The Tank is on his way back to the NHL. After walking away from the final year of his contract with the Boston Bruins for a self-imposed, season-long hiatus, Tim Thomas signed a pro tryout contract on Monday with the Florida Panthers.
Thomas was present in Coral Springs today and is expected to hit the ice with the Panthers on Tuesday. Florida’s Jacob Markstrom, their promising 23-year-old incumbent starter, will return to tend to the crease this season in Sunrise. With backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen on the mend with a knee injury, the Panthers were looking to add another veteran and Thomas was looking for work.
Thomas last played during the 2011-12 season, just one year removed from recording the best statistical season for a goaltender in NHL history. After deciding to sit out and focus on “Friends, Family, and Faith,” Thomas was dealt to the New York Islanders in what was essentially a paper transaction designed to help both organizations remain salary cap-compliant. With the Islanders deciding not to toll the final year of Thomas’ contract forward to this season, Tank became an unrestricted free agent.
Thomas had seemingly put himself in the calculated position that he wanted to be in, but the contract offers were not there. Though clubs were rumored to have kicked the tires with Thomas’ camp about his expectations this season, the best “offer” that the 39-year-old received was a chance to compete. Really, that’s all Thomas has ever needed.
Tim Thomas’ ascent to the top of the hockey world is well-documented. Thomas was born in Flint and grew up in Davison, Michigan. As a youngster, his parents once pawned their own wedding rings in order to fund a trip to play in a hockey tournament.
Thomas was one of the best goaltenders in the nation while playing for the University of Vermont, leading the NCAA in save percentage in 1996. Though he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Thomas was forced to kick around between minor league teams on both sides of the pond until a depleted Boston team called up the journeyman during the 2002-03 season.
Thomas had finally arrived in the NHL, and he wasn’t about give up his spot without a fight. Every season, Thomas was penciled in as a backup or as half of a tandem, but repeatedly fought off any and all challengers. By 2008-09, Thomas claimed his first Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goaltender. Battling a sore hip during the 2009-10 campaign, Thomas lost his starting role to Tuukka Rask prior to the playoffs. Many thought Thomas’ best days were behind him.
After offseason hip surgery, Thomas came back with a vengeance and put together a season for the ages. Along the way to becoming the first goaltender to win the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, and Vezina trophies in the same season since Bernie Parent accomplished the feat in 1974-75, Thomas also set a new NHL record with a .938 save percentage. Somehow, Thomas was even better in the playoffs. His .967 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Finals was another new record.
“He’s got a great pedigree,” remarked Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. “He’s worked hard all his life to get to where he is. He’s going to continue to work hard. We’ve had great discussions. I believe in what he says. I trust him. He’s a valuable asset to us.”
TVA Sports analyst Renaud Lavoie believes that this is merely a stepping stone to what will amount to between a “$2.0M to $2.5M” contract offer from Florida. I wouldn’t bet against it; I know better than to doubt Thomas.
Will Tim Thomas sign on with the Florida Panthers? What do you expect from the 39-year-old two-time Vezina winner after taking a year off? Leave a comment or tweet me @BostonNumber9.