Tim Thomas wins 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy, drives home the point with Game 7 shutout

3 Comments

It’s been a bizarre journey for Tim Thomas, the obvious winner of the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy.

The unorthodox goalie enjoyed a great run at the University of Vermont alongside Martin St. Louis, but didn’t really get much of a shot as a ninth round pick with the Quebec Nordiques. He was forced to spend his twenties bouncing around North American minor leagues as well as professional teams in Sweden and Finland before he finally stuck with the Boston Bruins at age 31.

Since then, he climbed the ranks until he was often one of the best goalies in the NHL, although his challenges haven’t evaporated along the way. Thomas won the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy only to lose his starting job in 09-10 to his strong backup, Tuukka Rask. Many considered Thomas trade bait going into this season, but those people have been silenced all year long.

Simply put, Thomas put together one of the greatest combined playoff and postseason runs of any goalie in recent memory (if not NHL history). He broke Dominik Hasek’s single-season record for save percentage during the regular season and is the odds-on candidate to win the Georges Vezina Trophy, but he’ll be best remembered for his phenomenal postseason.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Thomas put together a record-breaking playoff run

His numbers look fantastic, even out of their historical context. Thomas earned a 16-9 record (including three Game 7 wins), posted a gaudy .940 save percentage (better than the record .938 mark he earned in the regular season), a fantastic 1.98 GAA and four shutouts. Two of those goose eggs came in Game 7 matches, by the way.

Thomas’ amazing 2011 playoff run doesn’t just look great compared to his peers, though; it’s one of the best any goalie has seen in NHL history.

He broke Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single playoff year, stopping 798 shots. Thomas also broke the record for most saves in a Stanley Cup finals series, stopping 238 in seven games. He also became only the second American-born player to win the Conn Smythe (Brian Leetch earned that award – also against the Canucks – in 1994). The 37-year-old goalie also ranks as the oldest player to win the award.

Even when the Vancouver Canucks managed to win games, they rarely “solved” Thomas, despite that foot-in-the-mouth statement from Roberto Luongo. Thomas only allowed eight goals in the seven-game series, somehow elevating his game another level when the pressure was at an all-time high.

It’s not really fair to compare any goalie to Thomas at this point, but the differences between their overall work in this series is still pretty stark. Luongo fell apart a handful of times in the Cup finals series while Thomas received excessive criticism for two of the three game-winning goals he allowed.

Winning it all will help immortalize his 2011 performances

While Thomas already looked like a shoo-in to win the playoff MVP even before Game 6 (let alone tonight’s deciding contest), there was the worry that his historic playoff run would get swept under the rug in defeat. Tonight’s 37-save shutout came when the entire hockey world was watching – not to mention a ton of fans with a limited interest in the sport – so any doubt regarding Thomas’ amazing work should be washed away.

If he faces any doubters, he can simply point to his trophies from 2010-11: the Conn Smythe Trophy, all of the records he broke, a Stanley Cup ring … and most likely, the Vezina Trophy as well. It’s natural to want to go over-the-top when praising the “next big thing” but in the case of the year Thomas had, it might be the only reasonable thing to do.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

Leave a comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

1 Comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

2 Comments

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

Leave a comment

The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.