Thomas' White House snub, All-Star Game + 30 Thoughts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaThomas' White House snub, All-Star Game + 30 Thoughts

Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | 07:44 PM

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Bruins goalie Tim Thomas skipped his team's White House visit on Monday, creating quite a stir. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press) Bruins goalie Tim Thomas skipped his team's White House visit on Monday, creating quite a stir. (Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)

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If Tim Thomas was going to skip his team's White House visit, he must accept the consequences of his actions. And that's where Thomas needed to think this through. Because as much as he wants to paint it as an "individual" decision, it's not. He put other people in tough positions, writes Hockey Night In Canada's Elliotte Friedman.
Imagine this: Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas opposite Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson as All-Star captains. Thomas was considered (along with Toronto's Dion Phaneuf and Calgary's Jarome Iginla) before Zdeno Chara earned the honour.

Thomas' decision to skip the Bruins' White House victory lap will be a storyline as the NHL descends upon Ottawa for the annual festivities. But, it could've been a lot worse, especially if the Boston goalie was front-and-centre as a captain.

Thomas took great pains in his Facebook statement to point out the decision was "a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL." (The capital letters are his). With 20/20 hindsight, you can see how he would be unafraid to take such a stance. His brutal honesty makes him one of the best interviews in the league and his legendary stubbornness turned him into the NHL's best goaltender long after anyone thought he'd even have a chance as a backup.  

If Thomas wanted to stay home, he was going to stay home.

I don't have a problem with taking a political stand. How many times were Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods criticized for an unwillingness to do anything beyond protecting their endorsement value?  

However, if you are going to go this route, you must accept the consequences of your actions. And that's where Thomas needed to think this through. Because as much as he wants to paint it as an "individual" decision, it's not. He put other people in tough positions.

While people may not like Alexander Ovechkin's decision to skip All-Star Weekend, no one else is affected by his choice. The burden is his and his alone.

Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli carefully chose their words, but their disappointment and embarrassment is obvious. We joke about these presidential meet-and-greets, but to be there in the moment is special. This time, it was overshadowed. A number of people wondered why the Bruins didn't pre-empt Thomas' boycott with a prepared statement, but even if they'd done so, it still would've been bigger than the ceremony. (I'd also bet they wanted nothing about this on a piece of paper with a Bruins logo).

There were suggestions Thomas should have gone to the White House and directly confronted President Obama. Yeah, that would've gone smoothly.

Boston can't suspend him; that would only inflame the story and intensify the free speech debate. Thomas concluded his statement with, "This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic." Maybe this blows over. But Neely, Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien must be burning inside, wondering if this will damage a good shot at a Stanley Cup repeat.

It might not be so easy for the Bruins and/or Thomas to control. It is bigger than a sports story, especially in a state with very strong Democratic leanings and competitive media. (Nobody really made a big deal about then-Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein skipping out on President Bush, but there was a story about the bumper sticker in Mike Timlin's stall).

Avoiding distraction

Sometimes, when there's a firestorm at home, you look forward to going on the road. This will be harder to escape. To avoid a distraction, the Bruins kept him away from a charity event in Washington. But, Claude Julien is going to be asked about it. So will Thomas' teammates. Anyone who's ever asked a question in a dressing room knows how much players and coaches love dealing with controversy that has nothing to do with them.

It will expose his family to unwanted scrutiny. That can be brutal, and may turn out to be his biggest mistake. (The upcoming IRS audits won't be pleasant, either.)

Until Monday, you could make an argument that fans and media admired Thomas as much as any other player in the NHL. In the world of instant reaction and online bravery, things change quickly. It's too bad, because he deserved that respect.

Thomas won't care about that, undoubtedly convinced he is right. Ok. But, he'll probably regret getting so many people caught in the middle. There had to be a better way.


1. A suspended player shouldn't be forced to go to the All-Star Game. If Ovechkin doesn't want to attend, he shouldn't. Better that than being unhappy at what's supposed to be a showcase weekend. Besides, there is no doubt in my mind someone would have ripped the NHL for allowing someone under suspension to dress.

2. Maybe Ovechkin was worried the three Maple Leafs were lobbying to get him picked last in this year's draft -- as revenge.

As you may have read, the NHL and NHLPA reached settlement Friday on a revenue dispute. The two sides agreed there should have been an extra $40 million US in the revenue pool ($20 million last season and another $20 million this season). Under the CBA, that means $23 million (57.5 per cent of the $40 million) to the players.

Terry Gregson hates the word "crackdown," but he did hold a conference call last week with the referee to reinforce (my word, not his) three key areas: illegal goaltender contact, calling the instigator when necessary and ignoring embellishment.

There were a couple of examples of the renewed emphasis. The San Jose Sharks were angry a potential overtime winner against Calgary was disallowed when the referee away from the play thought Tommy Wingels interfered with Flames goalie Miikka Kirprusoff. (It was Olli Jokinen. San Jose did win the game, though). After Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was injured, the GMs wanted the goalies protected and referees err on the side of caution. Think, though, the league would prefer the far ref defer to the nearer one, if possible. Tough standard to uphold when you're 60 feet away.

One place where a couple of current and former goalies thought it was called properly? Lars Eller's goal that made it 3-1 Montreal over Toronto last Saturday. They felt Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson had enough time to recover after that bump, but didn't.

One day after a "trip" by Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf on Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson wasn't penalized, Karlsson told The Ottawa Citizen, "I play fair, I play hard, I stay on my feet. I don't do that stuff." (Paul MacLean said that referee Dan O'Rourke cited diving as the reason a call was not made).  That's one where you expect Bryan Murray to talk it over with the league, simply to find out the exact story. If there's a problem, the Senators have to know why. Karlsson is so important and teams will try to take advantage of any reputation by going after him even harder.

If the Montreal Canadiens do make a managerial change at some point, do not discount former Avalanche GM Francois Giguere. Giguere was a very serious candidate in 2000, when Andre Savard replaced Rejean Houle.

The Sabres had skating instructor Dawn Braid working with their players this week. If she can do for them what she's done for Islanders forward John Tavares, they can't pay her enough. Tavares is a willing pupil, and she's really improved both his crossovers and stride over the past couple of years. When it comes to protecting the puck, he's approaching "Datsyukian" class, especially down low. He gets it and you can't get it off him.

Happy for Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who turned a two-way contract into a two-year, $3.6 million deal. Afterwards, the goaltending trade talk turned to AHL Peoria's Ben Bishop, who will become an unrestricted free agent if the Blues can't get him into enough NHL games this year -- and it's unlikely. However, GMs said that if St. Louis wanted to trade Elliott, they could get much better value now that he's signed to an affordable deal.

St. Louis (or anyone who acquires him) must get Bishop at least 30 minutes in 15 NHL games to avoid unrestricted free agency. Why so specific? You may remember Lou Lamoriello playing Mike Dunham one or two shifts per game to avoid a similar situation in 1996-97.

Sidney Crosby was expected to be back in Pittsburgh today or tomorrow after seeing a California-based specialist as part of his concussion recovery. Heard last week was a "good week" with Professor Carrick, but I don't guess on return dates.

Steve Yzerman is "pulling back" in his hunt for goaltenders and defencemen. "He's made it clear that he'd rather wait than rush through a trade," said another executive. Yzerman, via email, said, "We aren't in a position to trade draft picks or young players for rentals."

Hopefully there's no organizational pressure to force Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher into doing what Yzerman's promising to avoid. Until being crushed by injuries, the Wild was one of the real surprise stories of this season. Short-sighted trades of its tremendous young talent would be a huge mistake. "Florida had the most players at the World Juniors, but Minnesota had the best," said a rival executive.

Saskatoon's Warren Peters was the first-line centre as Minnesota played in Toronto last week. Said his brother texted something like, "Wow, must be the first time you've been a first-liner since peewee." I asked if he wrote back, "At least I get the chance?" He smiled. "Something like that."

The danger for guys like Yzerman is that some of the teams who are out of it are trying to create auctions. "You could say that," said one of those GMs. Carolina is certainly trying to do that with Tim Gleason (reported interest from both Philadelphia and Boston), Edmonton with Ales Hemsky and Columbus with a couple of guys.

Sounds like Derick Brassard is off the market. R.J. Umberger was activated off IR (concussion) and it'll be interesting to see how much interest he attracts. Strong, aggressive player, but he's had a down year.

With Nashville comfortably in the playoff race, a couple of teams indicated they'd heard defenceman Ryan Suter was off the market and the Predators were going for it. GM David Poile, via email: "Business as usual, trying to sign [him]." By the way, Suter turned 27 on Saturday.

There are a few reports the Oilers are trying to get Nashville to offer either blue-liner Ryan Ellis or Jon Blum/a first-rounder for Hemsky. For what it's worth, one source (not Poile) said Monday that the Predators are not interested.

A couple of teams think Buffalo's Paul Gaustad would be a very nice fit in San Jose. That kind of big, depth centre is exactly the kind of player the Sharks eye. Another GM said he could see Wild defender Marek Zidlicky being a possibility there, too. He's out of favour in Minnesota and those two teams like dealing with one another.

Get the sense the NHL is confident the St. Louis sale to Tom Stillman will work out. The Devils? Tough to get a good handle on what's happening, although it's clear an ugly ownership fight has, at the very least, annoyed everyone by leading to some unpaid bills. Whatever the case, it won't be easy to fix everything in time to deal with Zach Parise's impending free agency. He'll want assurances about the overall health of the franchise.

Mentioned last week that there was some interest in Korbinian Holzer, a Toronto defenceman playing for the AHL's Marlies. Afterwards, heard one of the reasons the Maple Leafs are trying to move an NHL defenceman is to make room for Holzer on the big club. 

Wasn't hugely surprised to hear the Maple Leafs may consider dealing Mikhail Grabovski. (They are listening to pitches). He's a UFA and Toronto may see a contract issue. Was very surprised to hear they were listening to talk about Nikolai Kulemin. He's an RFA having a down year, but I really like his game. Is the poor season just a blip, or a really bad omen?

Opponents on why Phil Kessel's having a better season: he's doing a much better job of getting back, which allows him to break out of the Toronto zone with speed. Before, it was easier for defencemen to close in on him. By the time he's in proximity, he's coming at them faster than ever. Now, teams (the Rangers especially) have adjusted, getting their forwards to muck up his timing in the Maple Leafs' zone. It will be up to Kessel to adjust back.

There is zero comparison between the personalities of the Sedin twins and Phil Kessel, but they have something important in common: they are the kinds of people who can survive in a white-hot Canadian market. The twins don't worry about any criticisms of them, while Kessel doesn't care. You need that to be successful in Vancouver and Toronto.

You have to be careful with different personalities, though. Kessel, who is shy and  prefers not to talk, dropped to fifth in his draft because he interviewed badly. I heard a story that in 1987, the Minnesota North Stars really liked one player's game, but didn't like their interview with him. So, they took Dave Archibald -- who made a much better impression -- instead. The player they passed up? Joe Sakic. Sakic was as quiet as they came, which, obviously, wasn't a negative in his case.

Martin Biron says there is no way Dominik Hasek could play for the Rangers, because he hated players blocking shots in from of him. "He would always yell 'Must see, must see!'"

Another goalie like that: Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov, who's been pretty good as of late. Islanders defencemen say he wants them "fronting" opponents instead of between them and the net. "If the puck gets behind you," Steve Staois said, "he wants to be one-on-one with the shooter. He doesn't like it when you're between the two of them."

Can Philly get Blair Betts back in the lineup before the deadline? Does that give Paul Holmgren extra assurance that he can move a forward?

Two good reads to finish the day: Emotional story about Northern Michigan's Andrew Cherniwchan (from Hinton, AB), who lost his father before a big game last weekend against Michigan Tech. And, Bobby Holik's take on PK Subban. You should bookmark Holik's new website. If he's half as good a writer as he is a talker, this will be excellent. 

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