and barely breaking a .900 save percentage.
Tim Thomas entered free agency at the start of last season and wasn’t picked up by any NHL team. While Thomas hasn’t officially announced his retirement, it’s all but a given that the now 41-year old will not be wearing a NHL sweater again unless it is at a Bruins Stanley Cup Anniversary.
In the end, Tim Thomas’ biggest error was advertising the fact that his politics were right of center in a city whose politics are often left of Frank Zappa. He chose the wrong moment to put himself in front of his team. That decision likely cost him a life-long job with the Bruins organization, and it caused the fans to never look at him the same way again.