I'll admit it up front: I'm a big fan of Tim Thomas and it would be heartbreaking for me to see him traded before he had a real chance to prove himself with the Bruins. Some might wonder how I could say that, given that he started for nearly all of last season and a big chunk of the one before. But I do not feel that the rest of the team played hard enough, consistently enough, or well enough to give him that chance last year. I saw every game played last season but 2. I watched carefully. I felt the ups and downs; remember both goaltenders struggling as the season began. I recall how the team seemed to be finally moving forward and how Timmy stepped up and stole game after game. I recall the long road trip that ended with a disaster in Nashville. I recall the tailspin that came after. I recall how time and again the defense would let a guy stand right in front of the net and leave Timmy out to dry. I recall the strings of close games where the B's could not score, and game after game lost by a single goal. And just when things started to look up again the trades came. I saw the heart of the squad (Premeau) go elsewhere and I saw a group of players lose any chance to become a team. And of course I watched every ugly game as they fell flat on their faces in their doomed playoff run.
The biggest highlight for the 2006-2007 Boston Bruins was the shootout. Savard loosened things up with his rally caps. Sturm showed that he really had a scoring touch. Kessel shined, becoming the closer. And Tim Thomas, free of his teammates to go one-on-one with the best goal scorers in the league proved that he had the competitiveness to beat them again and again. On a team where the defense was fickle, where the offense was fickle by failing to control the puck, where the coaches failed miserably to install some competitiveness and responsibility, Tim Thomas was not fickle. He showed up every night, night after night, and he made spectacular saves and stole games.
And yet, some fickle fans wanted him gone from the first week of the season. He's not a true No. 1 they said. When Thomas was stealing games and the media touted his big saves and the team seemed to be coming together before Xmas, they all shut up. But they were only biding their time. The first slip up, the first time the team's fortunes changed, and they were at it again. Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender, they chanted, as if saying it often enough would make it true. What did these people want? There is just no way you could blame the poor play of last season on the goaltending, unless perhaps you sat in a little room and looked at only the stats, never seeing a real game. What did these people want? I finally concluded that what they wanted was a "name" in goal. It didn't matter how good Timmy was. What mattered was his reputation. And since he'd come out of nowhere and played for a team that sucked Thomas didn't have one. A true No. 1 goaltender, it seems, is a goaltender whose name everyone recognizes, nothing more.
The fickle Boston media was more subtle. They didn't come right out and claim that the two-season winner of the seventh player award wasn't a true No. 1 goaltender. But whenever the subject of improving the team came up the articles all had a certain slant to them. Often it was merely speculated that Chiarelly was looking to improve the goaltending. Or when he said he wanted to improve in that area they assumed he meant Thomas, and not a backup. Regardless, as the summer came it was clear that the media wanted a "name" goaltender too. Giguerre would do, for instance.
And of course, Giguerre would be a great acquisition for the team, as would Kiprusoff and a few other of the top elite. But they were a pipe dream.
When it came time to make a move in the off season the first priority should have been to add a left wing to the top line to make it a true scoring threat, and to add some grit up front so the team could forecheck better, possess the puck, and not play in their own zone all night. But what did the fickle GM do? He made goaltending his No. 1 priority. And did he net Giguerre? Of course not. We get Fernandez, who in my estimation is at best simply on the same par as Thomas, and at worst is a head case who lacks the competitive edge that Thomas brings.
I hope that Chiarelly somehow gets around to doing something to put one decent scoring line on the ice next season. But the same fickle wags who complain that Timmy isn't a No. 1 also calmly talk about trading away Muzz, the teams top scorer. That, instead of simply adding a veteran winger to the already accomplished tandem of Murray and Savard.
I hope that Chiarelly trades Toivanen rather than Thomas. Because mark my words, if he sticks with Thomas and Fernandez, Timmy is going to win the No. 1 spot, and that would be fun to watch. I hope that Chiarelly holds on to Muzz and builds on what we have that already works rather than starting over yet again. If he doesn't, it will be another doomed season, another doomed coach and maybe I'll just tune in during the fall of 2008 and see what the new GM brings to the ice.