Tim Thomas

If this is the end for Tim Thomas, what’s his legacy?


For goalies in their late 20s that still haven’t cracked the NHL, the Tim Thomas story is something to aspire to.

The University of Vermont product was a ninth-round pick in 1994 — a round that doesn’t even exist anymore — and aside from a four game stint with Boston in 2002-03, he didn’t really break into the league until he was 30.

At a time when most goaltenders would have been on the decline, he got better. At a time when most goalies would be entering the twilight of their careers, he was winning Vezinas, a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup.

Then, everything changed.

He remained a solid on the ice, but his off-ice decisions starting catching people’s attention. After a dramatic year that included balking on the White House, a series of controversial Facebook postings and a terse relationship with the media, he decided to take a year off citing reasons of family, friends, and faith.

Thomas hasn’t said that he’s retiring but, given his age, coming back would be a tremendous challenge — even for someone with his history of overcoming them.

So if we have in fact heard the last of him, what’s his legacy?

He still has a year left on his contract, so his final gift to (or curse) the Boston Bruins will be his $5 million annual cap hit. They can try to trade that away to a team that wants to get over the cap floor, but they could also be saddled with it heading into a season with great CBA uncertainty.

In the long run, do an athlete’s final acts color their overall contributions? In five or 10 years, will people be sour for how Thomas left Boston, or will they celebrate his career as a whole?

Thomas might have been a distraction in 2011-12 and his actions will hurt the Bruins in 2012-13. Even then, he’s given the team and city a lot — they would have been worse off had he decided in his late 20s that this hockey thing was never going to work out. The argument could be made the 2011 Stanley Cup doesn’t happen without Thomas between the pipes.

Now, the man who served as his backup for three years — Tuukka Rask — will take over. If his career to this point is any indication, he’ll be able to make this transition as painless as possible, but it’ll be difficult given how acrimonious Thomas’ departure was.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”