Longtime Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was elected into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Sept. 4. Thomas certainly earned that spot after his nine-year career and 2011 playoff run that ended with the Stanley Cup in his one hand and the Conn Smyth in the other.
With a nomination like that, perhaps the Bruins might contemplate hanging his number 30 from the rafters. But does the Michigan native deserve it?
Should The Bruins Retire the Jersey of Tim Thomas
A convincing argument must be made for Thomas to see his number hung in between Bruins legends Terry O’Reilly and Ray Bourque. Thomas would have to check a lot of boxes in order to be seriously considered.
Thomas joined the team for the 2002-03 season and was perhaps one of the most exciting goalies to watch in modern hockey. He stole plenty of games for the Bruins during his time both sharing games with Tuukka Rask and as a starter.
To start this debate, it might be a good idea to look at the most recent goaltender to have his number retired by a team. In fact, it’s actually a perfect comparison to match up to Thomas.
The Florida Panthers announced in August that they would be retiring Roberto Luongo’s number in March of this coming season. Luongo is certainly a deserving goaltender, so let’s look at how Thomas compares.
The first thing missing from Thomas’s resume is the fact that he only played nine seasons, as opposed to Luongo’s 19. You could argue that Thomas’s Cup win could make up for certain areas where he lacks. But as far as statistics go, the two posted near-equal Save Percentages and identical Goals-Against Averages in their careers. Honing in on what they did for their primary team, Thomas’s numbers in Boston are better than Luongo’s on the Panthers in both categories.
Thomas and the Bruins
Statistics don’t always punch the ticket into something as honourable as getting your jersey retired. Another part of this decision to immortalize his number is the relationship with the team.
Thomas’s performance in the 2010-11 playoffs played a major factor in them winning the Cup for the first time in 39 years. Without him, Vancouver more than likely lifts the trophy in front of another Eastern Conference team. But a solid performance in one Cup run shouldn’t guarantee a spot in the rafters. Looking away from the 2010-11 year and into his other three post-seasons with the Bruins, Thomas posted a 13-12 record. He brought the team into the second round only once, so his impact was never anything like that 2011 run.
Following the Game 7 loss to the Washington Capitals in 2012, Thomas seemingly disappeared. Away from hockey and away from the team, Bruins fans believed he began an off-the-grid life.
He was traded to the New York Islanders but never played for them. He tried out for the Panthers and signed a one-year deal. His first game back at TD Garden was confusing. It was like seeing an ex that left without notice. The crowd erupted after the first goal from the home team and the Bruins parked in front of Thomas’s crease to celebrate — almost like they were giving him the cold shoulder. Their 6-2 win inferred that there was still some confusion or rigidness between Thomas and the B’s.
When the Panthers brought back Luongo, Thomas was dealt to the Dallas Stars, where he only played a few games and went 2-4-1. Since then, he hasn’t played an NHL game.
The other factor in this debate is retiring the number 30. Eighteen players have worn that jersey, but one goaltender can put up a fight with Thomas over owning it. Gerry Cheevers spent 12 years with the Bruins and made himself a part of hockey history with his memorable mask. He has two Cups under his belt and made himself a representation of the Bruins franchise.
It should be noted that Cheevers played for the World Hockey Association (WHA) for four years and then came back. But his departure doesn’t seem to have as bitter a taste as Thomas’s. Perhaps an older Bruins fan might disagree with that though.
Re-evaluating in the Future
It really is too soon for us to be having a real argument about this. It seems entirely unlikely that the Bruins do it now because there hasn’t been enough time to show the true impact he had on this team. Maybe after Rask, the Bruins will cycle through a handful of goalies and perhaps only then will we understand the true greatness of Tim Thomas. A solid yes or no decision shouldn’t be made in 2019, but being elected into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame is certainly a good milestone for his case.