BOSTON – One year ago, the Bruins had just been ousted in a disappointing seven-game series with Carolina, but goaltender Tim Thomas was still on top of the world with a trip to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards on his itinerary and a new multi-year contract signed in the spring on his ledger.
Thomas, who famously left Vegas with the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, now stands in a very different place in his career after the Bruins’ latest season-ending seven-game second-round series.
After March 29, Thomas appeared in just one game for the Bruins, as Tuukka Rask took over as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender for the club’s playoff push and run. It should be noted, that Thomas’ one start came on the last day of the regular season in a game with no consequences as far as the standings.
So after going from the best in the business to backup status, it would be understandable if Thomas wanted to voice his displeasure with how he was handled this season. However, at the team’s breakup day at TD Garden today, he said that he still hasn’t had time to process everything that took place in 2009-10. Maybe the only thing he truly can explain right now is the biggest lesson he learned during the first season in years in which he was the goaltender sitting out rather than keeping someone else pinned to the pine.
“No matter what’s going on, a lot of stuff is out of your control,” he said. “You can only control what you can control. And you’ve got to try to, in a team sport like hockey, you have to try to still be the best teammate you can be, no matter what circumstances are thrown at you.”
Thomas finished the season with a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage – totals not up to the standard he set in 2008-09 (2.10 GAA, .933), but still ones many goaltenders around the league would envy. They’re also numbers that in most circumstances would earn a guy No. 1 status on his team’s goaltending depth chart. Thomas said he still hadn’t thought much about what it would be like to return next season and compete with Rask for the top spot. Rask said he could foresee that happening and he would welcome the challenge.
“No matter who you’re partnering with as a goalie, you’re always competing and you’re always fighting for your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s two No. 1 guys on paper or two No. 2 guys on paper. It’s still the same competition every day. And it would be really nice to be with him again, and that’s the way it looks like now. I would like that,” said the Finn.
There are a lot of things, in addition to his own play, that will factor into Thomas being a Bruin again next season or playing in another sweater. Obviously his age (36) and cap hit ($5 million) make him a bit of a gamble for some teams. But then you look at the goaltending in some of these cities where the team didn’t make the second round like Boston and figure Thomas would be a difference-maker. Thomas has a no-trade clause, and it’s hard to tell if general manager Peter Chiarelli would want to trade Thomas. Having a Vezina Trophy-winner around is great insurance against Rask suffering a sophomore slump or an injury.
In fact, Thomas was ready to step in for Rask if necessary in the Bruins’ playoff run.
“I’ve been actually working hard over the last couple weeks to put myself in a position where if I was called upon, I would’ve been ready,” said Thomas.
There were a couple instances where Thomas replacing Rask might’ve made sense, whether to give Rask a breather or change the Bruins’ momentum. But Thomas never got the call. When asked about his feelings over that, he again said he hadn’t had time to think it over. Obviously, Thomas can’t rock the boat because there’s a chance he’ll be on the same team under the same coach next season.
Knowing Thomas’ competitive nature, however, it had to be killing him to watch the Bruins let a 3-0 series lead slip away without him doing anything to stop the slide. That’s an experience he might not want to suffer through again, and the best way to avoid it would be to play somewhere he knows he’ll be playing.
“No matter what’s going on,” he said, “I’m going to be competitive. If you look over the course of my career, anytime I’ve had a setback I’ve come back and been competitive.”