Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or perhaps a bunker, it’s fair to assume that you are already aware that former Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tim Thomas has accepted a tryout with the Florida Panthers and took the ice for the first time yesterday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in Coral Springs. Although the mystery of where Thomas will sign is now no longer a hot topic, the question of what exactly he will bring to Florida is. On the surface, the potential signing of Thomas seems like a no-brainer based on his imposing hockey resume. Sporting a career .921 SV%, 2.48 GAA with a career record of 196-121-45 in 378 games professional games played, it’s hard to argue against the signing Thomas simply based on numbers.
Off the ice, Thomas’ became a lightning rod for controversy toward the end of his career with the Bruins due to his outspokenness on issues ranging from politics to gay rights. However, after 17 months away from the game and out from under the spotlight, it seems that Thomas is finally ready to get back to focusing on the game he loves so much.
“I feel almost reborn in a way,” Thomas said to Panthers’ media after his first full practice with the team. “After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired. I needed a break. But I’m energized and looking forward to it. I feel great.”
A two-time Vezina Trophy winner and Conn Smythe Trophy recipient in 2011 after leading the Boston Bruins to an improbable Stanley Cup victory, Thomas brings not only his goaltending abilities to the Panthers, but also years of experience and an unrelenting competitive nature built through continued success while in Boston.
“I’ve been around for a long time. Nothing can replace experience is one of the things that I have learned,” said Thomas. “I remember being a young guy in the league and having people talk about experience, and thinking that experience is overrated. But now that I am on the other end of the spectrum and have been through it, I realize how much experience can be beneficial.”
Though Thomas now finds himself as a wily veteran on a team of young unproven skaters, there is at least one familiar face he can look to inside the Panthers’ dressing room, veteran forward Brad Boyes. A camp tryout like Thomas, Boyes played two seasons with the veteran netminder while both were in Boston.
“He’s a proven winner,” said Boyes, who has also looked very good in training camp thus far. “He’s a guy I played with a few years ago, so I know him a little bit. The guy competes. He’s one guy, that of everyone I’ve played with, as a goalie, he’s probably the hardest working as far as practice in not letting guys score on him.
If signed, Thomas will most likely be playing alongside current Panther goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Coming off a season in which he sported a .901 SV% with a 3.22 GAA, the still inexperienced Markstrom could benefit from a year behind Thomas before taking over the role as the team’s number one goaltender. While some may see a potential for a goalie controversy, it is more likely that the Panthers’ will get the best from both Markstrom and Thomas as each goaltender pushes one another and fights to start every game.
“He’s very competitive. He’s going to want to win,” Boyes said of Thomas’ competitive nature. “He’s going to want to play, so he’s going to be a guy who pushes other guys. As a goalie, he’s going to give his team a chance to win every night. That’s something that is huge. You win in this league with good goaltending and that’s a positive with him winning a Stanley Cup, Vezinas,”
Given that he earned an astounding .920 SV% with a 2.36 GAA during his final season with the Bruins, it’s safe to say that expectations for Thomas this upcoming season are already through the roof. However, we won’t know just how much Thomas’ 17 month absence from the game, as well as playing behind a much more inexperienced defensive unit than he is accustomed to will affect his play on the ice this year. One thing is for sure though, if Thomas plays up to the level that he expects out of himself night in and night out, then he may be exactly what the Panthers needed as they look to once again bring playoff hockey back to South Florida.
“I think this organization is right on the verge of a big turnaround, a big bounce back,” said Thomas.
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