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.

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.

Avs dismiss three from coaching staff, but Bednar remains

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Colorado GM Joe Sakic said there would be turnover this offseason, but that head coach Jared Bednar was safe.

On Tuesday, Sakic followed through.

The Avs have parted ways with two of Bednar’s assistants — Tim Army and Dave Farrish — and also relieved goalie coach Francois Allaire of his duties.

Army, 54, has been with the club for the last six years, having previously served as the head coach at Providence. He served under three different head coaches in Colorado — Bednar, Patrick Roy and Joe Sacco — and was largely tasked with running the team’s power play (which finished 30th in the NHL this year).

Farrish, 60, just wrapped his second year on the job with the Avs after coming over from Toronto. A veteran of nearly 30 years in coaching, Farrish was brought aboard by Roy, and brought “a wealth of experience and hockey knowledge to our organization.” A journeyman blueliner who playecd 430 games at the NHL level, Farrish ran the club’s defense last season.

Allaire, 57, has been coaching goalies at the NHL level for over 25 years, with previous stops in Montreal, Anaheim and Toronto. His ties to Roy ran deep — he mentored the former Avs coach with the Canadiens, and the pair won two Stanley Cups together (in 1986 and ’93). Allaire has been with the Avs for the last four years, on the heels of an acrimonious departure from Toronto.

Today’s shakeup is a significant one, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Bednar was essentially forced into retaining all of Roy’s staff following the latter’s shock resignation last August, and probably wants to bring in some of his own guys.

Sakic, meanwhile, had to make some sort of changes after the worst regular season in franchise history — and today’s could just be the tip of the iceberg.

Related: Avs president gives Sakic vote of confidence

Same lineup expected for Pens, but Sens will have changes

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Plenty of injuries on both sides ahead of tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

We’ll start with the Penguins, who seem likely to ice the same lineup they did Sunday. Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed today that Justin Schultz, Chad Ruhwedel, Patric Hornqvist, and Tom Kuhnhackl remain out.

“Kuhnhackl, Ruhwedel and Hornqvist stayed back in Pittsburgh. They’re rehabbing back there,” said Sullivan. “Schultz is here in Ottawa with us. He is rehabbing as well, but he will not play tonight.”

As for the Senators, head coach Guy Boucher has some “warmup decisions” to make. Forward Ryan Dzingel will be back in. Forwards Chris Kelly and Colin White could be in, too, because Tommy Wingels and Alex Burrows are both out.

The question is whether the Sens go with seven defensemen again, or back to six. If it’s the latter, White could draw in.

White, 20, has not played in these playoffs, and he only played two NHL games in the regular season.  A Boston College product, he was the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft. He only recently signed his entry-level contract with the Sens.

“I mean, he’s a guy who’s a really smart player,” said Boucher. “He’s got speed, lots of speed, a guy that drives the net, and he’s very reliable on both ends of the ice. That’s why we’re considering him.”

The Senators need to win tonight. If they don’t, the Penguins will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

After playing for Canada, journeyman Chris Lee reportedly leaving KHL for NHL

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His numbers in the KHL jump right off the page.

And he just won a silver medal with Canada at the Worlds.

So it’s no huge surprise to hear, via Aivis Kalniņš, that defenseman Chris Lee has left Magnitagorsk Metallurg to pursue a shot in the NHL.

Lee, who turns 37 in October, had 65 points (15G, 50A) in 60 games for Metallurg this season. He was partnered with Viktor Antipin, the 24-year-old who will reportedly join the Sabres next season. Predictably, there has been speculation that Lee could be on his way to Buffalo.

A late bloomer, Lee was never drafted and has never played an NHL game. He spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, after getting his start in the ECHL following four years at SUNY-Potsdam. He left for Europe in 2010 and played in Germany and Sweden before arriving in the KHL.

Lee was the only non-NHLer on Canada’s roster at the Worlds.

“Lee fit,” coach Jon Cooper said, per Sportsnet. “You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”