NHL Awards Portraits

Tim Thomas has a new goal for 2011-12: the Hart Trophy

People tend to rush to hyperbole after an athlete accomplishes something of note, but it’s pretty tough to overstate how special Tim Thomas was in 2010-11.

Thomas broke the single-season record for save percentage and won the Vezina Trophy during the regular season and then topped that with an even better save percentage in the playoffs, a Conn Smythe nod and a Stanley Cup victory. He joined Philadelphia Flyers great Bernie Parent as the two netminders to manage the triple crown of a Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup win in the same campaign.

With some major milestones crossed off the list, some might wonder if the 37 year old goalie will have the same motivation next season. After all, how can you top an almost incomparable run of performances? In a league with such a small margin of error, the slightest hint of relaxation could mean a drop from world class status to borderline mediocrity.

Then again, there’s still one far flung objective the odds-beating goalie hasn’t achieved yet: winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. That’s something he (somewhat seriously) discussed as Boston Bruins training camp began.

“I’m really not trying to be cocky,” Thomas replied, “but I’ve never won a Hart Trophy (as league MVP). At least it’s a goal I can shoot for, you know? That’s a goal to shoot for, whether I accomplish it or not. A lot of it is up to me, but a lot of it’s up to fate, too.”

The odds are stacked against Thomas

Hart voters aren’t exactly prone to handing the award to netminders. In fact, here’s the list of goalies who have won the Hart Trophy.

Roy Worters (1928-29)
Chuck Rayner (1949-50)
Al Rollins (1953-54)
Jacques Plante (1961-62)
Dominik Hasek (1996-97 and 97-98)
Jose Theodore (2001-02)

While it’s pretty neat that Hasek is the only two-time winner among goalies, it’s pretty stunning that Theodore earned an MVP award while the likes of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Martin Brodeur and so on never won a Hart Trophy. That underscores the “fate” part of Thomas’ quote; it’s not just about how well Thomas plays, but also how sportswriters view his performances relative to top scorers and elite defensemen.

Sharing starts won’t help his cause

Then again, the biggest impediment to his goal of winning the MVP is his talented backup Tuukka Rask. While Rask’s 29 games played was far less than people expected last season, that’s still a significant enough chunk of games to hurt Thomas’ cause as far as being perceived as more valuable than a skater who can suit up for 82 games.

The word is that Rask will take an even bigger “bite” from Thomas next season, so that will only make it tougher for the unorthodox goalie to prove that he’s the league’s most valuable player. When you add Rask’s presence to the fact that Thomas struggled (relatively speaking) in his other post-Vezina season in 09-10, a Hart push seems far-fetched.

That being said, Thomas carved out an outstanding career while proving people wrong again and again. It might be reasonable to doubt Thomas when it comes to throwing out the idea of going for the Hart Trophy, but it’s best not to tell the ultra-competitive netminder what he can and cannot do. The guy has a knack for defying odds.

The Panthers are healthy scratching Bolland, and he is their highest-paid forward, but they insist they’re not sending a message

Dave Bolland, Derek Nansen
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It feels like there’s a story brewing in Florida, where Dave Bolland — the team’s most-expensive forward, at $5.5 million a season — has been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games.

But according to head coach Gerard Gallant, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gallant said, per the Miami Herald. “He sat out, our team is playing well. There’s nothing more than that. We have to sit two guys and I like the way we’re playing. The next game is a different game. We may change something up, who knows.”

Bolland had just one goal and five points in 18 games prior to getting parked in the press box. Well, technically he got dropped to the fourth line before hitting the press box, but you get the idea. He’s not exactly in Gallant’s good graces.

Not helping Bolland’s case is the fact that, as Gallant pointed out, the club is playing pretty well without him. The Panthers have rebounded from a rough start to November by winning back-to-back games against the Islanders and Red Wings, which set them up nicely for the remainder of this current five-game road swing.

Florida has games still to play in St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus and New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see when — or, if — he draws back into the lineup.

In closing, a reminder that Bolland’s in the second of a five-year, $27.5 million deal.

Canucks rookie Virtanen exits with upper-body injury, won’t return


After sitting out Friday’s game in Dallas, Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had to be excited at drawing back in for tonight’s game against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, the excitement didn’t last long.

Virtanen suffered an upper-body injury after playing just 1:45 in the opening frame, and was ruled out of the contest during the intermission. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it looks like Virtanen was injured on a hit by Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

Virtanen didn’t take another shift following the incident, and Getzlaf was given a minor penalty on the play.

While we don’t know what the injury is or it’s severity, losing Virtanen for any length of time would have ramifications for the Canucks and this year’s Canadian entry at the World Juniors. There has been talk of Virtanen possibly being released by the Canucks to participate in the tournament; last year, he was part of the team that captured gold in Montreal and Toronto.

Virtanen has played in 18 games for the Canucks this year, scoring one goal and four points while averaging 10:17 TOI per night.

McLellan sounds off on Oilers after shutout loss in Toronto

Todd McLellan

Edmonton lost for the fourth time in five games on Monday, a 3-0 defeat in Toronto that marked the second time in a week the Oilers have been shut out.

Needless to say, the head coach wasn’t happy.

In a fairly blunt and harsh assessment aimed at a variety of players, Todd McLellan had some choice words for what he called a “disappointing” effort.

Some of the more choice quotes:

“I didn’t think we were a very hard team. I didn’t think we stood over a lot of pucks. I didn’t think we won a lot of battles along the boards. I didn’t think we were competitive enough in a lot of areas.”

“When I look at the trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under-perform on the trip. Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be the [Leon DraisaitlTaylor Hall line] that provides that.”

It’s fair to suggest that last one was directed at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Nugent-Hopkins has just two points and zero goals in his last five games, with a minus-8 rating. Eberle is pointless entirely, and also at minus-8 over the same stretch.

They’re hardly the only Oilers not pulling their weight at the moment, however. Edmonton has lost 15 times in its first 25 games, a figure that suggests there are more problems that just a couple of underachieving forwards.

Just ask McLellan, who all but admitted his team has issues matching up.

“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”

Roy: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov


The tough times continue for Semyon Varlamov.

After another unsuccessful outing on Monday — allowing four goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Islanders — Varlamov was subjected to a familiar refrain: Patrick Roy saying the Avs need more from their No. 1 netminder.


You can hear all of the head coach’s comments in the video above but, for brevity’s sake, here’s the Varlamov stuff:

“It’s not easy for him. Obviously we need that extra save and we didn’t get it on the road. It’s hard to win if you’re giving four goals on the road.

“We just need more from him. He’s our No. 1 guy and we’re behind him, but we need, we expect more from him.”

There has to be serious concern about Varlamov right now, if there wasn’t already.

His save percentage through seven games in November (.891) is marginally better than it was through seven games in October (.889), and that’s not the only alarming stat. Varlamov’s yet to record a shutout this year, yet to record back-to-back victories and has given up at least three goals in six of his last seven starts.

Not good.

Compounding things for Colorado are the standings. The Avs are now 9-14-1 and mired in the Central Division basement, meaning that — if they have any hope of going on a tear and getting back into playoff content — they’ll need to do it soon.

Which means they might not have the time, or the patience, for Varlamov to find his game.