Tim Thomas has been in Florida Panthers camp for almost a week, which is far longer than those around the NHL figured he’d last when he said goodbye in May 2012.
Thomas’s defining personality trait, however, is proving his doubters wrong.
On Tuesday, Thomas made his first on-ice appearance in Coral Springs, Fla. The day before, Thomas agreed to a tryout with the Panthers. Odds are good that Thomas will score a contract. They’re just as good that Thomas will grab the starting job.
It would be difficult for any goalie to take a year off and reenter the NHL’s wicked pace. It would be even harder at Thomas’s age (39).
Thomas is not just any goalie.
The Bruins were angry when Thomas, with a year left on his deal, dismissed the service time he owed his employer. They had their theories. Thomas wanted an extension prior to the conclusion of his four-year, $20 million contract. If the Bruins said no, Thomas would try to force a trade to a club that would be more amenable to an extension.
It was a selfish decision. The Bruins had planned for one more push with Thomas as the starter and Tuukka Rask as the backup. Thomas wrecked that plan.
It was not, however, a decision made out of character. Timmy has always been about Timmy.
When the Bruins were invited to the White House to celebrate a team accomplishment, Thomas put himself before his teammates. When he allowed a questionable goal, Thomas always had an explanation. The rink was dark. The puck fluttered.
But that’s what made Thomas the best goalie in Bruins history. He was right. Everybody else was wrong. Thomas lived on me-against-the-world motivation. The Bruins reaped the benefits, until that approach withered.
In retrospect, Thomas’s explanation of burnout sounds like the real deal. His friends said that from the start.
During Thomas’s year away from hockey, one of his acquaintances insisted Thomas was mentally exhausted. He pointed to Thomas’s preparation during the 2010-11 Stanley Cup run. To ignite his competitive blaze, Thomas trained his brain completely on hockey, even on rest days.
When the run ended, Thomas’s energy disappeared.
“You know that feeling when you’re arguing with your wife for no reason? Maybe it’s because you’re tired,” said Thomas’s friend. “That was Timmy. He’d say to me, ‘I’m tired. I’m just tired.’ ”
Thomas wasn’t a slouch the following season. He went 35-19-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. The Bruins lost to Washington in the first round of the playoffs. But Thomas wasn’t as spot-on sharp as he was the previous season, when he won his second Vezina Trophy. Thomas had checked out after 2010-11. Thomas’s physical skills, while excellent, weren’t good enough to overcome the sag in his mental approach.
Now, Thomas believes his head is clear again. During an interview with Florida reporters on Tuesday, Thomas said his passion for hockey started to flow while watching his former teammates go for their second Cup in three years.
“I started getting the competitive juices going when I saw them have the success they had,” Thomas said. “I was so proud of those guys and what they accomplished.”
Thomas was in an ideal situation in Boston. He played for a defensive-minded coach in Claude Julien. Thomas had dependable partners in Rask and Manny Fernandez. Thomas leaned on Zdeno Chara, the league’s best shutdown defenseman. Chara helped Thomas win his Vezinas. Concurrently, Thomas aided Chara when he claimed the Norris Trophy in 2008-09.
It won’t be a similar setting in Sunrise. The Panthers, as Thomas noted, are like the Bruins when he was first promoted from Providence. It will be an upset if the Panthers finish higher than seventh in the Atlantic Division.
Their ace player is second-year pro Jonathan Huberdeau. The rest of the roster is mid-tier at best. General manager Dale Tallon loaded up in free agency in 2011 when he signed Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore, and Sean Bergenheim.
For the Panthers, pursuing Thomas was a smart move. Jacob Markstrom projects to be a No. 1 goalie. But he is only 23. Repeated divisional torchings by Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, and Phil Kessel would have shredded Markstrom’s confidence. Veteran backup Scott Clemmensen is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
For Thomas, the only question was whether he was committed to a return from his sabbatical. On Feb. 7, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli called Thomas to inform him he was being traded to the Islanders. Thomas was walking his dogs when Chiarelli called. Chiarelli said that Thomas sounded happy and at peace with his decision to split.
Now that Thomas is in Florida, his inimitable game will be back on display. Thomas’s body is recharged after a year off. His mental approach will be even sharper. Thomas is motivated to show everybody he’s still one of the game’s best goalies. One of Thomas’s goals will be to make the US Olympic team. Thomas’s competitors include Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson, and Cory Schneider.
In Boston, the anger is gone. Rask was ready to replace Thomas as the starter. Anton Khudobin was a dependable backup. The Bruins were able to move Thomas’s salary to the Islanders, which freed up enough cash to land Jaromir Jagr from Dallas. Chad Johnson is now wearing Thomas’s No. 30.
Thomas’s ties to New England run deep. He considered Lynnfield home before he decamped to Colorado Springs. Thomas made friends in Providence. He played at the University of Vermont for four years. Thomas’s summer hockey camps have included sessions in Falmouth, Maine.
On Oct. 17, the Bruins will visit Florida. On Nov. 7, the Panthers will play at TD Garden. You can bet Thomas will be in goal for those games. He’ll do big things on both nights, and the league will be better for it.
We missed you, Timmy.
Last month, XOS Digital held its annual convention in Boston. The company’s primary hockey product is Thunder, the video platform used by 18 NHL teams. Yet one of the most illuminating anecdotes came from a Thunder user at the high school level.
Last year, the team held a one-goal lead late in the third period. Prior to a faceoff, the opponent yanked its goalie in hopes of scoring the tying goal. The Thunder-using coach called a timeout and grabbed his iPad.
“They film and log the game, so he grabbed his iPad, backed it up, and told his guys on the ice exactly what [the other team] was going to do,” recalled XOS hockey product specialist Brant Berglund. “Off the faceoff, they prevented the goal and won the game.”
The use of video is not strictly for the big boys. In August, XOS announced a deal to equip every Quebec Major Junior team with its Thunder product. NCAA and high school teams are investing in video, primarily as a teaching tool. How teams choose to employ video is up to each coach.
“Some coaches just want it set up so players can go in and watch unattended,” Berglund said. “Another guy said his staff doesn’t feel that way. They want to tell players what to watch. Most coaches watch games on TV every night at home. In meetings, they watch video for hours. But there’s a big difference between educating yourself and teaching. The things you learn yourself and how you translate that into teaching — that’s coaching.”
Of course, use of video is standard operating procedure in the NHL. During camp, video is more helpful to management. Teams can stockpile clips of players for use in subsequent scouting sessions. For example, a GM can request a reel of all of Player A’s shifts in preseason games if a transaction — signing, trade, waiver claim — becomes available. Based on how a video coach logs games, the GM could also pull up data of that player, be it scoring chances generated to shots placed on goal.
“On the management side, it’s more about affirmation of their opinions,” Berglund said. “Everybody knows the best players in the league. But who’s comparable to that player for less money? Where do you take a chance? You could have a level of success using numbers.”
The Canadiens will give second-year pro Jarred Tinordi a close look during camp. The hard-hitting defenseman, Montreal’s first-round pick in 2010, dressed in back-to-back games against the Bruins and Sabres to open the preseason. Against Buffalo, Tinordi flattened Colton Gillies, separating the forward from the puck — and nearly some of his body parts. The hit prompted Buffalo tough guy Cody McCormick to come calling. If the 6-foot-6-inch, 227-pound Tinordi continues to hit like that, he’ll please his bosses and anger his opponents, which is the perfect combination. Tinordi could be a temporary hard-hitting facsimile of Alexei Emelin, who remains out until December. Emelin was injured last season when trying to hit Milan Lucic. Tinordi played most of last season in Hamilton, Montreal’s AHL affiliate, where he scored two goals and 11 assists in 67 games.
Bobby Robins, in the mix for enforcer duties with the Bruins, had his training camp close prematurely when he suffered a left knee injury in last Tuesday’s preseason game against the Capitals. Before the injury, Robins had been reminding himself to enjoy every turn of the preseason. He hadn’t attended an NHL camp since 2006-07, when he was Ottawa property. He was 25 at the time and coming off a four-year career at UMass-Lowell. Robins, who will turn 32 next month, now understands how ill-prepared he was for his first pro opportunity. “Everybody’s a good pro now,” Robins said. “Everybody’s taking care of their bodies with nutrition. Everybody’s doing the right thing with working out and taking care of their muscles. There’s just a lot more knowledge, there seems like, in the game now.”
The Canadiens hit a four-bagger in 2007 by drafting P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty. No other team that year scored two top-line, top-pairing players. Subban enters 2013-14 as the reigning Norris Trophy winner. Pacioretty should be a regular 30-goal scorer. But it must make GM Marc Bergevin gag on his poutine to think of Subban paired with Ryan McDonagh. Montreal picked McDonagh 12th overall in 2007. Former GM Pierre Gauthier traded McDonagh to the Rangers in the Scott Gomez deal. McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal will give first-year Rangers coach Alain Vigneault defensive firepower he never had in Vancouver. New York GM Glen Sather has yet to stop giggling about that deal.
By trying Zdeno Chara in front of the net on the power play, the Bruins are assuming the big man will help them score more PP goals. However, if the Bruins don’t score during their man-advantage situations, they’ll have to monitor when to deploy Chara. Teams often send out their top offensive players after each successful penalty kill. In previous seasons, the Bruins rolled out Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton for the first post-kill shift. The Bruins want Chara ready for those five-on-five situations. That means Chara would already be on the ice, presumably with the second unit, to switch back to defense. Or Chara would skate on the No. 1 unit but have enough time to recover. Net-front PP duty is demanding work. Recovery on the bench would be critical for Chara to be fresh for his usual defensive tasks.
Old friend Matt Lashoff, the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2005, is back in North America. The defenseman played for Zurich last year. In 2011-12, Lashoff suffered a major knee injury while playing for the Marlies, Toronto’s AHL affiliate, appearing in only nine games. So when the NHL locked out its players last September, Lashoff bolted to Switzerland to test out his knee. Lashoff appeared in 49 games for Zurich, where he was teammates with fellow American Ryan Shannon. The Canadiens invited Lashoff to training camp. He appeared in one preseason game, then was released from his invite. But Lashoff accepted the Canadiens’ invitation to play for Hamilton, their AHL club. Lashoff appeared in 46 games for the Bruins before he was traded to Tampa Bay in the Mark Recchi deal. Home base for Lashoff remains the greater Albany area, where his wife and young son will stay for now until the defenseman finds employment.
Time will determine whether Edmonton considers a seven-year, $42 million contract a premature extension for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The clever center, who has one year remaining on his entry-level contract, signed his megabucks payday on Thursday. In retrospect, the Bruins goofed by signing Tyler Seguin to a six-year, $34.5 million extension before the expiration of his entry-level deal. The extension may have been a factor in Seguin’s halted development in 2013 and trade to Dallas. Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have a large sample size of NHL work. The center has dressed for only 102 NHL games. The Oilers, however, are confident in Nugent-Hopkins’s skill and character.
It’s possible that 98.5 The Sports Hub will carry the Celtics, who recently split from WEEI. If the deal takes place, the Bruins are assuming they will remain on the varsity channel if there are conflicts. CBS Radio owns other stations that could carry Celtics games . . . Andrew Ference remains in the chase to be Edmonton’s next captain. The “C” is vacant after the Oilers traded Shawn Horcoff to Dallas. The ex-Bruin’s toughest competitor is Taylor Hall, who was an alternate captain last season. Hall represents the franchise’s future. But Ference, an Edmonton native, will be in his hometown for four years, which is not exactly a pit stop. The Bruins were big believers in Ference’s leadership qualities . . . Ex-Bruin Kaspars Daugavins is going overseas in hopes of reviving his NHL career. Daugavins, who became an unrestricted free agent after the Bruins declined to issue him a qualifying offer, will play for Geneve-Servette in Switzerland this year. Daugavins has good straight-line speed and is strong on the puck. But Daugavins’s so-so hockey sense put him on the outs in Boston . . . Aside from Justin Faulk and recent signing Ron Hainsey, Carolina’s blue-line depth chart includes Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison, Mike Komisarek, and Andrej Sekera. Holy pylons.