With 73 games in the bag and nine to go for the Boston Bruins, I’m ready to declare one race over: Tim Thomas deserves the Hart Trophy.
Thomas has the Vezina locked down — that should be a given at this point. Thomas leads the league in goals against average (2.06), save percentage (.937) and is behind only Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price in shutouts (8). When a goalie lead the first two of those categories, it’s a fabulous head-start to the title of top netminder, as Thomas did in 2008-09 when he first won the trophy.
But that won’t be enough to recognize what Thomas has given the Bruins this season. In a year where the Bruins’ power play has come and gone, Marc Savard was rendered a non-factor by concussions past and present, and Tuukka Rask struggled to replicate last season’s performance (he’s on the right track now, though), Thomas stood on his head, especially in those early weeks, and kept the Bruins in the race. More than that, he pushed the team to the top of the Northeast Division, making absurd saves night after night, carrying the team through games when the rest looked sluggish.
Last night, in an emotional game against the Montreal Canadiens, Thomas was sturdy throughout and flashy in moments. The 7-0 score didn’t require a Herculean effort from the Boston netminder, but any hopes Montreal might have harbored early in the game were dashed by Thomas.
Through the first half of the season, Thomas was, at best, second to Sidney Crosby, who was continuing his assault on the rest of the league. Before he left, he had tallied 32 goals and 34 assists for a +20 in 41 games. In these low-scoring times, that’s jaw-dropping.
But when a concussion sent the Pittsburgh captain to the dressing room for close to three months, the door opened for a new contender. Daniel Sedin in Vancouver, Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay and the ageless Niklas Lidstrom in Detroit all have strong resumes. But none have been the backbone that Thomas has been for the Bruins. If we’re talking pure value, Thomas is right there with the rest of them. But value to one team? Thomas has the edge on them all — no one has meant as much to their squad as Thomas has to Boston.
The Bruins have been a Jekyll and Hyde team most of the season. To wit, after trading for Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverly, Boston rattled off seven straight wins. They immediately followed that by dropping six of their next seven games.
It’s hard to know how good the Bruins really are, or how far they’ll go in the playoffs. Matchups will play a large role in all that. But what’s easy to see is how many times Thomas has bailed out the Bruins this season.
He’s been the best goaltender in the league, and his performance has been historically dominating. So this summer, hand the man the Hart. In a year where no one on the offensive side of the game stood out, Thomas stood on his head.