During the 2010-11 Stanley Cup run, the offday dinners for Tim Thomas were usually Italian. The dining mates always included Adam McQuaid, David Krejci, and Jordan Caron, as well as several others. The conversations weren’t always about hockey.
“I got to pick his brain on his opinions on certain things,” McQuaid recalled with a smile. “I was always open to listening to him talk. I think everyone knows he wasn’t shy to voice his opinion on different things. I was always open to hearing what he had to say.”
It was Timmy being Timmy.
“Tim wasn’t a bad person. I’m very clear on that,” said coach Claude Julien. “He’s a person that had his views, and was pretty strong in his own views at times. But never a bad person. That’s why a lot of times, we didn’t feel he was a distraction. He was just a guy that thought differently. I know a lot of times guys would say, ‘You know what? As long as he stops pucks, we’re OK with it.’ That was the consensus of our players in the dressing room.”
On Thursday, Thomas’s Bruins career ended with his trade to the Islanders for a conditional second-round pick in 2014 or ’15. On Friday, Thomas’s former coach and ex-teammates reflected on a goalie whose on-ice brilliance and off-ice quirks made him one of the most unique players in Bruins history.
“I have a lot of respect for Tim Thomas and what he’s accomplished,” said Julien. “As a player, a two-time Vezina goalie, MVP in the playoffs, Stanley Cup champion — he’s done a lot. Even for those who view him differently as a person, I never had an issue with Tim. Tim was one of those guys who had his own thoughts and his own ideas. As a coach, you run into that all the time. There’s different personalities in that dressing room now that I deal with. That’s what you’ve got to learn as a coach. You respect everybody for what they are. It doesn’t mean there weren’t times we talked about our differences. But we always worked it out.”
Krejci was one of Thomas’s closest friends on the team. During warm-ups before each game, Krejci and Thomas passed a puck prior to line rushes. Nathan Horton now fills the puck-passing role Thomas once held.
Despite his friendship with Thomas, Krejci acknowledges the goaltender cut his ties with the organization once he declared his intention not to play this season. The two have not talked since they said their goodbyes at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season. Tuukka Rask, Krejci said, is now the No. 1 goalie that Thomas once was.
“We got along well,” Krejci said. “He was a great goaltender. I’m sure he still is. He’s done a lot for this organization. He was a big part when we won the Cup. He was a good guy in the room, as well. He knew his role. He decided to take a year off, and that’s when Tuukka got the No. 1 spot. He’s been doing amazing. So, we no longer miss Timmy right now.”
According to a source familiar with the situation, the Islanders had until Friday to become cap compliant above the $44 million floor. Under the post-lockout transition rules, teams could be under the floor if a player was under suspension. The Islanders had suspended Lubomir Visnovsky for not reporting to the team after the lockout, and he carries a $5.6 million annual cap hit. Because of the transition rules, the Islanders were permitted to be below the floor by the margin of Visnovsky’s number.
It was partly because of uncertainty regarding Visnovsky’s suspension that the Islanders acquired Thomas and his $5 million annual cap hit. Visnovsky is no longer under suspension, and the Islanders are comfortably over the floor. Yet general manager Garth Snow still proceeded with the Thomas trade to achieve greater cap flexibility.
With Thomas officially out of the picture, one of management’s primary tasks will be to re-sign Rask. Bill Zito, Rask’s agent, also represents Thomas.
Rask is playing on a one-year, $3.5 million contract. His performance this season has reinforced the Bruins’ estimation of his status as one of the league’s sharpest goalies. On Thursday, GM Peter Chiarelli acknowledged he will initiate negotiations with Rask during the season, but talks have yet to begin.
The benchmark is Carey Price’s six-year, $39 million contract. If Rask continues to perform well, he could ask for an extension in Price’s range. Another comparable is fellow Finn Kari Lehtonen, who despite his injury history was re-upped by the Stars for five years at $29.5 million, beginning in 2013-14.
Given those comparables, Rask could ask for at least $5 million annually over five years. It would be a significant raise.
But Thomas is an example of why paying goalies is worth the investment. At the time, Thomas’s four-year, $20 million extension looked like an overpayment. In retrospect, given Thomas’s play, the contract was fair for both sides.
“Everyone knows he was a huge part of us winning the year that we did,” McQuaid said. “He always competed and he always enjoyed himself when he was playing. When you scored on him in practice, he wouldn’t be shy to let you know that he didn’t appreciate it. I’ll definitely remember his competitiveness.”