Out of all the positions, a goalie is probably the most important. He stops goals, and if he’s Ron Hextall he can also score goals. Along with being the most important, it also seems like goalies are the hardest quality commodity to come by. Great goalies can easily be come mediocre goalies from season to season: Ray Emery, although whether or not he was great is debatable, and Cam Ward come to mind, and of course the ever present $4.5 million dollar a year enigma that is Manny Fernandez, here in Boston. Injury can easily derail a great netminder, and god forbid the word “wonky” enters into your net minders lexicon, as Rick Dipetrio and well, look at that, Manny Fernandez, again! You may be surprised, but that is about all the Manny bashing I’ve got for today, the rest is the smooth sounds of Tim Thomas praise.
Now I’ve made more than my fair share of Tim Thomas jokes, but I’d say most of them are the type of jokes you make about a sibling you like. Sure they are a total mess and have no idea what the definition of “technique” or “sound form” is, but you still love them. I wasn’t surprised at the start of the season that the number one goalie spot was up for grabs between Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, but I didn’t agree with it. Granted, I’ve never coached, or even played a formal game of ice hockey, so let’s give Claude Julien a little credit, but I felt Thomas really earned the starting job after last years performance. The Bruins allowed more goals then they scored, now you can point to Thomas for letting them up, but he’s not getting too much offensive support on a given night. In 57 appearances he went 28-19 posting a save percentage of .921 and a GAA of 2.44, finishing 17th statistically out of 44 goalies who played 27 games or more. He also stone walled his way to six shut-outs. Not too shabby if you consider other goalies who played a similar amount of games. Jose Theodore, while still in Colorado, went 28-21 in 59 appearances with a .910 save percentage and 2.44 GAA, while Nicklas Backstrom went 33-13 in 58 appearances in Minnesota with a .920 save percentage and a 2.31 GAA. Theodore and Backstrom make a whole hell of a lot more money than Thomas. Backstrom also had the benefit of playing in the air tight defensive system in Minnesota, which looks to be taking a strong hold in Boston for Thomas.
As a general manager if you drop $9 million for two years on a goalie who is returning from injury and who has had his mental toughness questioned, you have to at least pretend like he has a chance to perform. Last year, the goalie battle was set up for the beginning of the season, then as we all should have seen coming, Manny goes down and Tim Thomas gets the spot by default. Manny has to get a chance at the number one job or it looks like a compete waste of $9 million.
For me Thomas has shed “The Journeyman” label, and maybe now I can embrace the idea of him being Tim “The Tank” Thomas (holy alliteration!). Most likely he will forever be in my heart as The Journeyman. It took a while, but Thomas grew on me, and he did it by winning games. I actively booed Hannu Tovioven and pleasantly waived good-bye as he moved to St. Louis. Andrew Raycroft had a tough shake, but I’ll take Tuukka Rask over him any day (as an aside: I had a smidge of booze one night a few weeks ago, and may have said something along the lines of “If Rask gets called up this year and wins the Cup for Boston, I am getting ‘Raycroft for Rask’ tattooed on me”). I thought Alex Auld was a serviceable back up, but he would have cost too much money to keep and waive Manny. So now Boston has a $4.5 million back up goalie while, Auld competes for the number one spot in Ottawa. Not sure if that’s praise for Auld or the serious meltdown of Martin “The Gerbatross” Gerber, but since I’m Auld fan, I’m going with praise for Auld. I was a huge fan of his Bruins mask with the “AA” on one side and the “BB” on the other. Wonder where that is right now, I’d buy it.
There’s a part of me who doesn’t actually buy the up in the air number one goal tender jibberish. I think Claude Julien knows how to get his players motivated, and as quiet as Thomas is, I think his is as fiercely competitive as they come. He has to believe that number one job is and I bet he gets mad as hell that Manny even gets to pretend to lay claim to it, so he is going to work even harder to make sure he owns the net. I could easily be wrong about this, as I could be about everything, but some part of the early “goalie rotation” was to get a fire under Thomas’ ass, and it appears to have worked.
Despite that, I don’t think Thomas needs a fire under his ass to succeed. His style may not be fundamental, and his play can be streaky, but he gives the Bruins a chance to win the game and instills confidence in the players in front of him. He’s made some unbelievable saves and stolen more than a few games for the Bruins. To me, Tim Thomas is a number one goalie. Before you know it, the Tuukka Rask era will be here, so enjoy Tim Thomas’ wild play and breath taking saves while he’s still around Boston.