July 26, 2012

If plan is to return to NHL, Thomas needs to shut his mouth

By Jesse Connolly

In the few hours that have passed since Tim Thomas’ latest controversial Facebook post, I’ve teetered back-and-forth on whether to chime in.

Tomorrow, July 27, will be three months to the day since I put together one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written. In precisely 2,300 words, I detailed why I still like Thomas, as no political epiphany of his could detract from the friendly relationship I had with him during my time on the job.

However, there was one important caveat. I stated that I’d continue rooting for Thomas unless he “really goes off his rocker one day.” It appears that day has come.

In a post on Facebook, Thomas pledged his support for Chick Fil-A, which recently came under fire when Dan Cathy, the company’s president, made several public statements against gay marriage. Thomas, the man focusing on “friends, family and faith” during his hockey hiatus, clearly sides with Cathy in believing that gay marriage is outlined in the bible as a sin.

No one needs to explain to you how fundamentally flawed and archaic such a stance is, nor how highly offensive Thomas’ support of a discriminatory line of thinking is, especially me. Instead, in an effort to stick to the hockey side of things, I have just one thing to say:

For the good of your career, Tim, it’d be best if you’d just shut your mouth.

Unless he’s made a concerted effort to mislead us all, Thomas’ intentions are to take the upcoming year off before resuming his career as a professional goalie. If he continues to make a spectacle of himself, he might not have any suitors when he attempts to rejoin the league.

No matter where you stood on Thomas’ boycotting of the White House or whatever other shenanigans he got himself involved in during the 2011-12 season, you had to feel for the netminder’s teammates. Time and time again they had microphones shoved in their faces by inquiring minds that needed to know what they thought of Thomas’ decision to snub the President of the United States. They needed to know what the outspoken goaltender’s Facebook ramblings about the Catholic Church and myriad other topics would mean for the team.

While you won’t find me applauding the incessant prodding of Thomas’ teammates, this much is true: If Thomas had just answered the questions himself, the rest of the locker room would’ve been spared.

So what happens when Thomas wants to come back to the NHL a year from now? Yes, there will be suitors for a man who’s won two Vezinas, a Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup in what will be the last four years when that time rolls around. However, by default, not every team will be in need of a goalie, especially one who will turn 39 next spring.

But furthermore, among that list of teams that might inquire about Thomas’ services, how many will be willing to roll the dice that the Flint, Mich., native won't thrust their team into the spotlight after going on another zany rant? What locker room – especially one in a so-called major hockey market – wants to suffer through a widespread, incessant inquisition from the media when Thomas inevitably loses his marbles again? What GM wants that headache? Performance worries aside, what owner wants to pony up a hefty amount of cash for someone that could wind up being an enormous distraction?

I certainly can’t think of any. Can you?

And how about Thomas’ Olympic aspirations, which are undeniably crazy even without factoring in his off-ice tangents? At 39, Thomas’ odds of leapfrogging the likes of Buffalo’s Ryan Miller (USA’s No. 1 at the 2010 games), Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Kings’ playoff hero Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) on the United States’ depth chart are strikingly slim.

And, let’s not forget who the GM of Team USA was last time around: Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.). Burke is a huge advocate for gay rights. His son, Brendan, who lost his life at the age of 21 in a car accident back in 2010, came out just months prior to the tragedy and was striving to curb homophobia in sports. Brendan’s brother, Patrick (Canton, Mass.), has continued that mission through the You Can Play project, which is “dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation,” and has received tremendous support from the game’s biggest stars, including Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara.

Do you really think Brian Burke, should he serve as the U.S. team’s general manager again, could stomach selecting Thomas? Would any GM want Thomas representing the United States?

The more Thomas continues to express his nutty beliefs, the bigger a hole he digs for himself. The bigger a hole he digs, the further he shrinks his chances of being welcomed back into the National Hockey League -- or onto any roster, for that matter.

Throughout the course of time, pro sports franchises have put up with some pretty putrid human beings for the betterment of their team’s performance on the field, on the court or on the ice. They have hired drug addicts, abusive husbands, you name it, forsaking morality for victories.

Is Thomas part of that company, or will he be if hired by an NHL club next summer? Well, that’s debatable. Then again, that does give him a good 12 months to continue to troll the hockey universe while hiding behind a keyboard somewhere in the depths of his Colorado bunker, so who knows how low he’ll have sunk by then.

In his career, Thomas has proven himself to be an expert at stopping pucks. If he was even half as good at stopping himself from saying such foolish, oftentimes hurtful things, maybe I’d still be standing firm in his corner. 

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.