Friday, March 16, 2012

Time Has Run Out

They say that the major part of winning in hockey is mental, and right now the Boston Bruins are definitely "mental."

The Bruins have now lost four in a row. This is a team that only just a few months ago won ten games in a row, most in blowouts, and scored 15 goals in just two back to back games. So much has gone wrong since then. To begin with, I think it was too much too soon, particularly after coming off a cup win. Teams who win that easily in the regular season often get bounced in the playoffs by a low seed. Even in the midst of their spectacular play the seeds of doubt were being sown. When the Canucks came to town the Bruins lost to them. When they measured themselves against the Rangers, the Bruins always fell short. For a team that was playing primarily for pride, these losses mattered. Then there were the injuries, followed by the addition of several new players at the trade deadline. Add to this the media frenzy over Thomas' snub of the President, which created a distraction, and the mental garbage started to pile up. In my estimation, by the way, this was about 50% Timmy's fault for the snub and 50% the fault of the media for turning it into a big deal. If neither had selfishly indulged themselves it wouldn't have been an issue.

In recent weeks other teams fighting for playoff spots have been sharpening their game and playing with desperation, but the Bruins literally had nothing to play for. They were stuck in second place in the conference with no way to catch the Rangers and the seemingly hapless Senators being the only real threat from below. Predictably, their play slipped and the losses started to mount. As their momentum stalled and doubt began to set in it became harder to turn things around. Pucks started bouncing the wrong way. Empty nets were missed. So now, after beating their heads against the glass and getting nothing for it except frustration, the Bruins are, in the words of Thomas, "tired."

As a result, people first became worried that the Bruins might not be ready for a cup run when the time came. Then they started to wonder if the Bruins could beat any team in the first round. This morning, we have to face the possibility that the Bruins will lose their lead in the division and the No. 2 seed to the Sens. This would put the B's dangerously close to the bottom of the playoff pack, with the looming specter of missing the playoffs entirely.

If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs it will go down as a monumental collapse, right up there with losing four straight to Philly after taking a 3-0 series lead. We aren't talking historical Bruins collapse here, we're talking historical NHL collapse. People will call for change; players will be dealt, the coach may be fired. Some unhappy people seem to revel in that sort of thing, but it would be a real shame to see this happen. This team has another cup in them.

Time has now officially run out. The time to turn things around has come. The Bruins have something to play for and it is time for them to take charge of their future. The playoffs start now. It is time for them to put all the little things together; to play consistently better defense, to punish their opponents physically, to bury their chances. If they were to put a string of wins together now, not only will they be back in the second seed, but suddenly they will feel a lot less tired.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Jumping Off the Band Wagon

Do you hear that sound? That's the sound of the bandwagon jumpers jumping off, proudly led by flag bearers in the Boston media like Stephen Harris, and they want blood. But inexplicably the blood they want is not the blood of the Habs or the Canucks, but of Tim Thomas.

Today Harris wrote:
"But Turco’s performance in the final weeks could also be meaningful for next season. If the 36-year-old demonstrates he can still play effectively, it’s possible he could be re-signed to be part of a tandem with Tuukka Rask.That, of course, assumes that Thomas, whose no-movement clause expires this summer, would be dealt."
Why would anyone who wants to see the Bruins succeed be looking forward to Thomas being dealt? It boggles the mind. I like Tukka just fine, but I liked Andrew Raycroft too. Neither is in the same league as Thomas, without whom the Bruins could not have won the Cup.

If you look at this little blog of mine, you will see that I have been here for the long haul. Although I didn't start this blog right away, my dedication to the 2011/2012 Bruins didn't begin during the Cup Final last spring, like it did for so many New Englanders. It started seven years ago, at the end of the lockout in 2005. I have seen a lot over these years, both the ups and the downs. I remember Savvy's Rally Caps and a goaltender who came out of nowhere. I remember players like Wayne Premeau, Glen Metropolit, Marco Sturm and the coaching tenure of Dave Lewis. Starting in the 2005/2006 season I have watched almost every single game. That's well over 500 games. I vividly recall forcing myself to watch games even after the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs. It was so tempting to fast forward, but I didn't. Fact is that so many other blogs have disappeared over the years that I finally gave up on updating the list of other blogs I read. But I'm still here.

More importantly I also remember what it was like before the lockout. I remember an owner who refused to play the game of paying top dollar for players. I recall seeing supposed future Bruins greats go on the trading block, even the team captain. I remember how Joe Thornton was thrust into a role that didn't suit him. But most of all, I remember a team that could not beg buy or steal consistently great goaltending, all the way back to the cup years in the early 70's. Even then, Cheevers and Johnston weren't exactly future goaltending legends. If they were, why don't their numbers hang from the rafters? Moog, Ranford, Lacher, Carey, Raycroft... they never seemed to pan out and when they did they didn't last. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the early years of the Bruins to find truly great goaltenders. In his first season in 1938 Frank Brimseck led the league in wins, shutouts, and GAA. He would help the team win the cup in 1941 and even though WWII intervened, he stayed with the B's until 1949. Going back even further, the Bruins had won the cup in 1929 with the premier goaltender of his time, Tiny Thompson. Here's the thing: I am utterly convinced that Tim Thomas is the greatest of these Bruins greats.

When I started this blog it was for one reason. I was tired of being laughed at when I posted about how good I thought Tim Thomas was on various forums or in blog comments. They said it over and over, "Tim Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender." But I knew better. Nobody seemed to be able to see what I saw in Thomas, and let's be clear: I saw the best Bruins goaltender of my lifetime. Not only did people not see how good he was, but some seemed to outright hate him, and to this day I don't understand why.

Our Bruins--my Bruins--won the cup last year. Tim Thomas won the Vezina and was the MVP of the playoffs. I say this because it seems some people have already forgotten. You would think that the Boston media would be behind Thomas. You would think that he would have earned some trust and respect. You would think he would be valued. But now that the Bruins are self destructing on the eve of the playoffs, its right back to the same old Thomas hate only now they have their ready excuse. Now that Timmy's politics are out in the open, writers like Stephen Harris of the Herald are free to hate him simply because they don't agree with his politics. And let's be clear on that--people have reached for all sorts of wild unsupported theories for how Timmy's politics have hurt the team, but that's all smoke. The reality is that some very narrow minded people just can't stand the idea that Thomas' politics are different from their own. There's a word for that; it's intolerance.

It's so easy to blame the goaltending when a team plays poorly. Anybody can play that game; you don't have to know anything about goaltending to play it. If the puck goes in the net, it's the goaltender's fault, right? But that's a loser's game to play. Fact is, if these Thomas haters finally get their way and run Timmy out of town on rails, mark my words, Rask will be next. No matter how good he is technically, Rask can't bring the same compete level that Thomas does. Truth is, nobody can. This will become painfully obvious the day after Thomas leaves the Bruins.

The Bruins have a great organization, from top to bottom, from the President and GM to the goaltenders. They have an amazing core group of players in Thomas, Chara, Bergeron, Seguin, and Lucic. They have great coaching. They have outstanding depth that has been built by leveraging the fact that players want to play in Boston. They have talent coming up in the system. Truth is, you can't ask for more. What they have not had this year is what they had in spades last season: desire and luck. Even if the Bruins exit in the first round, both of these will come around naturally in time because of all the other things they have going for them.

People who are bitterly disappointed when their teams don't win a championship every year are being unrealistic. Those who would dismantle a team that has proven itself to be great  because they have had a rough streak or perhaps don't win back to back championships are idiots.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Does the Media Hate Tim Thomas?

Tim Thomas has never been a favorite of the local media and I am beginning to wonder what is truly at the root of it. When he first came up to the Bruins he was underestimated for sure. Many in the media, for whom the only way they can tell if a goaltender is any good is by his stats or how famous his name is, immediately wrote Thomas off as a No. 2. When he succeeded they only accepted it grudgingly. Articles were still written about how the team needed to get a true number one, even after anyone else would have proven himself. The call to replace him became so strong that the GM actually did replace him with Fernandez. The predictable result was that Thomas won out the No. 1 anyhow, winning the Vezina trophy in the process. Yet every trade deadline until last year involved the media claiming Thomas could be traded. When the Bruins were knocked out of the playoffs in 2009 by the Canes the media blamed him personally. In the summer of 2010 the media was abuzz with news that Thomas would be traded to the leafs with a sickening sort of glee. Imagine if that rumored trade had gone through. Does anyone really believe that the Bruins would have won the cup anyhow? When Thomas had a bad season in 2009-2010 due to an injury, the media wrote of Tukka Rask as if he were the second coming. For some reason that I cannot fathom Rask has never been held up to the same scrutiny as Thomas. Never. He's always the golden boy, always above scrutiny. Now that Thomas has won the Vezina again, a Stanley Cup, and was the playoff MVP for God's sake, the media still won't give him a break. Why?

Is it because he doesn't look like an athlete? Are they that superficial? Thomas once told a story about how an old friend had contacted him after winning the Cup. His friend told him that he was surprised how well he'd played for someone who "wasn't that athletic." What an absurd statement. But this is what Thomas has had to put up with.

Is it because they resent being wrong about Thomas in the first place? Are they that pathetic, that they lay in wait for the time when they can kick him when he's down so they can feel they were right all along?

Has it always been because of his politics? We endured weeks of ugly complaints after Thomas decided to snub the President. Sure, it was not the smartest thing for Thomas to do. But the media clearly over reacted. Some in the media even suggested that it marked the end of Thomas with the Bruins. Others implied that his politics were hurting the team. In that irony that the media always pretends to be unaware of, it did become an issue with the team. But only because the media made such a big deal out of it and would not let it go.

Or is it something even more sinister? Is this really about old world thinking, about social class and knowing one's "place?" Do they not accept Thomas because he came from meager beginnings, was never anointed as the golden boy at any level, never supposed to succeed? Does it rub the elite New England media the wrong way merely because he defied their expectations? Does his success threaten their elitist world view?

Recently the Bruins played the Rangers in a tough fought game. One headline read, "Thomas was good when the Bruins needed him to be great." While not unfair in its assessment, one has to wonder why this was chosen as the primary story. Tough Loss on Tim Thomas, flat out blamed Thomas for single-handedly losing the game. Sure, maybe Thomas would have made that final save 99 times out of 100. But that does not excuse the hate! They give him no quarter, no benefit of the doubt. Why?

The fact is that Tukka Rask single-handedly lost several games in recent months. He went through a period where he was playing very well in close, but giving up surprising goals at important times from the face-off circles. He was even pulled from one game. Not one article or comment was made in the media about this. Not one. Nobody suggested that he might not be the Bruins "Goaltender of the Future." Nobody suggested that he should be traded. The media simply refused to make it a story. Why?

I'm going to make a prediction here and now about Rask. Although I think he will one day be a a very good goaltender it will be with another team. When that day finally comes when Thomas is no longer a Bruin we will be rudely reminded of just how important it is to have great goaltending. I remember what that's like all too well, and I am not looking forward to that day.

As far as I'm concerned this hate for Thomas from the media is nothing short of ridiculous, regardless of the reason. The good news is that this media hate can only make Thomas play better, assuming that he isn't fighting some sort of behind the scenes injury again. For those of us who's only agenda is good hockey and another cup, that will have to be enough.