by PuckStopsHere on 01/30/12 at 04:11 PM ET
I have spent the last 25 or more years trying to answer the question of at what point in a player’s career does he establish himself as a sure-fire Hall of Famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career. Today I am saying that Tim Thomas has reached that threshold.
Thomas has won a remarkable number of awards in his career. He is a two time Vezina Trophy winner. He was last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner as he led his Boston team to the Stanley Cup. Twice he has won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace award for best saves percentage. Once he shared in the William Jennings Trophy for the goaltenders of the team with the fewest goals allowed. That amount of awards won is quite good for a Hall of Famer. The question is the shortness of his career. Thomas has fewer than 400 career NHL games. He has only regularly played in the NHL since 2005 (he also played four games in the 2002/03 season).
Last season was a historic season for Thomas. He set an NHL record for the highest saves percentage ever with a .938 saves percentage. He set a record for the most saves ever made in the Stanley Cup playoffs as he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe. Though he failed to receive a Hart Trophy nomination, I argue that he should have won. Looking at the season as a whole, I think it is clear that he was the best player in hockey in the 2010/11 season. It is rare that a goalie does that well. As long as it isn’t a fluke season and Thomas has a solid prime he is a Hall of Famer. He already had a Vezina Trophy to his name before that season, so that put him very close to that threshold. All he had to do to cement hall of Fame status is to have another solid season this year.
He has done that by playing in the All Star Game. Thomas was the only player voted into the game who was not an example of Ontario area hockey fans stuffing the ballot boxes for the game in Ottawa. This was Thomas’s fourth straight All Star Game. Further it was his fourth straight All Star Game victory. That is a record. While the All Star Game is not taken seriously, those who hold career records in All Star Games are some of the best players of all time. They have to be in order to get into enough games to set an all time record.
It is very unlikely that Thomas will have a long NHL career. He was 30 before his first year as an NHL regular began. He was 31 before his first year as an NHL starter. He is currently 37 years old. Likely his career will be relatively short due to its late start. One wonders what might have happened if Thomas was identified as an NHL-level goalie earlier in his life. Would he have been ready? Would his dominance have started earlier in his life?
Thomas is best compared to Johnny Bower. Bower is a Hall of Fame goalie. He was 34 before he got a regular NHL job in the six team NHL. He had a long successful career in the minors before that happened. While in the NHL, Bower won the Vezina Trophy twice and the Stanley Cup four times. He was never MVP of the playoffs, though he had strong playoff numbers. He retired with 552 NHL games played. Thomas has matched his Vezina numbers (though the definition of the Vezina Trophy has changed in the meantime). It is a reasonable debate as to which of the two has been a better playoff goalie. Bower has more Stanley Cups won (though in a six team NHL that is easier to do than in a 30 team league) and more games played in the playoffs at this point, but he cannot match Thomas`s numbers or his single playoff season success from last year.
Tim Thomas`s 2010/11 season was so good that it is a reasonable debate to call it the best season a goaltender has ever had in the NHL. While I would argue against that point that level of success in the short term coupled with a longer career that includes a second Vezina Trophy and four All Star Game appearances is enough for me to call Tim Thomas a Hall of Famer.
That increases our list of currently active Hall of Famers to fifteen players. Here they are:
Martin St Louis
Some of these player`s claims to being active are getting a bit tenuous. Dominik Hasek is taking the year off from hockey and claims he will play professionally next season. That may be a prelude to his permanent retirement. Chris Pronger is on the longterm injured reserve for the Philadelphia Flyers and will be out at least the rest of this season. The Flyers have retired several players with troublesome contracts in this fashion and it looks like Pronger is likely to go that direction.
Of course as more hockey is played this season it is likely that there will be more players joining this group.
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