Timmy Almost Left Out In The Cold

By Dan Pilgrim, Posted: 09/17/13 03:52PM EDT

As the new season is gets underway one in question stood out in the crowd of possible free agents, concerned one goalie in particular. Love him or hate him, Tim Thomas is the epitome of the American Dream in the sports world, a man written off time and time again, who has fought against everything thrown at him to achieve his successes with a sense of wistful determination that should be praised instead of frowned upon. But, coming out of a self imposed lay off, he is back for another bite at the big time, perhaps not drawing as much media attention as he would have hoped, with replacement Tuuka Rask doing admirably in his own right in taking the Boston franchise to the Stanley Cup finals against Chicago only months ago in his first season as first choice.

A team who played on without the need for his talents or the media furore surrounding the outspoken goalie, who does a spot of his own bear hunting in his spare time! Whereas he should have easily been working up a sweat out on the ice, as he has been doing so consistently for so many seasons now, and well too, it looks like he could easily have been frozen out of a contact due to lack of interest as a result of his outspokenness in turning down a visit to the White House due to political reasoning. But opportunity knocks and it has come in the form of the Panthers, who have the goalie offered an olive branch, which he hopefully will not go AWOL on, and make the best of, for all involved.

In a faith that espouses servitude, self sacrifice and putting others ahead of yourself, it is rather ironic that positive aspects of his Christian beliefs, like the desire to do right by his family, are becoming irksome or ignored. If these were the case, then Thomas could bring an extra, positive dimension to his game; something, I'm sure anyone who worked with Mother Teresa could attest to, though I can't ever imagine her shoulder checking any to the ice! And this attitude is actually something all goalies should work towards, as goalie analyst, commentator and contributor for the official NHL website, Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild has pointed out before and written about previously in his dissecting of goaltending sports psychology.

The "egoless approach" is the best mode of game attitude for the goalie, helping them to gage their performances by how well their look after the team battling it out in front of them, grinding out those back checks on their behalf. The backstop who is expected to pick up his team and carry them if they are struggling and steal wins for them, a motto that sticks right to the heart of the sport of ice hockey. Hard working and quick deflect praise or take the pressure off other players, is where the goalie should be mentally and in their play, just like where actions based on values speak louder than words. The type of style that breakout talent Los Angeles goalie Jonathon Quick achieved during his standout season that led up to his Stanley Cup win in which he as an embattling goalie that fought hard for his team and let nothing get in his way (or through him!). A quiet presence that would be surely missed, even if the expectation is there so much that praise goes astray. So it is strange in reflection that Thomas has somewhat gone astray in his outspoken nature off the ice.

And sport is not supposed to be exclusive. It is supposed to be inclusive, for everyone and anyone, with disability sports and so on. Sport unites humanity on a global scale and that is why the upcoming Winter Olympics is such a celebration of sport and its role in humanity. And outside of the sphere of the arena, the "no politics" approach makes life easier for those involved in it. And if defending the founding fathers and the epitomising of human liberty, where does politics end and human rights begin in the sporting world, just as freedom of religion should be allowed for free expression, where does professionalism draw its line?

The saga also raises questions over his ability to voice his opinions as a pro athlete. In a world of business that relies on credibility and respect, Thomas's actions may have endangered his career in more ways than one. By expressing himself in the way he did, he will have alienated his team mates and caused a conundrum for management. And for a goalie, you want your defenders to trust in you, just as they want you to "have their back" in relation to your on ice performances. And when it comes to professional sports, do fans just want to leave their beliefs or opinions on the big questions at the door and just go and be entertained whilst they're at it?

It is also brings into debate the personal lives of those that compete at this level. In a lifestyle of here today and gone tomorrow to be playing for so long is quite an achievement. And given the sacrifices he had to make to make his dreams a reality, maybe it is not such a tough question as to why Tim chose to take time out to see his family, the people that matter to him. And athletes are not robots, even if we want them to be! Whilst fans laud their superhuman athletic abilities, they are still human and we all wobble occasionally. Professional athletes are supposed to deal with things in a professional way, but their privacy should also be respected, and on the flipside he did not have to air his views so publicly.

Whilst standing up for what he believes in, Thomas is going to draw attention to himself. However, a player should be there on playing merit and performance based credos, not simply because he is a token for some kind of political scenario or some such similar endorsement. A coach wouldn't want a water boy that is more harm than good for the team they are playing for and doesn't offer much playing wise, where someone with less attitude is going to get on with it without much hassle. The comparison of Tim Tebow is perhaps, on a critical level, in terms of his poor performance on a technically analytical basis, reflective of this standpoint?

But in terms of someone bringing him in as a number one for the season, in a realistic fashion, who wants a 39 year old goalie that is nearly past their sell by date and is not up to scratch, with a free agency packed full of younger, hungry talent  fighting for playing opportunities? And for a goalie that hasn't played for a season, there are other younger options available and he will probably only have a single season left in him before hanging up the skates for good. Even Ed Belfour, the highly competitive Hall of Famer that he was, retired after a season sojourn in Sweden at 40. So, in essence, what Thomas only offers teams is a stop gap at a budget price. He is dazzling when on form and not when not. However, even in spite of this, it is hard to see where he would fit. Whilst other teams will be looking to develop a long term prospect youngster, building the franchise up around them, say with Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer, others are fine with their choices and depth.

"Nothing can replace experience," he was quoted saying in an interview with NHL media [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=682896&navid=nhl:topheads]. And he's right. He has so much experience that maybe that does swing in his favour. He knows the ups, the downs, the travel, the fears and the stresses and strains, that a youngster might not cope with as well as a comeback veteran, with such high expectations on a future prospect. And you can even go so far as putting a bet on him pushing Markstrom for the spot, with him having done so time and time again with Rask whenever he looked like being the go to guy, with Clemmensen sidelined with injury. So who knows how things will honestly end up?

But one thing that is a definite and does define Thomas as a player and athlete, is that he is a battler and a heck of one too. I'm sure he will play out of his skin if turned to like there's no tomorrow. Each season he came in and fought the number one jersey back from any competition. He has always had to prove people right or wrong in his abilities, and this is another chance for the record books to do just that. And one thing for certain is that it will probably be dramatic one way or another. And rather than scratch our heads wondering if people want accept his ability to view his opinions, do we just let sport do the talking, or get irate? Can't we just  sit back and enjoy the energy and dynamism that he brings to the sport, bringing back the style of "The Dominator" in his energetic and unflappable unorthodox approach that saw him go from rags to riches through a series of lucky breaks, a king of the American Dream? Rather than bemoan everything else that comes with him. Might we even see him have a miracle season? Who knows, but at least it makes for good highlight reels!



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