Looking Ahead For Tim Thomas

To say that Tim Thomas had an excellent campaign last season would be an understatement. In 2010-2011, he had the best single-season save percentage since the statistic has been kept. He also won the Vezina Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and he hoisted the Stanley Cup.

He also had a corn maze created in his image and a sandwich named after him. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

He is, however, 37 years old. While Thomas has defied the odds plenty of times in his career, he can only fight off age for so long. What will his 2011-2012 season be like?

In 2008-2009, Thomas also won the Vezina Trophy and he shared the Jennings with his back-up, Manny Fernandez. In 54 games that year he put together a 36-11-7 record with a 2.10 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He also recorded five shutouts. Those numbers are relatively similar to his 2010-2011 statistics (35-11-7, 2.00 GAA, .938 SV%, nine shutouts.) That shows a lot of consistency between the two years and it could indicate that Thomas’ age isn’t effecting him very much at all.

But then you look at the 2009-2010 season that took place between those two campaigns.

That season Thomas played only 43 games and he lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask. He had a 17-18 record that season with a 2.56 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. He still managed to record five shutouts, but he didn’t play at all during the playoffs. Was that season an anomaly or a sign that Thomas has difficulties in playing at a high level on a regular basis?

Looking at Tim Thomas’ career statistics doesn’t give us the whole story either. He’s had a few outstanding years and a few less than outstanding years. However, the numbers overall are quite good. Even his “bad” season in 2009-2010 wasn’t all that bad when you look at the rest of the league. He was 16th among save percentage leaders that year and 18th among goals against average leaders. Those aren’t excellent numbers, but they’re still good enough to compete for a starting job in the NHL, just maybe not on the Bruins.

Of course, Thomas’ age will be a question and an unknown piece of this puzzle. Yes, he managed to play at a very high level during the Stanley Cup playoffs at age 37, but how long can he really continue? We’ve all seen older players completely fall apart from one season to the next in the past, but will it happen to Thomas? There’s really no way to predict when a player will simply become “too old” to be a star in the NHL.

Perhaps the best thing going for Tim Thomas right now is Tuukka Rask. Rask has shown that he is definitely able to handle the starting job if that’s what’s needed. Having a very capable back-up who can step in on any night will actually benefit Tim Thomas next season. If you look at those numbers above, you’ll see that Thomas has only played more than 60 regular season games once in his NHL career and that was in 2006-2007. Last year he played 57 games. This year he may very well play even fewer games. And that’s fine for the Bruins, because they have Rask.

If Thomas ever starts to feel tired, sore or like a normal 37-year-old, the team won’t hesitate in sitting him out for a few games. Yes, that could cost him his starting job, but it could also extend his career by a few seasons. He won’t feel the pressure to play when he’s not at his best and the team will be able to manage his minutes well. He’ll reduce his chances of getting injured by playing fewer games.

That formula seems to equal success in Boston. Will it continue?