Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bruins and NHL are Back (Finally)

I haven't posted here since June because of the lockout. A lot has happened since then (probably about 30 posts worth). There were times in the last few months when I was so mad at the NHL owners that I considered vowing to not spend a dime on the NHL in 2013. Even before the lockout I almost decided to quit this blog. I almost canceled Center Ice. It's been tough. Since the last lockout ended I have seen nearly every Bruins game. That's a lot of games. Some of them really sucked, but the 2011 playoffs made it all worthwhile. I have to admit though, that after finally winning the cup it was getting a bit old.

Then the inevitable happened. It was windy and biting cold and I was on an outdoor ice rink with my stick and a puck, wearing my Bruins hat; that's when I remembered just how much I love this game. A few days later the lockout ended, and, well, here I am again.

Before we get to the long and the short of the upcoming 2013 season, I need to address Tim Thomas. I doubt anyone reading this isn't up on the story. Thomas decided to take the season off to spend time with family and faith blah blah blah. I get that. I get that he wants to start for the US Olympic team. I get that his father has cancer. I get that he may have realized that the fire wasn't there anymore for him. I get that his snub of the President caused a lot of bad feelings and that he probably felt a bit of a pariah. I get that after so many years as a pawn it must have felt good to take control of his own career for once. And I get that he probably realized that he'd end up playing the season for some team out west, maybe Anaheim or Vancouver (ugh). Toss in a likely lockout and, like I said, I get it.

But he didn't need to be such a classless jerk about it.

Tim Thomas should have been a man about it. He should have called a press conference and read his little statement about family and faith. Then he should have told everyone how being a Bruin was the best thing that ever happened to him, that he'd miss the city, the fans, and his teammates. He should have stood tall and answered the questions from the press. People still would have been mad at him, but it least it would have been for the right reasons. The only good to come of his cowardly posting to Facebook and then slinking off to Colorado is that I am sure professional athletes all over the continent have taken note not to make a fool of themselves like he did.

And the politics! Don't get me started. He's a professional athlete in the public eye. He built his career on the ice and there is no place for politics on the ice. He should have donated to his causes and kept his opinions to himself. His hubris was astounding; it boggles the mind that he believed for a minute that his speaking out would make enough difference to make it worthwhile. But the same can be said of the people who have posted hateful things about him. They are making the exact same mistake by allowing their disdain for his politics to cloud their view of what he did on the ice. He won us a Stanley Cup for God's sakes! I read one blog over the summer that made it sound like the Bruins won the Cup in spite of Thomas, not because of him. I suggest people with such opinions go back and watch the 2011 playoff games for a dose of reality. Going into game 5 of the Cup Final the Bruins were facing elimination. Tim Thomas would allow only three goals in the next three games, against a team that had scored 242 goals in the regular season--an average of three goals per game.

Getting back to Tim Thomas on the ice, how does his decision to sit out the season affect the Bruins most? Some have complained bitterly about his 5 million dollar cap hit. Despite giving up his 6 million dollar salary, 5 million dollars will count against the salary cap for this season. Fortunately the Bruins are more or less under the cap and they have the option of putting Marc Savard on IR, which would cancel things out, leaving them with room to add a free agent should they need to. Others have suggested that he denied the team his value in trading him and that he was being selfish. But loyalty goes both ways. How much loyalty does he owe a management that wants to trade him? I say giving them a Stanley Cup should be enough "value."

The real loss for the Bruins is the one everyone seems too angry to acknowledge. Tim Thomas gave the team a chance to win games night in and night out. Sure, Tuukka Rask is a very good goaltender. But there is a key difference between a good goaltender and one of the all-time greats. It is in when the goals are allowed, not how many. A great goaltender rises to the occasion. The bigger the stakes, the more stingy he plays. There is a reason Thomas started most of the games over the last two seasons, and it's not some sort of misguided deference to the more experienced goaltender. When it's late in the 3rd and the Bs are down by a goal and Tukka lets one in--that's when we will miss Thomas. Or when the Bs are up by one late and the other team ties it up. No matter how well Rask plays, at some point the guys are going to look back there and think of what Thomas did for them night in and night out and they will miss it. I was about to write that they don't have a stat for that, but in fact they do.

It's called the Playoff MVP. In the years since the Conn Smythe Trophy was first awarded in 1965 only two Bruins have won it. Tim Thomas and Bobby Orr. So don't try to tell me the Bruins won't miss Thomas.

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