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Tim Thomas Puts Self Ahead Of Sport ... Again

By deciding to take a year off from hockey, Tim Thomas has again put himself ahead of the sport and ahead of his team.

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on October 19 2010 in Washington DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 19: Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on October 19 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has been all over the headlines this season, and not always for good reasons.

In January, while his Bruins teammates were honored by President Obama for their 2011 Stanley Cup, Thomas stayed behind. He chose to sit out the ceremony, largely for political reasons. At the time, I said this was not a decision I would rip, but in fairness, I felt it was a potential distraction for his team.

As a team, the Bruins handled it all well. Boston won the Northeast, earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and Thomas was incredible at times against Washington, even though the Capitals won the series. Before the playoffs started, he walked out of a media session, rather than answering a perfectly reasonable question about the Obama flap.

(He was asked if he felt playing the Capitals could give that controversy some legs again after it had basically died off. Instead of saying, "No, I don't think it will be a big deal with so much on the line," or something like that, Thomas gave the story the life it had lacked by walking out.)

With Boston's season prematurely over, attention turned to next season. Thomas has one year left on his contract, so expectations had to be that he would play out the deal, and the Bruins could then maybe move on to Tuukka Rask as their full-time starter.

Thomas has other ideas, announcing Sunday that he intends to take the season off.

From the earliest age I can remember, I've wanted to be a hockey player. I've been blessed in my life to not only be able to live that dream, but to achieve more than I ever thought possible.

The singleminded focus that is necessary to accomplish a dream of this magnitude entails (by necessity) sacrifice in other areas and relationships in life.

At the age of 38, I believe it is time to put my time and energies into those areas and relationships that I have neglected. That is why at this time I feel the most important thing I can do in my life is to reconnect with the three F's.

Friends, Family, and Faith.

This is what I plan on doing over the course of the next year.

Thomas is a grown man. He can do what he wants. Ultimately, he isn't answering to any of us.

Furthermore, if the Boston Bruins don't care that they have to waste $5 million of their cap number for next season on a guy who isn't playing, that's their prerogative as an organization.

(Personally, I'd rather see a guy honor his contract, but if Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Bruins' management team doesn't mind, it's all good.)

However, what happened to the professional courtesy that's existed for years and keeps teams and players from making major attention-grabbing announcements during big events?

As I noted in writing about Nicklas Lidstrom's decision and the small amount of criticism he's received for the timing, Major League Baseball generally discourages teams from making such announcements to the point that the Yankees asked for permission to announce a new manager during an off day in the 2007 World Series.

Lidstrom and the Red Wings chose the first of two consecutive off days between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Thomas felt the need to announce his intention to take a year off Sunday, amid reports that he had informed the Bruins of his decision. Yeah, it's a day off during the best-of-seven series, and it's made a lighter news day by the fact that the teams had to travel cross-country ahead of Monday's Game 3.

However, it's still a major, attention-grabbing story. This isn't the third-string goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning -- with all due respect -- taking time away from hockey. This is a Vezina and Conn Smythe-winning goalie who is one of the biggest names in the sport.

It's the kind of announcement that could have waited. It also should have waited.

Thomas and Chiarelli -- the man charged with managing the Bruins' cap with a $5 million hit on it -- should have known better. Instead, Thomas put himself ahead of the sport he loves so much. That marks two instances of that in less than half a calendar year. It's hard to argue that Thomas wasn't putting himself ahead of everyone else when he skipped the White House ceremony.

Blame the 24/7 news cycle if you want. "Ahhh, the media would have caught wind of this before the end of the Final and started reporting on it."

Blame Chiarelli if you want. "If he hadn't brought it up, no one would have bothered with it until after the Final."

Ultimately, the blame lies with Thomas as much -- if not more -- than anyone else. After all, it's his decision.

To be fair, Lidstrom and the Red Wings aren't innocent here. But Thomas chose to do what he did after Lidstrom's announcement faced some articulate criticism.

It isn't a huge deal, but it would be nice if NHL players cared about the Stanley Cup Final as much as the sport's dedicated fans do. Let the event happen without trying to get your own cut of the spotlight, please.