Had you uttered those three words on the streets of Boston last July, you'd have started a worthy debate. Say them now, and you'll get laughed at — or punched in the face, depending on the street.
The fact is, not even the most loyal Bruins supporter — not even someone with an Eight-Spoked-B permanently etched on his chest — could have foreseen what Thomas has done over the past five months.
The numbers, obviously, speak for themselves. Thirty-five wins. A 2.00 goals-against average. A .938 save percentage, which just so happens to be the very best mark ever recorded (it became an official statistic in the 1982-83 season).
Yet, the numbers are simply one part of a season for the ages for Thomas, the 36-year-old who took the most unlikeliest path to NHL superstardom.
By now, everyone knows the story, but that still doesn't make it any less incredible. From some very average stints in the ECHL, IHL and AHL, to years of toiling away in Finland, Thomas took the word "journeyman" to a whole new level. That was until he took a risk, opting to sign with the Bruins in 2005 for one last chance to make it in the NHL.
Suffice it to say, Thomas has made the most of it.
Now, six years later, Thomas awaits yet another Vezina Trophy at season's end as the best goalie in the league. Though he's not really in the Hart Trophy conversation as the league's MVP, perhaps he should be. Consider that the last two goalies to win the Hart, Jose Theodore in 2002 and Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998, posted numbers that don't match Thomas' this year.
|Dominik Hasek, 1996-97||37-20-10||2.27||.930|
|Dominik Hasek, 1997-98||33-23-13||2.09||.932|
|Jose Theodore, 2001-02||30-24-10||2.11||.931|
|Tim Thomas, 2010-11||35-11-9||2.00||.938|
And to think, just 10 months ago, almost anyone could have justified a Tim Thomas trade. That's not to say that anyone was eager to get rid of a guy who can obviously be an outstanding goaltender, but his $5 million cap hit would have certainly opened up some options for general manager Peter Chiarelli. There were also concerns with his ability to recover from his injured hip, which required surgery in the offseason. Even Thomas himself could be listed among those with questions about his ability to bounce back.
"I didn't know for sure that I'd ever be able to play the way I wanted to again," Thomas said Saturday, after he wrapped up his regular season. "By the time I knew what was going on in my hip, I didn't know if I'd ever get back to the level that I wanted to be at."
Interestingly enough, it was probably those concerns that kept teams from making serious bids for his services.
With Cup contenders like Philly, Washington and Chicago in need of a stable netminder, there appeared to be trade partners available who may have been able to hand over a talented goal-scorer to Boston. As it turned out, though, the Bruins didn't need to score that many goals. Thanks largely to Thomas, who seemingly never really appeared to be part of any actual trade talks, the Bruins ranked first in the Eastern Conference and second in the NHL with an average of 2.30 goals against per game. They turned out to be just fine on the other side, too, scoring the fifth-most goals per game (2.98) in the league.
Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask, the one who began the season as the No. 1 goalie, suffered a bit of a sophomore slump. His save percentage dropped 13 percentage points, and he allowed 0.70 more goals per game than he did in his rookie season. He played better than his 11-14-2 record indicates, but if Thomas hadn't been there for the Bruins, they likely wouldn't have Stanley Cup aspirations heading into the playoffs.
That is, of course, exactly what they have at the moment. With no clear-cut, standout favorite in the East, every series could come down to which team has the better goalie. Even against Carey Price, Ryan Miller or Henrik Lundqvist, it'd be hard for any team to make that claim against Thomas.
Yet while he likely won't get real consideration for the Hart — the general consensus has deemed it a two-man race between Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry — it really won't matter in Boston. Fans have already seen the B's walk away with a serious amount of hardware at the league's annual awards ceremony. They've seen Thomas get the Vezina, Zdeno Chara get the Norris and Claude Julien get the Jack Adams.
What they haven't seen is anyone in a Bruins sweater lift the only one that matters, Lord Stanley's Cup. With Thomas playing the best hockey of his life, they just might get that opportunity.
As we all know by now, Tim Thomas has a way of getting the most out of his chances.
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