Tim Thomas wants us to know that when it comes to his political statements, “That’s my personal life and it has nothing to do with the Bruins or hockey and I’m going to remain silent.” So much so he said words to that effect five times during an interview after practice Thursday.
This is the second time I’ve come to Thomas’ defense concerning how and when he makes his statements, but dude, you’re making it more difficult all the time. Having spoken to Thomas on several occasions, I’ve come to two conclusions. One, Thomas is not an empty, vacuous or stupid person. Two, I think he passionately believes what he says. I think Thomas truly believes his country is going to hell in a handcart and those who condemn him for expressing his opinions in the way he chooses to express them are the ones who are anti-American and anti-democracy, not Thomas.
The problem I have is that if you’re going to inspire debate, then inspire debate. If you’re going to use your celebrity to get out what you think is an important message, then you can’t simply separate your personal and professional lives and make them mutually exclusive. If Thomas is as passionate as I think he is about what he says, then he probably shouldn’t be afraid to discuss his views when someone puts a microphone into his face and asks for an explanation.
As you probably know, Thomas prompted another firestorm recently when he posted on Facebook the following comment, believed to be in response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s ruling that requires health insurance plans, including those offered by Catholic charities, hospitals and universities, to provide birth control to women: “I Stand with the Catholics in the fight for Religious Freedom.”
That, of course, comes on the heels of his ill-advised decision to boycott the Boston Bruins’ visit to the White House to celebrate the Bruins Stanley Cup championship. On both occasions, he simply exercised his democratic right to dissent, but what Thomas has to realize is that others who criticize him for his actions are exercising precisely the same rights as he is.
Trust me, I know how difficult it can be to have a dissenting viewpoint sometimes. Earlier this week, when I suggested that Sam Gagner received a phantom assist in his eight-point game, the vitriol that came back in the comments section of this website was not only personal, much of it crossed the line. Anytime I write a column condemning fighting or violence, the debate on this website sinks to newer lows.
Perhaps that’s why I can sympathize with Thomas. But I also fear that if Thomas keeps this up, he risks becoming a cartoon character. Until this season, Thomas was known as the champion of the underdog, a guy who emerged from meager beginnings, clawed his way to the NHL by playing for years in obscurity in Finland and became an NHL star and won a Stanley Cup. It’s his right to do so, but he’s starting to tarnish that legacy.
I also worry that as much as Thomas doesn’t want it to happen, this is going to seep into his hockey life. When Thomas won’t answer for himself, others on his team will be asked to do so. Judging by the way Shawn Thornton responded to it Thursday - saying he’s not on Facebook nor does he care about it - the prospect of doing that is already wearing thin. What if Thomas talks his way out of a Vezina Trophy or gets things to a point where he has to be dealt out of Boston and it has nothing to do with his ability to stop the puck?
Thomas would be best served by standing up for himself and explaining his beliefs rather than making bold statements by social media, then refusing to talk simply because the forum has changed.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF TUOMO RUUTU
If Tuomo Ruutu does end up signing a contract extension with the Carolina Hurricanes before the trade deadline, it will almost certainly be at a discount. That’s because the Hurricanes can’t afford, nor are they willing to pay, what Ruutu will be able to fetch if he puts himself on the open market July 1.
If Ruutu doesn’t sign with Carolina, someone will overpay for him at the trade deadline and will overpay for him when he hits free agency. That’s the nature of the business of hockey. GMs will look at a player who can score between 20 and 25 goals, has the potential to finish in the top 10 in hits and can play either center or the wing and their checkbooks will fly open.
The Hurricanes, though, are a budget team and if Ruutu signs there, it will be because money was not the primary factor. If he passes and goes to unrestricted free agency, watch how silly things get. After all, Ruutu’s agent, Bill Zito, managed to get Ville Leino a six-year, $27 million deal last summer with the Buffalo Sabres on the strength of a 19-goal season.
BURKE VS. HOLLAND
If HBO does another 24/7 series on the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in conjunction with the Winter Classic next year, Leafs GM Brian Burke will undoubtedly steal the show. As interesting and compelling as Burke can be, I’d much rather get inside the head of Red Wings GM Ken Holland to try to find out what makes him tick.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.