On Monday night, the Hockey Hall of Fame inducted and celebrated the four outstanding individuals that were voted into the hall of fame class of 2016. The four this year were Eric Lindros, Pat Quinn, Sergei Makarov, and Rogie Vachon. Each one of them was deserving of the honor of hockey immortality.
Now that the class of 2016 has been recognized, it is time to look ahead to the class of 2017. There are many players, coaches, and team builders that have been eligible for years now who are still waiting for their call to the Hall, and now there is a crop of first-year eligible players vying for their spot in the HHOF. The first-year eligibles for 2017 are headlined by the legendary Teemu Selanne, who will practically be a shoe-in for next year’s inductions.
There is one player on the first-year list who was synonymous with the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup win: goaltender Tim Thomas. Thomas was a controversial figure in Boston near the end of his time with the team, but overall his numbers speak for themselves, he had a long and unique road to the NHL, he won multiple awards, and most of all, he carried the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
The Long Road
Thomas’s career really started when he was scouted by the University of Vermont while playing high school hockey in Michigan. He was an instant star for the Vermont Catamounts, playing all four seasons of his college career. He was selected twice to the All-ECAC Conference team and was a two-time NCAA East All-American. He is first all-time in games played (140), wins (81), and saves (3,950) in University of Vermont history.
After Vermont, Thomas went to the minor pro hockey scene. He played a total of seven games in the ECHL and the IHL in 1997 and then went over to Finland in the Finnish Elite League. In 1998 he was signed to the Edmonton Oilers’ farm team, but it was only 15 games before he went back to play in Finland. In 2000, he returned to the US to play in the IHL for the Detroit Vipers but after the season with the Vipers, Thomas went to play in Sweden. He played very well and in 2001, he was finally signed by the Bruins, but his long road to starting for the B’s was not over. After signing with the team, Thomas decided to play in Europe for the 2001-02 season.
When he came back from Europe, he played for the Providence Bruins for two seasons. He was called up to Boston to play a few games but was ultimately sent back to Providence.
When the NHL lockout happened in place of the 2004-05 season, Thomas went to Finland, played out the season, and was named MVP of the league. After the lockout, the Bruins signed Thomas to make sure he would stay in North America.
Thomas eventually won Boston’s starting goaltender job with injuries to Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivonen, and posted a record of 30-29-4. Thomas played better than his record suggested, with a lot of the losses contributed to the Bruins being in a transitional period with their team, with a new coach, general manager, and many new players.
Years went by and Thomas got better each season, winning awards and accolades along the way. In 2009, Thomas had his best season to date. He put up a 36-11-7 record with a 2.10 GAA and a .933 save percentage. For his incredible season he won his first Vezina Trophy as best goaltender in the league. He did not know that this would be only the beginning to his legend status.
The Stanley Cup Season
Thomas underwent hip surgery during the summer of 2010, but that didn’t stop him from playing out of this world in the upcoming season. He ended up winning his second Vezina Trophy and posting a 35-11-9 record, all while breaking the single-season save percentage record with a .938 percentage; the title was formerly held by Dominik Hasek.
The Bruins entered the playoffs as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The B’s eliminated the
Montreal Canadiens in the first round in seven games, then went on to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, which brought them to the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series was a classic, and one for the books for Thomas. In the deciding Game 7, Thomas posted a 24-save-shutout to put the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks. The shutout was his second Game-7-shutout of the playoffs, and it would not be his last.
Thomas was brilliant in the Final. He only allowed eight goals in seven games, and broke the all-time save percentage record in the Finals, with a .967 save percentage. Thomas put up a 37-save-shutout against the Canucks in Game 7 in Vancouver to win the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup in 39 years.
During that playoff run, Thomas broke the record for most saves in a single postseason with 798, and most saves in a Stanley Cup series with 238. He was also the first goaltender ever to post a shutout in a Game 7 on the road.
2011 was undoubtedly the year of Tim Thomas. He won the Vezina Trophy, then won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, broke a few records, and on top of it all he won the Stanley Cup. Some may say he carried the team on his back to winning the Cup, and while that may be true, it takes a whole team to get there, no matter how amazing and historic Thomas’s run was. Thomas stepped it up when the team needed him the most.
Thomas did not flounder on the ice the season after the Bruins won the Cup. He put up the same win total from the season before and went 35-19-1. He also received the most votes for that season’s All Star game.
In December of that season he created quite a bit of controversy when he declined to show up for the Presidential visit to which all championship teams are invited. He went to social media and posted the reason why he did not show up on his Facebook page.
“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL,” Thomas wrote.
The Bruins made it to the first round of the playoffs, but were eliminated by the Washington Capitals to end their season. Once again, Thomas took to social media and posted that he would be taking off the next season. General Manager Peter Chiarelli then confirmed Thomas’s decision. Thomas would never return to the Bruins.
Chiarelli traded his contract to the New York Islanders, but Thomas never showed up. When he came back from his year off he played for the Florida Panthers and the Dallas Stars, then rode off into the sunset.
Ready for the Hall?
Now that he is retired and eligible for the HHOF, it’s time to look at his accomplishments and reasons why he should make it. First of all, he definitely has the awards to make it in. Over his career, Thomas
won the Stanley Cup in 2011, is a two-time Vezina winner (2009 and 2011), a Conn Smythe winner (2011), a William M. Jennings trophy winner (2009), and a four-time All-Star (2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012). His career numbers in 426 regular season games played are 214 wins, a 2.52 GAA, and a .920 save percentage.
Some will say that 426 games played is not enough to make it to the Hall, but what he did over that short time is amazing. Plus, he did not become a full-time starting goaltender until he was 33 years old. He had a very unique road to the NHL and that should be recognized.
Thomas was arguably the reason why the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, and I am inclined to agree with that notion. Sure, the Bruins had Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, and so many others helping them make it to the Cup win, but take a step back and look at what Thomas did. He had been on the B’s since their transitional period and got better each year he played, making the Bruins a better team as well. If it wasn’t for Thomas, the Bruins wouldn’t have made it to the Stanley Cup Final that season. He was their superman and the best goaltender in the league during that time. The team needed him and he played to the best of his abilities. His time with the Bruins was short but very effective.
It seems that there are only two reasons that people can come up with to not put him in the Hall. They are that he didn’t play enough games and that he made his political views public, and that hurt people with opposing views. The latter reason is ridiculous, as everyone may have his own views, and that shouldn’t define one’s view of a sports figure. The reasoning that he hadn’t played enough games can hold some weight, but when you look past the NHL GP numbers, he is as good as any goaltender should be to get into the Hall of Fame.
Thomas has a good chance to get into the HHOF if he is voted in during the first five years of his eligibility. I fear that if he needs to wait any longer than that, people will forget the historic seasons he had and just remember him as the crazy guy who stood up for his rights and not for his journey, his
goaltending skills, and his accomplishments.