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.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?