The indisputable low point of 2011 for Tim Thomas came in a 7-6 loss to the Buffalo Sabres when he allowed all three skaters to score in the shootout. That it came Jan. 1 gives you an indication of how the rest of the year went for him.
The NHL does not have an award for player of the year, but if it did, it would undoubtedly go to Thomas. No player in the NHL has displayed the sustained excellence Thomas has since the calendar turned to Jan. 1. And what makes all of this even more compelling is that despite the fact Thomas will turn 38 during this year’s playoffs, 2012 could turn out to be an even better year for him.
Since coming into the game in relief of Tuukka Rask in that loss to Buffalo Jan. 1, Thomas has posted otherworldly numbers and accomplishments. With one game remaining on the Bruins schedule in 2011, Thomas has posted a 49-21-5 record with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, including playoffs.
He led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup by playing every minute of every game of the post-season and was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the playoffs. In the Stanley Cup final, the guy gave up eight goals. Now, if the Bruins had swept the Vancouver Canucks in four straight games that might not have been so impressive. But it was a seven-game series. In the three games Thomas lost in the final, Boston was shut out 1-0 twice and he gave up only five goals.
Thomas also won his second Vezina Trophy by a comfortable margin and finished fifth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s regular season MVP. There are those who argue if Thomas were given more starts and, therefore, a chance to post more victories and even gaudier numbers, he would have won that Hart. But the Bruins believe – and who’s going to argue with them? – that Thomas is as effective as he is because he doesn’t get worn down the way a lot of other workhorse goaltenders do. And unlike a lot of teams in the NHL, the Bruins have a backup in whom they have as much confidence as they do their starter. In fact, there’s nothing to suggest Rask wouldn’t be able to post the same kinds of numbers as Thomas if he were given the opportunity.
Thomas also had the quote of the year and the save of the year for 2011. During the Stanley Cup final when Roberto Luongo made his ridiculous statement about Thomas not saying anything nice about him, Thomas responded by saying, “I didn’t realize it was my job to pump his tires. I guess I have to apologize for that.” Then he went out and outplayed Luongo so badly that it provided the Bruins with the margin they needed to win the series.
As for the save of the year, you can see that on our “Top Plays Of 2011” Puck Panel.
The only other two serious contenders for player of the year in 2011 would be Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, which says a lot about their sustained consistency. While the vast majority of NHL players have had difficulty maintaining 12 months of elevated play due to inconsistency (see Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos), injury (see Sidney Crosby, Ryan Kesler) or because they simply had 12 miserable months (see Alex Ovechkin, Dany Heatley), the twins have continued to produce points and believers with their play game-in and game-out.
Over the course of 2011 (with two games remaining), including playoffs, Daniel Sedin had 45 goals and 118 points over 107 games, while Henrik had 22 goals and 109 points in 108 games. The one blight on the Sedins was that they failed to lead the Canucks to the Stanley Cup and, particularly in the final, were rendered ineffective by the Bruins and their physical style of play.
That, of course, included Thomas, who levelled Henrik in front of his net in Game 3 of the final, a contest that proved to be the turning point in the series, just about a minute before Andrew Ference nailed Daniel in the corner.
For all of that, Thomas is our pick for player of the year in 2011.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.