BALTIMORE -- Judging by Tuukka Rask’s status as the highest paid goaltender in the NHL, at least for the time being, and Boston’s trip back to the Stanley Cup Final three months ago, the Boston Bruins have clearly moved on from the Tim Thomas Era.
But there was some curiosity from Bruins personnel while watching the 39-year-old Thomas report to Florida on a professional tryout.
It appears Thomas has returned in large part because his fire was stoked while watching his Bruins teammates march to the Cup Final last spring.
“When it came playoff time I started to watch some hockey and started to get the competitive juices flowing and I saw my former team, the Boston Bruins, have the success they had,” Thomas said to reporters on Tuesday. "I was so proud of those guys and what they did.
“After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired and I needed a break. Now I'm energized and I'm looking forward to it. I have a new love for playing the game.”
Thomas is still a hero to most in Boston, of course, after leading the Bruins to a Cup title three years ago with Herculean performances between the pipes against the Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning and Canucks en route to a Conn Smythe Trophy.
But it’s always complicated with the thoughtful, stubborn netminder. His history in Boston also includes a refusal to attend a team visit to the White House, a series of Facebook posts espousing his political beliefs, and the decision to ultimately quit on his teammates in the middle of a contract with the Black and Gold.
He was beloved when he was the best goaltender in the world while winning a pair of Vezina Trophies in Boston, but his teammates and co-workers with the Bruins moved on pretty quickly when the sometimes difficult TT left the building for the final time.
Judging by the B’s comments about Thomas’ return to Boston’s newly created Atlantic Conference, they’re respectful after gaining some distance from the Thomas saga of a couple of years ago.
“I think if anyone can come back from a year off at that age it would be Tim,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He’s very focused and motivated. I think it’s going to be hard. That’s what he said he was going to do all along, so he’s doing it.
“I’m sure we’ll wind up facing him quite a bit. It will be interesting. It wasn’t surprising that [watching the Bruins in the playoffs] got him going. He was always a guy that got up for the playoffs, and that was his thing. It will be a challenge for him given his age, having taken a year off and playing for a different type of team defensively.”
As Chiarelli alluded to, it will be fascinating to see things actually play out with Thomas in a Panthers uniform. They were the Eastern Conference doormat last season, and their defense wasn’t particularly good in front of some atrocious goaltending last season.
Thomas may be a quick-fix veteran between the pipes that can also act as a mentor to young Jakob Markstrom this season. But that’s not really Thomas’ thing given his “me against the world mentality” that’s always been present for the former B’s goaltender.
It will be interesting to see how Thomas responds if the Panthers begin to sink back into the Alligator Alley swamp midway through the season, and if he’s not getting Chara-like defensive play from the Florida personnel. One of the things that always rubbed teammates the wrong way with Thomas was his penchant to throw teammates under the bus for goals scored against him during his career in Boston. That was a fact of life with Thomas even during the good times, so one has to wonder how it will go with a Florida team that averaged 3.54 goals per game last season.
One thing is pretty clear, however. Thomas will be at his best in those games against his new conference rivals in Boston.
“I think ‘good for him.’ I don’t know what’s going to happen with him there, but he’s had some things that have happened to him that people are questioning him on,” said Claude Julien. “But for us he was part of the group that won the Stanley Cup, he played a big role in it and he brought us what we wanted.
“You don’t lose respect for that. He’s got his views like everybody said, and those are his views. But as a player for our hockey club he brought us nothing but success. So for a guy like that I’m glad he got a chance to come back, and happy that he found himself a team. There are a lot of good goalies that we play against, and it’s just one more to add to the list.”
Given the Fox News Channel sideshow that Thomas became at the end of his time in Boston and some of his tendencies during his Black and Gold tenure, there should be no lack of motivation while facing Florida this season as well.
As always with both Thomas and the Bruins, it’s going to make for some good hockey theatre in what can sometimes be a long 82-game regular season.