Late Friday afternoon, the Boston Bruins agreed to trade goaltender Tim Thomas to the New York Islanders in exchange for a conditional second round draft pick in either the 2014 or 2015 NHL Entry Draft. In doing so, B’s brass closed the book on what was one of the most unique and successful goaltending eras in the history of the franchise.
After playing four seasons of hockey just a few hours north of Boston at the University of Vermont, Tim Thomas would make his return to New England five years later as an unheralded free agent acquisition of the Bruins. Prior to his arrival in the Hub, Thomas was the epitome of a journeyman hockey player, seeing stops in Helsinki, Birmingham, Houston, Hamilton, Detroit (of the International Hockey League) Stockholm, and Oulu (Finland) during a six-year professional career. In hindsight, it was this arduous and difficult journey to hockey’s grandest stage that made Thomas such a beloved character in the blue-collar neighborhoods of New England.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 2006-07 NHL campaign that Thomas would take the reigns as the Boston starting goaltender, recording more than 54 starts in every season from then until now. In 2008, his second full season as the team’s starting netminder, Thomas would lead the Bruins into the postseason for the first time since 2003-04. It was then that he and his teammates would take the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens to the brink of elimination in a Game 7 at the Bell Centre, officially putting Boston back on the NHL map for the first time in nearly a decade.
Thomas exploded onto the Boston sports scene in 2009, recording a 2.10 goals against average in 54 games played en route to his first career Vezina Trophy win. Just two seasons later, the Cinderella story would come full circle as Thomas would shut out the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in a 4-0 Stanley Cup-clinching victory for the Bruins. No. 30 was simply tremendous between the pipes for the Black and Gold during that historic 2011 playoff run, registering a remarkable 1.98 goals against average and a .940 save percentage in 25 postseason games. Thomas would be rewarded for his play with a Conn Smythe trophy and his second career Vezina Trophy win.
Unfortunately, this is where the happy and heart-warming chapter of the Tim Thomas’ story comes to a close.
In January, it was near-impossible to predict the firestorm that would result from Thomas’ decision to “snub” President Barack Obama by failing to attend the traditional Stanley Cup commemoration ceremony at the White House with the rest of his teammates. Things became even cloudier when the goaltender up and moved his family from a Boston suburb to Colorado Springs in the middle of the season. As the year went on, Thomas became ostracized by some, calling the White House drama an unnecessary “distraction” to the rest of the team.
After an underwhelming performance during a first round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals this past spring, Thomas would go on to make an unusual offseason announcement: that he planned to sit out the entire 2012-13 season, leaving his team on the hook for his $5 million dollar cap hit.
As it turns out, the Bruins have been quite alright in moving on from No. 30 in 2013, as young Tuukka Rask has led the team to an impressive 7-1-1 start.
With the Islanders presenting an opportunity to get his contract off the books and free up an extra $5 million dollars (pro-rated) in cap space, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli simply had to make the deal.
Regardless of whether or not Thomas plays again this season (allowing the Bruins to receive the conditional second round draft pick from the Islanders), this is another masterful move by the B’s veteran GM, providing the team with the necessary flexibility (under the salary cap) to acquire another important piece for a playoff run this spring.
In closing the book on the Tim Thomas saga for the final time, it is important that Bruins’ fans remember No. 30 not for his political agendas or how his career came to an untimely end here in Boston, but for his ability to make your jaw drop with spectacular saves that he didn’t have any business making and how his never-quit attitude and otherworldly performance helped end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought in the most hockey-crazed city on this side of the Canadian border.
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Contributor to the New England Hockey Journal. Have written for The Hockey Guys and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com.