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Let's take a break from the Leaf speculation and wonder: are Tim Thomas and the Bruins poised to be upset in the playoffs?

Earlier this season, the Bruins handed the Maples Leafs their hat on a couple of occasions.  After a bit of a slow start, the Bruins caught fire and some of us might have wondered if the Bruins were indeed well-poised for another run to the Cup finals.  Generally speaking, I'm of the view that it is just so hard to "repeat" in this day and age.  Winning four tough playoff rounds is an exhausting experience and after a short summer, it is pretty tough to play at the intense level required.  The Red Wings almost pulled it off a couple of years ago, but couldn't close the deal.  It's tough.

As for Boston, since that great streak ended, the Bruins have increasingly looked, well, not like the skilled, tough Bruins with the unshakable goaltending that were the pre-season favorites to win the East again.

More and more in recent weeks, lesser teams have taken them out, at least for a game here and there.  I can’t help but link the slippage, at least in part, to the aborted effort by the team to handle a simple off-ice excursion to the White House without incident.  We all recall that Tim Thomas, he of the wonderful “it-took-him-forever-but-it-was-worth-it” NHL story, stunned the generally conservative hockey community with his very public stand against President Obama.

While many, myself included, applaud the idea of an athlete being interesting and not just mouthing an endless string of well-worn clichés, in this particular instance, a lot of folks wondered if Thomas could not have found another way to make his point—if indeed he needed to do so publicly, at all.

More importantly from a hockey perspective, the question might be:  has Thomas’ ill-timed public defiance of the organization's wishes created a schism of sorts inside the Boston dressing room?  Those of us on the outside have no real idea, of course.  And I realize idle speculation is rarely helpful—or accurate. 

Yet, while the players have publicly claimed it's not an issue, it’s also not difficult to read between the lines of comments made by teammates and Bruin executives, who were clearly unhappy with what they saw as a selfish and unnecessary decision by Thomas.

I don’t think we can simply ignore the fact that harmony is all-important on a team.  After all, by definition, hockey is all about being a team.  Chemistry matters almost as much as talent and work ethic.  Finding that elusive chemistry can be awfully difficult, and sometimes when you do have it, it is a fragile thing that can slip away quickly—even with a team as successful as the Bruins have been in recent years.  I’m not suggesting the Bruins were blind-sided, as a team or as an organization, by Thomas’ political stance.  But I do think his decision to make such a public fuss was an embarrassment to the organization.

It’s not uncommon for celebrities, once they are established and financially secure, to utilize their established positions to take more courageous forays into sensitive or contentious public issues.  Fair enough.  Thank goodness people stand up for the things they believe- and believe in.
It’s just that, in a team sport, while there must always be room on—and off—the field of play for independence (including independent thought!) when teams do “bonding” stuff together, well, there generally can’t be dissent.

Again, I say that while supporting Thomas’ right not only to his views but his right to express them.  But I do wonder if his continued public posture on subsequent issues (since the White House issue) isn’t annoying his teammates just enough to have ever-so-subtle effects on their thinking, their psyche, and somehow, their on-ice performance.

Too much analysis over nothing—and too far off base to be valid, perhaps?  Maybe. I’ll grant that.  And hey, this may be simply a mini-swoon before they get serious and start playing the way they have to, in order to to be successful in the playoffs. They won the other night, and as I write this, they have just earned a point in Buffalo.

But repeating as Cup champions, and trying to sustain something as indefinable as “chemistry”, is tough enough without major bumps along the road.  I just wonder if this bump will be brushed aside—or become a roadblock that the Bruins can’t, in the end, overcome….


  1. The flaw in your wheel becomes more and more dangerous the faster you go.
    A little of the Thomas situation, a little of the rest of the league wanting to measure themselves against the SC champs, and probably more than a little of the adrenaline from winning it all finally wearing off and the team simply getting tired.
    I wonder if Vancouver is flying so high right now simply because they are managing their rest so carefully.

  2. KidK...agreed. There are plenty of reasons that a defending Cup champ will struggle the year after. I do wonder if the Thomas thing has become not only a distraction, but a source of a bit of disharmony.

    The Canucks do look awfully good right now. You have to believe they will be the team to beat, overall...

  3. In my view the Bruins were going to have a tough time repeating as champs even without the distraction of the "Thomas White House Affair", They do not impress me as a dynastic type of team with a real core of star players but more like a one-shot wonder that managed to put it all together last year.
    Having said that, I would agree that the ability to work as a team last year was their trump card and any disruption of that chemistry as a result of Thomas' actions would seem to really reduce their chances of a repeat. It may very well be that their current spotty performance is being influenced by this distraction.
    I think this year the Stanley Cup final representative from the East could be any one of the 8 teams that make the playoffs (with the possible exception of any Southeast rep). It seems like any team can be beat and any team can get on a roll and put a string of wins together.
    What the Bruins have going for them is the experience of last year. As you suggested, perhaps when the going gets intense in the playoffs, any current distraction due to Thomas' actions will quickly be forgotten and replaced by the will to win and the confidence that they can do so.
    We use the word "confidence" a lot don't we? Whether it is for a goaltender who's struggling, or a sniper who hits a dry spell or a D man that is hesitant in his play, or a team that is battling through a tough time, we single out "confidence" as the key to their recovery. To be philosophical about it, that is pretty much true of anything we do isn't it? Having confidence you can get the job done is at least half the battle.
    By their spotty play during the season, the Bruins are giving all the other Eastern playoff teams the confidence that they can get to the Cup final this year. Should be an interesting playoffs this year.

  4. Right on the money, Ed. Plenty of factors, yes. A distraction rarely "helps". And yes, confidence is so crucial, too...

    Well said. Thanks as always for dropping by.

  5. connecting chemistry and winning is another MMM
    fallacy. Championship teams have great chemistry because they win ...
    and they win because of talent and better systems...

    Boston (using advanced stat metrics) is actually much better than last years..combine this with
    a weak east (NYR is overated)and boston is odds on to make the final and with four balanced lines..if the west is beat up...they WILL repeat!!!


  6. Anon/IORTIMER. Thanks for your comment.

    I hear you, but my own experience says different. I've worked in the sports field with teams and coaches off and on for many years and also followed many different teams closely since the 1950s. I respect your view but for me, chemistry is important and not always rooted in "winning", though of course that can sure help. Guys who like playing together and for one another does matter, especially when an individual player struggles, or a team goes through difficult times.

    Talent matters, and "systems", too. But Boston beat Vancouver (more talented, arguably) for a lot of reasons, but ultimately they had the work ethic required to go the extra inch at the end of a gruelling playoff run.

    NY may be overrated, in your view, but have already hammered the Bruins a few times this season, as I recall. I would think a playoff series between those two would be entertaining, and close.