Thomas is a smart gamble for Panthers

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If the Florida Panthers do as they’re expected and sign goalie Tim Thomas to a professional tryout, they’ll be adding a two-time Vezina Trophy recipient with a .921 career NHL save percentage who’s only a couple of years removed from leading the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The question, of course, is if he’s still that same goalie at 39 years old and after taking a year off. Which is why the Panthers were loathe to give him a guaranteed contract.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say he’s still a pretty good goalie. (If he’s not, he just won’t play.) If he’s still a pretty good goalie, Panthers fans should be extremely excited at this news — particularly after the goaltending they saw from their team last season.

In 2013, Florida ranked dead last in the NHL in save percentage, with Jacob Markstrom, Jose Theodore, and Scott Clemmensen combining for an .887 mark in that category. In contrast, the Ottawa Senators finished with a league-high .933 save percentage.

Goaltending matters. A lot. Proof: of the 10 teams with the highest save percentages in 2013, only Columbus and Edmonton missed the playoffs. And of the 10 teams with the lowest save percentages, only the Islanders made the playoffs.

Still not convinced? When the Panthers made the playoffs in 2011-12 (after missing them for 10 straight seasons), their team save percentage was .914, tied for ninth in the NHL.

Again, this isn’t to say Thomas is still the goalie he used to be. We’ll just have to wait and see about that. For the Panthers, though, it’s definitely worth a gamble to find out.