Tim Thomas is a puzzling figure.
The Boston Bruins' star goaltender has done just about all there is to do over his career: He didn't make it to the NHL until he was 28, and didn't start to see significant playing time for the Bruins until the 2005-06 season.
In 2008-09, he led the league in save percentage and goals-against average, eventually winning the Vezina Trophy and the William M. Jennings Trophy that year.
The next season, he lost the starting job to Tuukka Rask. They finished the season with a similar number of starts, but it was Rask who led the league in save percentage and GAA and Rask who got all 13 playoff starts, while Thomas finished below .500.
Last year, he won his job back. Not only that, he led the league in GAA again and set the all-time single-season record (ignore Brian Elliott, he only played in 38 games) for save percentage at .938.
That year, he took home his second Vezina, and led his team to a Stanley Cup victory over the Canucks, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts.
And this season, he's been a bit of an enigma. He had an adequate season (.920 save percentage, 2.36 GAA), though nothing special compared to him at his best.
In late January, Thomas opted out of the annual Cup champion White House visit. It seemed a bit peculiar given Thomas' role on the team, his Conn Smythe and the fact that he was one of two Americans on the roster, but it was his choice to make.
His handling did not help the situation, though: his Facebook statement raised more questions than it answered, and immediately led to an upswing in trade rumors.
From that point on, something seemed off. His play severely dropped, his numbers suffered and his team failed to advance out of the first round of the playoffs.
And then the stuff hit the fan. Yesterday, June 3, Thomas confirmed what his GM had hinted at the day before: He is planning on taking off next season. He announced this—where else?—on his Facebook page, where he posted the following:
From the earliest age I can remember, I've wanted to be a hockey player. I've been blessed in my life to not only be able to live that dream, but to achieve more than I ever thought possible.
The singleminded focus that is necessary to accomplish a dream of this magnitude entails (by necessity) sacrifice in other areas and relationships in life.
At the age of 38, I believe it is time to put my time and energies into those areas and relationships that I have neglected. That is why at this time I feel the most important thing I can do in my life is to reconnect with the three F's.
Friends, Family, and Faith.
This is what I plan on doing over the course of the next year.
On top of this, I will continue to train using the ARP/POV system www.ultrafitevosport.com and work with G-Form www.g-form.com in the development of protective equipment.
What does this portend for the future?
We'll see….God's will be done.
There are so many different thoughts that jump out at me from this, mostly petty—did he seriously put ads in the post?—but most of all, it's that vagueness I've come to expect from Tim Thomas.
Mostly it's the fact that he never actually says he's not playing. He is shifting his time and energies for the next year while reconnecting with his friends, family and faith. That doesn't really answer anything though.
It's kind of troubling that he at no point references the Bruins. After all, the Bruins are the team that he is contractually obligated to play with. They are the team that he is essentially deserting. It's also kind of troubling that this seems to only be for the next year.
Here's a (possibly) completely unrelated fact: Tim Thomas signed a four-year, $20 million contract. He collected $17 million of that over the first three seasons, with the remainder to be paid this next season.
I don't know what this goalie is thinking. I have no special insights or look into his thoughts, because he has not shared anything beyond that Facebook post. However, just seeing what's out there, it's not too difficult to see possible scenarios in play.
Who will be Boston's starting goalie next season?
First off, it's entirely possible that there is something upsetting and deeply personal going on in Thomas' private life, and that he is doing his best to shelter his loved ones. Admittedly, that would fit the situation. The problem is, a lot of other things would too.
For instance, you could just as easily say that after reaching the pinnacle of the sport and winning what there is to be won, setting records and making more than $20 million lifetime (including the lion's share of his current contract).
He's had trouble with Bruins management in the past and may feel his time there is at an end, especially with his expiring contract and Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. And hey, even if he takes a year off, he'll be training, so he should be good to come back as a free agent.
Either of those is possible, and there's about as much evidence for one as there is the other. The problem is that there's no way of knowing until Thomas clarifies. Either way, he's screwing his team, though, and it's bound to cause some discontent.
Whether Thomas plays or not, his $5-million cap-hit will count against the Bruins next season. They aren't particularly tight cap-wise now, but they have a handful of free agents coming up this offseason, including Rask. And if Thomas is truly ditching the team this year, he likely just gave Rask another couple million on his contract.
Thomas needs to start saying what he means. He owes it to his fans. Thousands and thousands of people buy his jerseys and buy season tickets to see him play; they at least deserve to know what his actual plan is, beyond "reconnecting with the three F's." Does that mean retirement, or is he just waiting out the end of his contract?
Thomas is an amazing goalie, and he's had a couple of the best seasons ever, but he needs to stop dancing around what he means and just tell people. If he's retiring, retire. The Bruins would still bite the cap hit (since he signed the contract at age 35+), but no one can fault him for ending his hockey career
This, though... it's just wrong. Even when smug football players refuse to play when they're under contract, they say it. Thomas needs to do more than talk about family on Facebook. He needs to either type it out plainly or just do it in a press conference.
But this whole hiding-behind-social-networking thing isn't doing anything but prolonging the message and attracting the media.
It'll be interesting to see how this develops. One option out there is tolling the contract, as explained by James Murphy of ESPN:
If Thomas is suspended, Chiarelli also has the option to toll the contract into 2013-14. The team would maintain Thomas' services with the same $5 million cap hit, but...no matter what, the cap hit remains for the upcoming season.
This situation would seem to suggest that Thomas isn't looking to play in Boston again, but by declaring his need to be with his F's, he's drastically lowered his trade value, further hurting the Bruins organization as a whole.
In the first article I ever wrote for BR, I suggested that trading Thomas would be advantageous in the long-term for the Bruins. I had no idea how right I'd be. Now, Thomas is almost forcing the move while also draining his trade value.
The Bruins are in relatively good shape to handle this calamity—they have cap space to spare with more coming in the form of relief of Marc Savard's contract, as well as more than one capable young goalie to step up—but that doesn't make Thomas' move any less boneheaded and/or manipulative.
Speak to us, Timmy. Tell us what you're thinking, and stop talking through a website designed for college students to meet each other. It's kinda weird.