Thomas wants to show he's still got game
There's a difference this time, because Tim Thomas is coming off significant surgery.
The situation, the territory, is otherwise very familiar. Just a year after winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie, Thomas is seen again by the majority as a No. 2 goalie - and an aging (36), expensive ($5 million) one, at that.
After spending so much of his hockey life getting overlooked and underrated, Thomas is about to start another season of attacking preconceived notions.
"I've been working out hard," he said Monday, before teeing off in the 7th annual Boston Bruins Golf Tournament at The International. "You've got to train hard, especially when you're rehabbing an injury - plus, I want to put myself in the best position to have as good a year as I can."
Thomas, who had surgery on May 22 to repair a torn labrum in his hip, got back on the ice last week when he and several teammates gathered for captain's practices at Ristuccia Arena. Despite his report that the hip has "passed every test we've thrown at it so far," it won't change the opinion of those who believe he has been passed on the depth chart — permanently — by 23-year-old Tuukka Rask.
Thomas tries not to listen much to outside opinion, and in this case, it isn't really necessary. From being told he wasn't good enough to play in the NHL, period, to dealing with the assumptions that he was only good enough to back up the likes of Andrew Raycroft, Hannu Toivonen and Manny Fernandez in Boston, Thomas has heard all of this before.
"I thought about it over the summer," he said, "and I'm approaching it just like I did with every challenge I've had at every level.
"It's a battle against yourself. I've proven in the past what I can do, when I bring the best game I have to the table. It's up to me to do that."
Thomas won't blame the hip or an apparent hand injury, but his best game didn't make it to the table last season with the same frequency as in 2008-09, when he led the NHL in goals-against average (2.10) and saves percentage (.933). Last year's stats, which included a sub-.500 record (17-18-8), may not have qualified as poor (2.56; .915), but Rask's were superior (22-12-5, 1.97; .931), and the rookie became coach Claude Julien's goalie of choice down the regular-season and through two rounds of playoffs. Rask played every minute of Boston's 13 postseason games.
As he began to rehabilitate from his hip operation, Thomas also became one of the more popular perceived solutions to the Bruins' salary cap quandary.
With Boston $3 million over the limit (at least, once winger Marco Sturm is cleared to return from knee surgery in mid- to late November), and Thomas supposedly ticketed for backup duty, moving him and the remaining three years and $15 million of his contract onto another team's books would supposedly make everyone happy. General manager Peter Chiarelli, who included a no-movement clause in the goalie's four-year extension, went so far as give Thomas and his agent, Bill Zito, permission to see if another team might be interested in acquiring him.
Thomas, however, wants to stay with the B's, and believes he can do so as a major part of their mix.
"I'm looking toward the future, toward the season, and playing the best I absolutely, positively can," said Thomas, whose training-camp plans consist of "shooting for the opening day of the regular season (at) 100 percent" health.
"I was promised the same chance (to compete for playing time), and I think I will. My play will do the talking. It's in my hands. That's the way I look at it."