Curious case of Tim Thomas, NHL's drug policy + 30 Thoughts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Curious case of Tim Thomas, NHL's drug policy + 30 Thoughts

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012 | 05:45 PM

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Goaltender Tim Thomas, shown in this file photo walking back to the locker room before a game in Glendale, Ariz., wrote on Facebook that he intends to take a season off of hockey. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Goaltender Tim Thomas, shown in this file photo walking back to the locker room before a game in Glendale, Ariz., wrote on Facebook that he intends to take a season off of hockey. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Will Tim Thomas sit out next season? Elliotte Friedman examines the goalie's unique decision, what the Bruins options might be, plus a look at the NHL's possible push for stricter drug testing in the latest installment of 30 Thoughts.
Incredible how little we knew.

One year ago, Tim Thomas was THE story. The goalie who didn't grab an NHL stranglehold until he was 32, an opportunity he initially refused, not believing the Bruins would provide a fair chance.

But, there he was, in the middle of Boston's Stanley Cup celebration, the backbone of a champion. The Vezina Trophy winner, MVP of the playoffs, a terrific rags-to-riches success, one of the best interviews in the league.

Now? Well, is anyone really certain what we're dealing with?

There's an understanding among players that goalies are different. But that adjective doesn't do Thomas justice, especially by NHL standards. Most players try to fit in. He has no interest in doing so, and the Bruins did an excellent job of preventing most of us from realizing that. If they didn't have a White House visit on the calendar, would we have any clue?

We've learned that he wasn't a popular teammate. We've learned he has some strong political views. And, thanks to his Facebook feed, Sunday we learned why he's thinking of a season-long vacation. (And I thought Facebook was just for unhappy husbands/wives tracking down high-school soulmates.)

Thomas's agent, Bill Zito, angrily denies this move is protection against a trade. The goalie's no-trade provision ends July 1. While Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has said he's not inclined to make a deal, other teams are proceeding as if he'll be available.

Thomas (and Zito) maintain he is exhausted physically and mentally, and needs a break. (He moved his family from Boston to Colorado last season, although it was prior to the White House fiasco.) At this point, it sure seems like his mind is elsewhere.

Whether NHL players attend or not, Thomas is very serious about the 2014 US Olympic Team. Apparently, Thomas believes if he rests his body now, he can ramp up his training in a year and return in peak shape for the 2013-14 season. Taking a year off and returning at age 39? With Jonathan Quick two wins from the Stanley Cup? Sounds crazy to most of us, but Thomas doesn't care what we think.

The most interesting thing about all of this is that I'm not convinced it would scare off many potential trade partners. First of all, Thomas has an extremely cap-friendly contract (at least under current rules). He is due $3 million US in cash in 2012-13, but has a $5 million hit. Secondly, let's go back two years.

In 2009-10, Thomas lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask. He has never publicly discussed what went on behind the scenes that season, whether or not the Bruins asked him to waive his no-trade. What we do know is this: angry and motivated, he came back with a vengeance.
His teammates may not like him, but none of them own a 2011 Stanley Cup ring without him. That's what other GMs see. For one year, will they take a chance? Absolutely.
 
Right now, Thomas may be burnt out and unwilling to play. But it's June and he's out of the playoffs. How will he feel in September, or whenever the season starts? We all know Thomas sticks to his guns. For months, the Bruins tried to talk him out of skipping the White House visit.

But teams are going to want him; he'll be a man in demand. That's when we'll find out if he's really going to sit.  

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

John Branch of The New York Times did an excellent three-piece takeout on Derek Boogaard's life back in December. Monday, he followed up with a lengthy piece detailing Derek's father Len's exhaustive efforts to examine his son's care. Click here for the story, it is well worth your time.

I don't want to comment specifically on the article, because, with something like this, it's dangerous to jump to conclusions when the teams, league and doctors decline to speak. But, as we all focus on the "share of the pie" in the upcoming CBA negotiations, this issue may not be so far under the radar.

The NHL is expected to push for stricter drug testing. What exactly would be included (besides performance-enhancers) is uncertain, but it may have some surprising allies. Many agents and NHLPA officials believe the sleep drug Ambien is an enormous problem -- with Boogaard's death a sad, horrible example. Fehr led the Major League Baseball Players' Association when it and MLB banned amphetamines from the clubhouse.

When the NHLPA blocked the NHL's re-alignment proposal earlier this season, many players said the issue was it being harder to get to the playoffs in an eight-team conference as opposed to a seven-team one. Since then, however, some of these players have said the NHLPA's off-ice leadership is targeting the schedule.

Fehr comes from baseball, where a team stays put in an opponent's city for two-to-four games. There are no "morning-skate" activities, where batting practice happens nine hours before the game. Over the last few months, there's been a rumbling he may propose NHL teams stay in one city for back-to-back games to ease travel.

I've bounced this off a couple teams, who remind me that it's a lot easier to schedule that in a ballpark as opposed to a multi-purpose hockey/basketball/concert venue. But there is a realization that post-game late night travel+morning skates or practices+the adrenaline from playing+maybe a beer or two=not exactly the ideal formula for sleep.

When that happens, Ambien can enter the picture. (The NHLPA could make an issue of morning skates/practices themselves.) It's not being discussed much by those of us yakking at the CBA water cooler. But, behind the scenes, it's being talked about quite a bit.

30 THOUGHTS

1. Under the current CBA, Thomas cannot be removed from Boston's cap under any circumstance because he is an "over-35" contract. The best they can hope for is a new agreement with a different rule. Let's say the league is successful in putting a limit on the length of contracts. (For example, in the NBA's new CBA, there are no contracts longer than five years.) Would an over-35 rule be necessary? Even then, would current deals be affected?

2. Just for fun, here are the Bruins' options under the current setup: If he does not show up at the start of the season, they could terminate his contract. However, another team could snare him and Thomas would be on two teams' payrolls. (Similar to a bought-out player who signs elsewhere.) Or, they could suspend him, and if Thomas doesn't show up all year, decide to either a) let his contract run out, or b) hold him to the missed season. They can also trade him, of course.

3. Now, you may ask: What if Boston suspends him and Thomas shows up in March and says, "I'm ready to play." This is the grey area in the current CBA. You'll remember Ottawa gave Alexei Yashin a deadline, but he never wanted to come back that season. There is no precedence for such a situation, no hard rule. We'll see if that's addressed going forward.

4. In further irony, Zito also represents Rask, The Bruins do have the right to take Rask to arbitration, although that's not usually the preferred option.

5. Wayne Gretzky will drop the puck Monday night as the Kings try to go up 3-0 on the Devils. We'll talk more about Phoenix later, but if the Glendale deal happens, hope the NHL pays the $8 million he's owed for his time there. (Gretzky has said he only wants to be compensated for unpaid service behind the bench and not for what remained on his contract after he left.) League officials have said it would be taken care of upon a sale.

6.
Dallas Eakins' new three-year deal to coach the AHL Toronto Marlies allows him the opportunity to examine NHL possibilities after the 2012-13 season. (He is locked in for next year and cannot leave.) "I would guarantee that if you looked at the other 29 AHL coaches, they are not in as much of the hockey stuff as I am here," he said Monday. "It's a credit to my bosses that I am allowed to be a fly on the wall here...There's a seat at the draft table, trade deadline day, free agency...that's made me a much more-informed hockey guy."

7. Eakins is a pretty interesting guy. Back when he was Paul Maurice's assistant in Toronto, he'd stand at the outer edges of the post-game media conferences, just to see the process. Never seen anyone else do that. That's why staying under those circumstances makes perfect sense, because he's all about learning.

8. George McPhee did Tomas Vokoun a real favour, since last year's free-agency period was not kind to the goalie. Two guys who know him very well jumped at the opportunity. Ray Shero was assistant GM in Nashville when Vokoun was there, while Randy Sexton, who is the Penguins' assistant director of amateur scouting, was Vokoun's GM in Florida. Marc-Andre Fleury averaged 65 games during the past four seasons, and Pittsburgh wants to get that down by about 10. Brent Johnson's attitude made him a great backup for almost three years. Unfortunately, his play slipped last season. You could see Dan Bylsma was uncertain about using him in the playoffs.

9. Vokoun got two years because there was some serious interest. (He also had a lucrative KHL offer, although the betting was he preferred to stay in North America.) Toronto didn't want the second year. Philadelphia was a player, too, but, has cap issues until the higher number kicks in July 1. The Penguins were aggressive, wanting it done now..

10. To test his ability en francais, the Canadiens conducted part of an interview with Marc Crawford completely in French.

11. It's been reported a few times now that Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will be getting a short extension. Tim Wharnsby didn't get to it on Hotstove, but was going to mention it could get announced this week.

12. Oilers head amateur scout Stu MacGregor said at the NHL combine they haven't decided who the number one pick will be. That's probably true, as Edmonton legitimately has a few things to figure out. Other teams think the Oilers want a defenceman. Let's assume it's Ryan Murray, which is a logical assumption. It's easy to say, "They can trade down and take him." Not so fast. What if Columbus is happy being at number two? Now, the highest you can be is third. Will you lose the guy you want? And if Montreal is happy at three, you're taking even more of a risk.

13. Here's an example of protecting yourself: At the 2003 draft, Rick Dudley (then GM in Florida) had the number one pick and wanted Nathan Horton. Carolina was picking second and Pittsburgh third. The Penguins, who wanted Marc-Andre Fleury, offered a second-round pick and Mikael Samuelsson to switch positions. (Florida gave up a third.) Knowing the Hurricanes coveted Eric Staal, Dudley made the move. He was certain. If you're not sure, the best idea is to take "your guy" no matter where you're picking.

14. Another possibility: that Edmonton is offered a good enough defenceman (or possibly a goalie) who can help them now. Would the Oilers be willing to go lower and select a different blueliner? There are a few highly regarded defencemen in this draft -- Central Scouting has eight among its top 12 North American skaters. (They saw an awful lot of Griffin Reinhart at WHL Edmonton. Wouldn't be surpised if they liked him.) These are the kinds of scenarios the Oilers must discuss and debate. Of course, they could just stay at one and take Nail Yakupov.

15. For all of Jonathan Quick's great saves, he is having another effect on this series. He is such a great skater and puck handler that it's dampening the lethal Devil forecheck. New Jersey didn't face anyone like him the first three rounds. Jose Theodore has to switch hands to play the puck, while Ilya Bryzgalov and Henrik Lundqvist aren't among the best in that department. 

16. One of the most important things Darryl Sutter did upon getting the LA job was stabilize the forward trios. The only roster changes among forwards in the playoffs were taking out Kyle Clifford when he had a concussion and Colin Fraser when he had a family issue. He made one change among the lines, switching Dustin Penner with Dwight King, but that's it. Occasionally, he'll jumble in-action, but goes back to the previous units at the next practice/game. "We know our roles," one player said.

17. Mike Richards credits Matt Greene for easing his transition to Los Angeles. Greene called immediately after the announcement to welcome him and offer any kind of assistance. "Actually," Richards said, "within an hour of getting traded, 10 guys called me. And, when we traded for Jeff Carter, all of them wanted his number to call him, too." Good teams do that.

18. As free agency approached in 2006, Lou Lamoriello thanked Patrik Elias for a decade with the Devils and wished him luck. The two sides could not reach a deal. Elias actually made a verbal agreement with the Rangers, but things hit a snag when New York would not agree on a no-move clause. Elias decided to call Lamoriello one last time. They found a way
to make it work.

19. So great to see Martin Brodeur's father Denis at one of his son's games, less than four months after 10-hour surgery to remove a brain tumour. The day before Game 2, Denis presented Martin with two special gifts. First was the jersey he wore in the 1956 Olympic Hockey Tournament (Canada won bronze). Second was the mask he wore as a senior-league goalie. He had it made by the same person who created Jacques Plante's historic mask in 1959. Denis Brodeur's was created not long after.

20. When New Jersey blew a 3-0 lead in Game 5 of its series with the Rangers, it sure looked like a total meltdown. Afterwards, I asked Bryce Salvador what was happening on the bench. "There was no panic," he said. "We told ourselves that we wanted to be in this situation (playing in the Eastern Conference final) so we should play that way." The Devils calmed down and won 4-3. It's going to take even more of this positive attitude to come back now.

21. That Salvador quote reminded me a lot of a 2001 playoff story involving HNIC compatriot Glenn Healy. The Maple Leafs played Ottawa, which swept them in the regular season. But Toronto won the first two games on the road and led 2-0 in Game 3, before giving up two late goals to send it to overtime. Senators players came off the ice jubilant, while the Leafs were stunned. Before the Toronto dressing room doors closed, Healy yelled out, "Hey, if we knew before the series we'd be one shot away from going up 3-0, we'd take it." Cory Cross won it, and the sweep was completed two nights later. Really believe great teams think that way. 

22. There's something we're missing in this dustup between Marian Gaborik and John Tortorella. The Rangers learned the significance of Gaborik's injury Tuesday and Tortorella wasn't exactly compassionate about it Wednesday. Healy reported on Hotstove Gaborik never let on there was any serious problem while other reports indicated the winger was getting regular treatment. We can't be getting the entire picture on this one.

23. Tortorella squeezed everything he could out of the Rangers this season. He saw a team that didn't have as much A-list talent as some of the other Eastern contenders, but recognized the group was mentally tough enough to be pushed hard to victory. He deserves his Jack Adams nomination. The one thing I wonder, though: how long can you repeatedly press those buttons? Tempers frayed a little during the Eastern final. Will he add a "good cop" to his bench, just to create a little more of a buffer?

24. Both Tampa and Pittsburgh are checking out 26-year-old Swiss winger Damien Brunner, who is an unrestricted free agent. It's likely Minnesota is too, as the Wild were ahead of the curve and tried to sign him last year. But, he wanted to spend one more year in Europe.

25. The NHL should consider not holding its Stanley Cup GM meetings during the combine. They're pretty distracted, and a couple said the meeting lacked focus because of it.

26. Two thoughts on the combine from one team's pretty sharp draft guru. First: "There weren't as many standout guys physically...We've seen stronger groups in the physical testing." Second: "In the interviews, there weren't a lot of peaks and valleys...They were more vanilla. Respectful and polite, no characters. Not a lot of captains in this group."

27. Alex Semin apparently loved playing with Pavel Datsyuk at the Worlds. Does that mean he takes the Detroit discount to play for the Red Wings? Trying to think if Semin/Babcock could be a match

28. Discussing the Coyotes at his annual Stanley Cup media conference, Commissioner Bettman said, "We haven't worked on a Plan B for Phoenix." Can't believe that, because its unfathomable to think he wouldn't be prepared for no deal with the city. More likely: he has no desire to tell us the back-up plan.

29. It probably won't be folding the team. After a couple months of rumours, asked Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly about it. He called it a last resort, then added, "We're confident there will be a deal in Glendale. And, there are better options [than folding] if it doesn't work out." So that's that, I guess.

30. In the two months, there've been three mistakes in this blog -- all CBA related. The last one was last week, when I screwed up the "growth factor" inside the salary cap figure. I mentioned the NHLPA had the right to activate it every season, which isn't quite accurate. Anytime revenues are over $2.1 billion (which is the case now), it is activated automatically -- although both sides have the right to negotiate a different percentage. Can't wait until this CBA is done so I can start butchering the next one.

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