When Tim Thomas
came back for another shot in the NHL in 2005, he knew he would play hockey somewhere that season, but he had basically conceded that this would be his last chance in this League.
"It was one more shot at the dream," Thomas said recently. "I knew I had to make the best of that chance because it may be the last one I got here."
That chance was basically to be a fill-in for Boston's incumbent No. 1 goaltender, Andrew Raycroft
, who was holding out for a new contract after winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2003-04. Raycroft eventually re-signed with the Bruins, and Thomas was sent back to the AHL, where he had spent plenty of time waiting for a legit break to crack an NHL roster and get a shot at the top spot.
He got that chance when Raycroft struggled and then went down with a season-ending injury -- and has never looked back. After 212 NHL games and two 30-win seasons, Thomas is a two-time All Star, a Vezina Trophy candidate and the proud owner of a new four-year deal worth $20 million. He re-upped with the Bruins on Friday, erasing any chance that the former journeyman would opt to pack up his family and move again this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
"In hindsight, I'd have to say everything worked out perfectly," Thomas said Saturday morning at a pre-game news conference before the Bruins played the New York Rangers
. "Here I am in a great hockey town and in a great situation. I'm looking forward to the next four years, playing in that hockey town and for that organization. I'd have to say everything worked out as it should have."
For Thomas, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, there were plenty of times where things didn’t look they would work out this way and he would attain his dream of being an NHL starter. He has played for nine teams in three countries and on many occasions, including most of the last three seasons in Boston, he was never been looked at as an NHL starting goaltender because of his “unorthodox” style -- one that went against the prototypical NHL style or the dominant butterfly style.
But Thomas ignored the doubters and persevered, always believing he would play the game he loves somewhere, if not in the NHL.
"I never thought it would end soon because I enjoyed playing the game enough and I knew I’d play somewhere as long as I possibly could, whether that was in Europe or in Flint, Mich., (Thomas’ hometown), in the old Colonial League or whatever it’s called,” Thomas said with a smile.
It is that attitude, his will to compete and his passion to improve that won over Boston management and made them decide Thomas is their guy for the next four years despite the fact he turns 35 on April 15 and will be 39 by the time this new deal ends.
"What I've seen from here on back, I've seen somebody who's improved. And his level is at such a high level now, but he’s improved at this age each year. And he’s improved a lot," General Manager Peter Chiarelli said. "So he's gone from a high level to a higher level to a higher level, and he's maintained that. It's taken a while to get here, and he's gotten here and he's been tremendously successful, but the fact that he's still improving and the fact that I think he's got a lot of hockey left in him and just the fact that his perseverance and his dedication have allowed him to improve and to be such a competitive person has impressed me so much."
Thomas said he is ready if the journey ends after this new deal expires. Until then, he just wants to keep stopping pucks for the Bruins.
"I always looked at what I have to do after my playing career because you have to do that; anyone that doesn't do that isn't being smart," he acknowledged. "I still do that, and that’s why I got my degree at the University of Vermont. But I always felt that day was a long ways away and I still feel that way. I'm fortunate enough to be doing what I love, and I hope do it for as long as possible."