Former Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made an interesting decision this past season by choosing to sit out the lockout-shortened year rather than playing second fiddle to Tuukka Rask in Boston. The decorated American goalie is back, however, as he signed a tryout deal with the Florida Panthers.
The team announced the news on Twitter:
Even though Thomas is 39 years old, there is reason to believe that he still has plenty left in the tank. Thomas' numbers were solid during the 2011-12 season, when he posted a 2.36 goals-against average to go along with a .920 save percentage and a sparkling 35-19-1 record.
It can be argued that taking a year off will be disadvantageous to Thomas because of his advancing age, but at the same time, taking a year off means that Thomas has avoided extra wear and tear to his body. He should be fresh heading into next season and he will likely be ready to shoulder the load in net.
Thomas is just two years removed from one of the most prolific goaltending seasons in recent memory. Not only did he win the second Vezina Trophy of his career by virtue of a 35-11-9 record, a 2.00 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage, but he also went on to lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory while winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in his own right.
Thomas' numbers during the 2010-11 postseason were unreal. He went 16-9 with a 1.98 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and four shutouts. There is no doubt that Boston's Stanley Cup win was a full team effort, but without the stellar play of Thomas between the pipes, there is no chance the Bruins would have gotten as far as they did.
It remains to be seen if Thomas has that type of performance left in him, but the fact that he has done it before has to inspire confidence. Thomas has to know that he may not have many more opportunities to lift Lord Stanley's Cup as he approaches the age of 40, so he should be motivated this season. It's simply a question of whether or not his body will cooperate.
In addition to chasing the Stanley Cup, there is probably another goal on Thomas' list. He was the backup goalie in 2010 when Team USA won a silver medal at the Olympics, and with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi coming up in the middle of next season, he has a chance to make his case for the team.
Thomas definitely has his work cut out for him as plenty of American goalies have emerged since the Vancouver Olympics. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who was the starter in 2010, will certainly be in the mix again this time around. Other names to keep tabs on are Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings, Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators.
Even if Thomas doesn't make the Olympic team, though, he has an opportunity to do something special. Only Thomas and perhaps his agent know why he took last season off, but the obvious answer is that he saw the writing on the wall with regards to Rask. Thomas had to know that Rask was going to cut into his playing time significantly, and perhaps he didn't want to deal with that.
It worked out well for the Bruins as Rask established himself as a top goalie and led Boston to the Stanley Cup Final. Time will tell if the move works in Thomas' favor, but if he is even a fraction of the goalie that he was prior to taking a year off, he should have a very successful season.
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