BOSTON – One would think that Tim Thomas has built up enough admiration among the Bruins faithful that he would get the benefit of the doubt during tough times.
However, Thomas’ struggles (relative to his 2008-09 Vezina-winning season) last season turned up the volume on those wanting him nowhere near the Bruins’ crease. Now, as he returns from offseason surgery to repair a hip labrum, Thomas risks having a proverbial mob of haters falling over themselves to drive him out of town.
But patience should really be the virtue everyone, including Thomas, subscribes to as training camp and the preseason unfolds this fall. For someone that holds himself to such a high standard of play, and is determined to get back into form and fight for his job back, persevering through some struggles – performance- or health-wise — might be difficult.
“It’s a balance. I have talked to the doctors and the physical therapists and we’re going to try to communicate the best that we can because it’s not always easy,” said Thomas after he made it through the majority of the Bruins’ first official on-ice workout of training camp today at TD Garden. “They don’t know what’s going on in my body and I have a tendency, even if something hurts, just going, which is part of how I made it through last year.
“I describe myself kind of like an ostrich when it comes to injuries. I just stick my head in the sand and hope it goes away. I don’t know where it comes from. I think it’s been there since I was 5 years old. That’s just the way I am.”
Thomas’ stubbornness might’ve contributed to his play being for the birds on some nights last season. He won’t say how much the injury hindered him, and there’s no way to tell if he made it worse by trying to play through it. All we know is that the final numbers — .915 save percentage, 2.56 goals-against average – would’ve been the envy of many netminders, but weren’t satisfactory to Thomas or to those who look at him and see only his $5 million salary.
Post-surgery, Thomas’ early-season performances might resemble some of his tougher nights of last season, or maybe even be worse. It’s going to take time for Thomas to get up to speed and get used to his repaired body. And he knows that.
“It’s kind of like a see how I go. It depends on how I feel,” said Thomas. “ If for some reason you start feeling weak, then you better slow it down. But it felt pretty good today. The second hour, it felt a little more tired but I was able to practice where I didn’t think I would hurt myself.”
One need look straight down Beacon Street at David Ortiz to find an aging star athlete that’s been written off as much as Tim Thomas. It’s an annual rite of spring that the Red Sox star designated hitter gets off to a slow start, the masses call for him to retire and then he finds his groove. The first shot that counts hasn’t been fired at Thomas yet and seems like people are lining up throw tomatoes at him. What’ll happen when he does give up that first bad goal or loses a lopsided game?
“I’m determined that every day I’m going to come in and do the best that I can. It’s better to break it down to something that’s simple,” said Thomas.
Thomas’ work ethic has never faltered. So he should be given time to work out the kinks in his game.
The odds are Rask will get the majority of the playing time anyway. While $5 million might be a lot for a backup goaltender, the Bruins’ combined salary-cap hit for the position is on the level with other teams featuring stud netminders. And there aren’t too many other guys you’d want to have around, based on sheer guts and desire alone, should Rask get hurt or lose his edge.
It’s fashionable to pick on Thomas for his age and his salary and his rambunctiousness. However, a healthy, effective Thomas makes the Bruins a much better team. He has provided the Bruins with so many triumphant moments, he should be spared the “Ortiz treatment” from the fans early on.
Should Thomas manage to return to glory, it’ll write another chapter of resilience in his life story and be a heck of lot of fun for Boston to watch.