What Are Florida Panthers' Playoff Chances After Signing Tim Thomas?

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What Are Florida Panthers' Playoff Chances After Signing Tim Thomas?
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers officially signed goaltender Tim Thomas on Thursday (per the team's website), adding the controversial yet undeniably successful veteran to their intriguing 2013-14 roster.

Said executive vice president/general manager Dave Tallon of the move:

Tim is a proven winner who we are pleased to have signed. He is a fierce competitor who brings to our club a wealth of experience including a Stanley Cup Championship, two Vezina trophies and a Conn Smythe. He is a hardworking, driven and dedicated individual who will help our club achieve future success.

Thomas, who sat out the 2013 NHL campaign after two consecutive 35-win seasons with the Boston Bruins, will join highly touted prospect Jacob Markstrom in the Panthers' decidedly interesting, if extremely unproven, netminding unit.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The former ninth-round pick set the NHL's regular-season record with a remarkable .938 save percentage in 2010-11, then led the Bruins to the league title with an even-more-impressive .940 postseason save percentage.

However, Thomas has never succeeded in any organization outside of Massachusetts—he didn't even become a starter until age 32—and will face many a doubter about his attitude and commitment in Florida this autumn.

He and Markstrom form quite a goalie tandem together; one is a former star seeking to rebuild his reputation, the other is a long-projected star seeking to, at last, establish that reputation.

The duo perhaps epitomize the Panthers' 2013-14 roster. From up-and-down career journeyman Brad Boyes (currently on a PTO) to former All-Star-turned-cap-hit villain Scott Gomez (signed as a UFA in July), the Eastern Conference's defending last-place team seemingly hopes to turn the rusted scraps of hockey into golden boys again.

Tallon & Co. previously had two main sources of optimism for the coming year: The team actually won the now-defunct Southeast Division in their last 82-game season, and they were cursed by the NHL's fourth-most injury losses in their embarrassing 2013 campaign.

Now they have a third. His name is Tim Thomas.

Unfortunately, that name is just as synonymous with 'enigmatic' as it is with 'accomplished,' and that is where the Cats' ambitious and outlandish plan may begin to fall apart.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

No. 30 is at his best when facing a steady and heavy, albeit controlled, workload. The Bruins understood Thomas's comfort zone as such and designed their defensive strategies around it.

In five of six years as Boston's starting netminder, Thomas recorded at least 28 wins; in four of his last five, he also posted a GAA of 2.46 or lower. Interestingly, the Bruins ranked 21st or worse in shots against in all but one of those successful campaigns.

In Thomas's mediocre 2009-10 season, they ranked 12th-best.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Jovanovski.

Florida's defense will not only begin the 2013-14 year with the completely opposite goal, they may also be incapable of adjusting effectively once the observation is made.

The Panthers' odd back-end combination of washed up veterans (Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver) and inexperienced youngsters (Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov) is a far and sad cry from the impeccable lineup of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk that formerly protected Thomas.

In fact, not since the IHL's Detroit Vipers in 1999 has Tim Thomas been a part of a poor team. From SM-Liiga's Karpat in 2001-02, to the AHL's Providence Bruins in 2002-03 and 2003-04, to SM-Liiga's Jokerit in 2004-05, to Providence in 2005-06, to Boston from 2006 on, Thomas's team made the playoffs each and every spring.

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Florida, meanwhile, has qualified for the NHL postseason a mere one time over the past 13 years.

Unless untested head coach Kevin Dineen has a plethora of surprising tricks up his sleeve, Thomas's much-awaited debut in Florida—and the exceedingly optimistic playoff expectations now placed upon his back—may already be set up to fail.

Does Tim Thomas make the Panthers a more intimidating and intriguing team?

Absolutely.

But does Tim Thomas transform the Panthers into respectable postseason contenders in the new Atlantic Division?

Probably not.

 

Mark Jones has been a NHL featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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