Tim Thomas is compiling quite the list of accolades between his Vezina Trophy-worthy 2010-11 regular season and his Conn Smythe-worthy postseason.
Beyond drawing abstract comparisons to all-time great goalie performances made by legends such as Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, Thomas is putting his own stamp on the NHL record books. He broke Hasek’s single season save percentage record, seems primed to win the Conn Smythe regardless of how Game 7 turns out and is one save away from breaking Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single playoff year.
While Thomas is breaking records for goalies of any nationality, some people might take added pride in the fact that he is putting together possibly the greatest playoff run by an American netminder. To hammer the point home, he would also be the only U.S. born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy aside from New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch.
In a cruel twist, Leetch also managed that feat against the Vancouver Canucks as the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.
A golden era for American goalies?
This pending honor is quite the accomplishment for Thomas, no doubt, but it must also be a promising sign for U.S. Hockey. For the second year in a row, an American-born netminder had the best run of any goalie in the world. Last year, it was Ryan Miller’s outstanding work in the Olympics and Vezina Trophy victory for the 2009-10 season that made him the goalie of the year. Now it’s Flint, Michigan-born Thomas whose combined regular season and playoff outputs make him the most successful goalie of 2010-11.
While other elite goalies (perhaps most notably Henrik Lundqvist?) would certainly get their fair share of votes, it’s not crazy to think that Thomas and Miller could be considered the best goalies in the world at this moment. With all due respect to the work done by Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso and “Miracle on Ice” goalie Jim Craig, it’s tough to think of higher point for American goaltending.
Miller and Thomas are at the top of the heap, but there are a few other American goalies who could approach All-Star level performances if things work out. Jonathan Quick was excellent at times for the Los Angeles Kings and might just hold off Jonathan Bernier as the team’s goalie of the present and future. Craig Anderson has struggled here and ther but currently ranks as the Ottawa Senators’ savior in net. Jimmy Howard might be overshadowed by the veteran talent in Detroit, but he is the Red Wings’ franchise goalie.
Thomas’ style and journey make him a truly American success story
In a way, Thomas might be the “American dream” in goaltending form. His free-form style is as democratic as netminding technique comes, although it’s probably most accurate to call his sprawls “anarchic.” His oddball career path almost looks like an immigrant’s dream, too: he was barely drafted and spent his formative years bouncing around the world but just would not be denied. Thomas fought for every opportunity he’s been granted and now finds himself at the top of his profession.
It probably seems silly to root for the Canadian-heavy Boston Bruins for patriotic reasons, especially since the Vancouver Canucks employ one of America’s best players in Ryan Kesler. Yet when you look at Thomas, it’s tough to see a more American goalie, which makes his probable Conn Smythe victory (and previously improbable shot at a Stanley Cup) even more satisfying for hockey fans in the United States.