Haggerty: Same old Thomas in more ways than one

Haggerty: Same old Thomas in more ways than one
October 18, 2013, 11:00 am
Share This Post

SUNRISE, FL – This story from one of Tim Thomas’ current teammates in Florida tells you everything you need to know about Timmy Time 2.0.

A couple of the Panthers players were talking about the power outage at Comerica Park during Game 3 of the Red Sox/Tigers ALCS in the Florida dressing room when the 39-year-old started working up a lather into one of his rants that were pretty customary during his days in Boston.

Thomas railed to nobody in particular about how the Democratic leadership in the city of Detroit was to blame for the city’s pathetic state, and that’s why the power went out during a playoff baseball game. The teammate that had started the conversation heard Thomas winding up into full Glenn Beck mode, stood up to say “Count me out of this one” and then proceeded to walk out of the dressing room.

It’s good to see a couple of years of controversy and high level scrutiny haven’t altered the fabric of Tim Thomas, the individual.

Perhaps in some ways the perceived persecution of Thomas have just reinforced what he already stood for. But Thomas’ very “lone wolf” approach is also always going to separate him from others by the very nature of his intense personality and always dicey habit of injecting politics into casual conversations at the work place.

On the ice, Thomas looked very similarly to the guy Bruins fans remembered winning a pair of Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe during his time in Black and Gold after not cracking the NHL’s ranks until after his 30th birthday. Thomas made 37 saves and sprawled around the crease making all manner of acrobatic stops while keeping an undermanned, defensively-challenged Florida club in the game against a Boston team that had seemingly stopped pushing after scoring two early goals.

The third period stop with right leg pad on Jarome Iginla after the Bruins power forward had knifed through the entire Florida defense was the stop of the night while keeping it a one goal game.

“It's a game. It was a little weird seeing [Thomas] out there at first, but after that it was about focusing on your own job rather than thinking who was at the other end,” said Rask. “He looked like himself. He likes to make those weird saves, and he didn't disappoint anybody today.”

Eventually the Panthers broke through and scored when Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask each faltered on a play where Jesse Winchester proved relentless with the puck around the Boston net. But that’s when Thomas could no longer keep up the throwback act to three years ago.

A shift in the Florida end of the ice looked promising with Reilly Smith cycling behind the net, and eventually the 22-year-old got the puck to the slot area where Patrice Bergeron had been camped out. It wasn’t a clean exchange given a couple of Florida defenders around the net, but the puck managed to bounce back to a hustling Smith on the edge of the left face-off circle. Smith lifted his tenth attempted shot of the game at Thomas, and the wobbling puck squired between Thomas’ pads for the game-winning shot with 59 seconds remaining in the third period.

Thomas rocked back on his knees in disbelief and then came down with both arms to the ice and tucked his head down knowing that he’d allowed the game-winner through in a self-inflicted gun shot wound. There was no defenseman teammate he could show up on the ice, or throw under the bus after the fact in typical “never my fault” form as happened so many times during his tenure in Boston.

After the game, Thomas stressed that he had no regrets about any of the major plot points that led to his departure from Boston after the 2011-12 first round playoff exit to the Washington Capitals. He admitted that the media firestorm and backlash from skipping the White House visit certainly factored into the mental and physical exhaustion that he felt following the Cup hangover season.

But in typical stubborn fashion Thomas also said he’d do it all over again.

“Yeah . . . a little bit,” said Thomas, when asked if the media backlash fed into any burnout from hockey. “But now I’m tougher and stronger, and I could care less what other people say about that. I’ll stand by my decision. I feel I did the right thing.

“There were a lot of choices I made over the two-year period, and I can’t sit here and honestly say I don’t regret anything. But the two major decisions about not going to the White House and taking the year off, I don’t regret those.”

There was something a little weird and a little melancholic about watching Thomas playing for the Florida Panthers, the NHL’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys where good, young hockey players spend years in limbo and aging NHL veterans spend their last few games before checking out on their careers. If things had gone differently, perhaps Thomas would have played his final contracted season in Boston and maybe even been a difference-maker for a team that finished two wins of shy of a second Stanley Cup title.

But that was never going to happen with a character like Thomas that seemed hell-bent on leaving Boston on his own terms.

“I made a decision based on what was best for me and my family. I felt the team was in capable hands,” said Thomas. “I knew where Tuukka [Rask] was in his development and I was obviously proven right. I went and did something that was incredible for my life, and incredible for my family’s life. I don’t regret it. That’s the most important thing.”

Yes, Thomas did it his way and now he’s sporting a 1-3-0 record with a 4.31 goals against average and an .880 save percentage for arguably the worst team in the Atlantic Division. That’s a long way from the triumphant Bruins goaltender in full grizzly playoff beard proudly holding the Stanley Cup high over his head, but it’s been a precipitous fall from grace for a guy that could have easily continued to be a folk hero in Boston by simply choosing his team over himself.

Now he’s the guy in the office barking loudly about personal politics that everyone else is slowly stepping away from while trying to simply get their work done.