Most Bruins fans and NHL media types anticipated this last summer. The Bruins announced Thursday evening that Tim Thomas was no longer a member of the organization, traded to the New York Islanders in a move that matters almost exclusively on paper.
In exchange, they received a conditional 2014 or 2015 second round draft pick. The condition, of course, being that Thomas decides to report to Nassau County, which he almost certainly won't do. More than anything, the move helps both clubs address salary cap issues. The Bruins shed $5 million from their salary cap to fortify their roster for a potential Stanley Cup run. Meanwhile, the Islanders can now trade Mark Streit or even Lubomir Visnovsky to a contender and remain above the cap floor.
Aside from the financial implications of the deal, the trade has led many to reveal their feelings toward the now-former Bruins goaltender. Few players have left this town in such an odd manner. It's not uncommon for the media spotlight in the region to frustrate some, but Thomas seems to have gone out of his own way to bring that heat on himself. The decision not to join his teammates in visiting the White House last January was the first in a series of political statements Thomas made that rubbed many in Boston -- a bastion of progressive liberalism -- the wrong way. Ultimately, though, Thomas' legacy as a Bruin will be determined by his on-ice performance during his time as the club's No. 1 goaltender.
Years from now, the political and social views that made him as polarizing as he became will be footnotes. Agree with Thomas or not, you can't deny Thomas seemed to want the controversy. No one forced him to reject President Obama's invitation, nor did anyone demand he offer his viewpoints on same-sex marriage or federal tax policy. He said -- typed -- those things because he wanted to and felt it necessary.
Ultimately, though, Thomas' imprint on Bruins history is already made. There are division championship banners hanging in the TD Garden because of him. More importantly, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions scrawl hangs there as well. Thomas, the Vezina-trophy winner goaltender, made those things happen.
In the modern era of sport, the stories of athletes dragging their reputations through the mud with off-ice, field or court issues are countless. Most recently, Ray Lewis and Lance Armstrong have dominated the news for the mistakes they made away from the office. The problems and transgressions of these players greatly outweigh Thomas'. As much as anyone disagrees with Thomas on the issues he chose to address, nothing he did or said or wrote even compares to many of the issues we're forced to face about athletes and other public figures we choose to care about.
Personally, I find Thomas views reprehensible, but that doesn't change the fact that he was a world-class goaltender and generally carried himself well in representing the Bruins organization. As self-aggrandizing as he came off at times, there's no denying none of the Bruins' recent success comes without his once-in-a-generation performance in the 2011 playoffs.
His .938 save percentage during the 2010-11 season set a new standard before Brian Elliot's .943 bested it just a season later. Thomas won two Vezina Trophies as the league's top goaltender and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance during the Stanley Cup run (.940 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average). These are the statements from Thomas that impacted Bruins history.
Thomas isn't going to report to the Islanders today, tomorrow or a month from now. He still plans to sit out this season, but I fully expect him find a job heading into the 2013-14 season. From the beginning, his intention on making a push to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, has been clear. While many were frustrated that the preparation included leaving the Bruins a year before his contract expired, he made a decision he believed to be best for him. The presence of Tuukka Rask as a qualified replacement certainly lessened the impact of Thomas' choice.
At some point next season, I expect Thomas to return to the TD Garden wearing the jersey of another club. Many have already discussed the potential reception he will receive from Bruins fans on that night. Years from now, Bruins fans will reminisce about the 2010-11 team and their run to a championship. The next time Thomas plays at the Garden, fans should think about that and welcome the man who made it possible home.