- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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If Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas feels strongly enough to skip the 2012-13 season -- and possibly beyond -- to focus his energy and to "reconnect with his friends, family and faith" then good for him for making that decision in spite of conventional thinking.
If he's financially stable and there are other undisclosed family factors involved, then most people probably would want to act in a similar manner if something or someone in their family needed attention. If that's the case, the hockey world and its fans should understand.
If this is some kind of methodical tomfoolery by Thomas in order to diminish his trade value and therefore punish the Bruins organization, then shame on him. Thomas may feel slighted by the fact that he's set to be paid only $3 million next season, the final year of his current contract.
My strong belief is that Thomas is doing this for his family and would rather spend the time with his kids. If that's the case, I completely understand the motivation behind his decision. Yes, he does have responsibilities to his employer, but if he wants to focus on his family and nothing else, as a father, husband and son, he deserves that right.
Like most hockey players, Thomas learned about sacrifice at a young age when his parents sold their wedding rings so he could attend goalie camp. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last spring, all he wanted to do was find his family so they could join him during the on-ice celebration at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Now it seems he wants to spend all the time he can with his family.
Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron spoke with ESPNBoston.com during a phone interview on Monday and said he understands Thomas' decision.
"There's not much we can do," Bergeron said. "It's his decision and if he wants to spend more time with his family, obviously we understand that. He was great for us but we feel confident in Tuukka [Rask], for sure.
"I wish him all the best and time to regroup with his family. For us, as Bruins, it's about making sure we play our best and come back in form in September. I feel very confident in Tuukka and I know everyone else does as well. It should be OK."
Of all the current Bruins players, Bergeron has played with Thomas the longest and has witnessed first-hand his path to greatness on the ice.
"Everyone knows Timmy's a fierce competitor and he wants to win and he'll do anything to win," Bergeron said. "His path in hockey just shows that and the way he made it to the NHL is pretty amazing. It's something that will always be talked about because it's unreal the way he did it. He persevered and never quit, and I think he's the same way off the ice."
The sacrifices it takes, both on and off the ice, to win the Stanley Cup are genuine. It is exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally. The accolades and commitments that follow are rewards for the hard work and dedication but can be extremely draining. The aftereffects are different for everyone.
Once training camp arrived this past fall, less than three months after the Bruins won the Cup on June 15 in Vancouver, each Boston player had a different story of how he celebrated during the summer.
Thomas appeared in great shape, healthy and ready to defend the team's title. As the regular season wore on, it was obvious that there were times during the season when he was drained, and he admitted as much after the Bruins' first-round exit to the Washington Capitals.
"I'm sure last year winning the Cup and winning the Conn Smythe and winning the Vezina made it a pretty crazy year," Bergeron said. "I'm sure people were all over him with sponsors and everything. I'm sure it was pretty hard for him to keep up and also to have time for his family and kids. I think he's going to regroup and we'll see what happens."
Thomas has said many times in the past that his main goal was to represent Team USA in the Olympics. He realized that dream when he served as the backup to Ryan Miller and won a silver medal during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He's hoping for another shot in 2014, but this decision could negatively impact that plan.
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, the current Stanley Cup contending netminder (and a UMass product), could replace Thomas on Team USA's depth chart. And after taking a year off, Thomas could find himself on the outside, as Miller, Quick, Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard could be in consideration to play between the pipes for Team USA.
If Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli actually believes that Thomas is doing this for personal reasons and is not posturing because of his contract, the GM is saying all the right things.
But this situation, from a professional and business standpoint, can't sit too well with the Bruins.
Although Thomas is owed $3 million for this coming season, the hit on the Bruins' salary cap is $5 million (based on the total value of the contract). Chiarelli said if Thomas hasn't made a final decision on whether he will play by the beginning of next season, he would suspend the goalie.
But even if the Bruins suspend Thomas, Chiarelli said, the cap hit still would count against the team for next season.
Chiarelli also has the option of tolling the contract into 2013-14, with the team maintaining Thomas' services with the same $5 million cap hit. But Chiarelli stressed that no matter what, the cap hit remains for the upcoming season unless the Bruins deal Thomas.
The Bruins also will take a hit on the ice with Thomas' sabbatical.
Ever since the Bruins traded Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Tuukka Rask in June 2006, the Finnish product was dubbed the future goaltender in Boston. During the 2009-10 season, Rask showed signs of emerging as he spilt the duties with Thomas.
Rask posted a 22-12-5 record, along with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Partly because Thomas was dealing with a hip injury late in the season, Rask was the go-to guy in the 2010 playoffs. He played a total of 13 games, beating Miller and the Buffalo Sabres in six games during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals before losing in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers in a devastating manner in the semis as the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead.
In the past two seasons, however, Rask posted a 22-22-5 record with a 2.39 GAA and a .923 save percentage. While he has struggled, his teammates believe he's ready for full-time duties.
"We know Timmy is a great player, a world-class player, but Tuukka is a very good goalie and we feel confident with him," Bergeron said.
When the Bruins needed a big-game performance, Thomas delivered, especially during the 2011 Cup run. His 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage are among the best all time for a Cup-winning goaltender. In fact, Thomas is the first goalie since the Flyers' Bernie Parent (1975) to win the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe and Vezina all in the same season.
Rask, 25, has shown his struggles in playoff games, even when he was playing for the Providence Bruins in the AHL. He is currently a restricted free agent and could be looking for a long-term contract with the Bruins, and Thomas' move would seem to give Rask increased leverage. Of note, Rask and Thomas both are represented by agent Bill Zito.
Chiarelli recently said he would be satisfied with the goalie tandem of Rask and Anton Khudobin.
No matter how the situation with Thomas plays out, the Bruins will miss his services. The organization won a Stanley Cup in 2011 partly due to his historic performance and proved goaltending is the key to winning.
Thomas and Rask worked well together as a tandem and strong goaltending would have been the key if the Bruins had been able to repeat as Cup champions.
With Thomas choosing his three F's -- friends, family and faith -- over his career and contractual obligations, it seems the spoked-B is no longer a priority.
If Tim Thomas is taking a season off purely for family reasons, good for him.