Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 26, 2012

Timmy Finds A Way To Put The “I” In Team

It was just two years ago, New Year’s Day, 2010. The Boston Bruins had just won a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park in the NHL’s annual outdoor Winter Classic, when the players chosen for Team USA in the upcoming Winter Olympics were introduced. The last player to be brought onto the ice was the winning goalie in the just-concluded contest, Tim Thomas. As Bruins fans packed into the old ball yard on Yawkey Way roared their approval, Thomas was interviewed by NBC. “I’m American to the bone,” he said; later adding in an interview with the Boston Globe, “This will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life and career. Between winning (the Winter Classic) and the way that we won, and being named to the US Olympic team … I’ve been waiting 30 years for this.”

But this week Thomas decided not to take his oh-so-American bones to the White House, becoming the only member of the Stanly Cup champion Bruins to pass on the traditional trip of championship teams in all the major sports to meet and be congratulated by the President. Less anyone think that Thomas simply forgot to pencil in the date on his calendar, he posted a statement on his Facebook page Monday evening expressing his belief that “the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.” In his posting Thomas went on to say “This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House.”

Thomas’s right-wing political leanings are no secret, so the nature of his statement shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hockey players and Mensa members tend to be two discrete groups, so his apparent belief that a “Free Citizen” has some greater degree of freedom or citizenship than a merely “free citizen;” or that “Property” is perhaps more valuable than “property,” and so on, should probably just be ignored. What can’t be so easily passed over is that Thomas is one of just two Americans on the Bruins roster (and the only one who we know for certain is so to the bone); yet he couldn’t find his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Meanwhile Mark Recchi and Shane Hnidy, two Canadians who were members of last year’s Bruins squad but have since retired, and Tomas Kaberle, a Czech who left Boston as a free agent in the off-season and who now skates for Boston’s hated rival Montreal, all were in attendance.

By snubbing President Obama and then making sure that everyone understood the snub was intentional, Thomas did his best to turn what should have been a day of harmless and decidedly non-political celebration of the team’s accomplishment last spring into a day all about politics and, of course, Tim Thomas. In his statement the goalie said his boycott wasn’t about a particular political party. But given Thomas’s views and the fact that the fan-in-chief is a Democrat, that portion of his statement rings more than a bit hollow.

Thomas’s defenders are quick to insist on his right to free speech. In doing so they miss the irony that his unquestioned right has been protected for more than two centuries by elements of the very federal government, in particular the courts and the armed forces, that Thomas so disdains. They also miss the larger point. The question isn’t whether Thomas had the right to do what he did; but whether it was the right thing to do. The answer is obvious.

It was a selfish and narcissistic act that on many teams would become a distraction. The potentially good news for Bruins fans, if any can be found in the midst of an utterly unnecessary fiasco is that may not happen here. That’s because it turns out that the team knew for some time that Thomas would boycott the White House visit, though it’s less clear that they were aware of his intent to release his diatribe. But the action and his refusal to change his mind despite several reported conversations with general manager Peter Chiarelli, are both consistent with the style of a loner who apparently has few friends in the locker room. The Boston Globe reported one team source describing Thomas succinctly as “(expletive) selfish (expletive).” It also comes at the best possible time. The NHL has just begun its All-Star break, with some players headed to Ottawa for the game but most scattering to spend time with their families. It’s a full week between Boston’s last game against the Capitals Tuesday night (in which Thomas did not play), and the next time they take the ice as a team.

But while the time off should allow some hard feelings to blow over, the chilly reaction of team officials to Thomas’s stunt, even though they knew it was coming, suggests the possibility of a more significant longer-term impact. Thomas will be 38 before the end of this season. He’s coming off a year in which he won his second Vezina Trophy and was the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He continues to play at a very high level, with a record of 20-9-0, a 2.12 goals-against average, and a .933 saves percentage so far this season. He’s one of three Bruins in Ottawa for the All-Star game. But as important as he is to the Bruins current success, he will still turn 38 in April. Meanwhile Tuukka Rask, thirteen years younger than Thomas, has a record of 11-5-2, a GAA of 1.82, and a save percentage of .938. Rask’s goals-against average is second in the league and his save percentage is tied for first.

Thomas has a year left on his contract after this season, but his no-trade clause is expiring. Not so long ago, another Boston franchise had a great player who kept putting himself ahead of the team. Eventually the Red Sox grew weary of “Manny being Manny” and traded the slugger Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles while they could still get value for him. With Rask maturing rapidly and equaling or surpassing Thomas statistically, it’s a lesson that general manager Chiarelli might take to heart, if he’s had enough of “Timmy being Timmy.”

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