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Early Top Goalie

It is informative to track the leaders for the NHL awards throughout the season and see when the eventual winners take over as the leaders for the possible awards.  In many cases, the early season leaders do not wind up winning the awards, but sometimes they do.  The early Vezina Trophy leader is likely Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins.  He has stopped 95 of 97 shots taken on him.  He has a 0.67 goals against average and a .979 saves percentage.  These are remarkable numbers that nobody can maintain over an entire season.  However, it is quite reasonable to imagine Thomas will have a very good season.  Thomas is the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner. 

Last year, he lost his number one goaltending position in Boston to rookie Tuukka Rask.  This is not because of poor play of Thomas but because Rask had a league leading saves percentage.

So far this year, Thomas has the best saves percentage in the league.  Rask has only played one game so far and it was nothing special.  He allowed four goals and lost.  The Rask and Thomas goaltending tandem is a very good one.  It is quite likely the best one in the NHL.  There is a good chance both have strong seasons, but neither are serious Vezina candidates because neither play enough games.  Right now, Tim Thomas is the hot hand and Boston will use him. 

Tim Thomas’s career is an interesting one.  Thomas bounced around the minor leagues with a few NHL shots for the first several years of his career.  In 2006/07, when Thomas was 32 years old, he was an NHL starting goalie for the first time.  Since that point, he has been one of the top goalies in hockey.  A Vezina Trophy season for Thomas this year would make him a serious Hall of Fame candidate.  It is far too early to count on that happening, but Thomas is off to an incredible start in his first three games played.

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Comments

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Would you say that Thomas’ career as a goalie is more an aberration or is good evidence that aging affects goaltenders differently than other skaters.

My idea is that better goaltenders tend not to become great until they’re older.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 10/21/10 at 05:49 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

I think Thomas is an aberration.  Most goalies who show themselves to be a certain level of player in their 20’s do not significantly improve in their 30’s.  When this happens, it often happens to goalies and I think this is a case of limited opportunity for goalies - as compared to position players.

It isn’t that uncommon for a goalie to have several years of NHL experience and never get the chance to play regularly if he is stuck behind one or more proven starters.  We find ourselves never really knowing what this goalie could have done if he was given the chance.  When he finally gets the chance he shows us that he is good enough to excel.  If we take Thomas as an example, by the time he turned 30 he had 4 NHL games under his belt.  You really cannot know if you have an NHL goalie or not in those circumstances.

He was coming off of a season where he put up a .941 saves percentage in the AHL, in what had been his first year as an AHL starter.  Thomas had spent parts of three years playing in Finland and another full year in Sweden and generally put up very good numbers to that point.  In North America, after a very good NCAA career that got him drafted, he was a seldom used backup in the IHL, AHL and ECHL, but nobody in North America had ever given him the chance to see what he could do if he was played on a regular basis.

A position player cannot survive in hockey for a decade without playing regularly somewhere.  There are more available jobs for them.  Thus it is harder to have a talented player remain hidden for as long.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/21/10 at 06:32 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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