There are two reasons to become a professional athlete and they are not mutually exclusive: love and money. Tim Thomas has both covered, so if he has played his final NHL game, he can leave without regret.
Though posting on Facebook that he would be taking a year off is not the most media-friendly method of announcing something so major, Thomas doesn’t owe anybody anything. OK, yes, he has one year remaining on his contract with the Boston Bruins, but any number of things can be done to remedy the loss of such a talent and with a similarly elite netminder in Tuukka Rask available, it’s not like the Flames losing Miikka Kiprusoff.
What we have is a goaltender who was approaching the end of his career and becoming a lightning rod of controversy for his political views in a town that doesn’t mind talking about sports figures 24 hours a day.
But I’m not here to come down on Thomas. Like I said, if he’s done, he’s had a great run.
When it comes to the love side of the equation, there’s no question he put in his dues. Thomas suited up for teams in Finland, Sweden, the ECHL, the International League and the American League before he saw starters’ minutes with Boston at the age of 31. Since that 2005-06 campaign, he crammed in two Vezina Trophies, one Stanley Cup, one Conn Smythe Trophy, a Jennings Trophy and two first team all-star nods. For a guy who enjoys hunting, he certainly spent enough time in the metaphorical wilderness before bagging his rewards.
As for the money, he has already earned more than $20 million since the lockout, more than enough to keep his family on stable ground for the rest of their lives (and their kids and their kids, if they’re smart about it). I’m sure a lot of people will think Thomas is crazy for leaving potential future earnings on the table, but at some point a lot of money is simply that – a lot of money. The exact figure doesn’t matter in the long run.
And I am going off the assumption Thomas is finished. Maybe he’ll come back in a year and play a couple more seasons, but I doubt it. For a goaltender of his age (38) to take such a break and return at the same level is incredibly difficult – there’s Dominik Hasek and pretty much no one else in that category.
The love part of the game is not as important now to Thomas as his family is and there’s nothing wrong with that. Ken Dryden walked away after just eight seasons because he had won six Stanley Cups and really couldn’t accomplish anything else. If you wanted to be a jerk about it, you could say Dryden wasn’t a true competitor because he should have had the drive for even more titles, but it’s hard to forsake him for his choice.
Sean Avery’s retirement also brings to mind the decisions hockey players make. Sure, he could have stayed in the game, maybe even gone over to Europe if his act was too toxic for the NHL, but Avery has long had other interests in the world (fashion being the biggest) and with more than $12 million in salary earned as a pro, he can indulge his fancies for the rest of his life.
If Thomas is indeed finished, if this turns out to be a lifetime sabbatical, then it’s been a terrific ride. The Flint, Mich., native became an American hockey folk hero in just a few short years and with his politics, we haven’t heard the last from him. On the ice? I’m not so sure. But it was fun while it lasted.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.