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Thomas proving he has Hart
Months after winning the Vezina trophy in 2009 as the NHL's top goaltender and signing a new multiyear deal with the Bruins, a nagging hip injury and the strong play of Tuukka Rask relegated Thomas to the backup role for the remainder of 2009-10, including the playoffs.
That gave rise to offseason rumors that the Bruins were actively trying to move Thomas. Even though management denied it and Thomas insisted he wanted to stay put, the speculation dogged him throughout the summer.
If Bruins management did think about moving Thomas, they're undoubtedly relieved they didn't make that deal.
Since the beginning of this season, Thomas has been unquestionably the NHL's top goaltender and the main reason the Bruins are perched atop the Northeast Division.
Consider his statistics for this season. With less than 30 games remaining in the regular season, Thomas has the best goals-against average (1.91) and save percentage (.942). He is tied for the league lead for the most shutouts, seven, and victories, 26.
No other goalie was remotely close to his goals-against average and save percentage, considered the true measurements for a goaltender's performance.
Nashville's Pekka Rinne (2.08 GAA, .930 SP) and Washington's Semyon Varlamov (2.13 GAA, .928 SP) had the second- and third-best goals-against and save percentage but were well behind Thomas.
Thomas' goaltending performance this season would be akin to Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos outscoring their nearest rivals by 30 goals or 50 points.
Thomas' goals-against wouldn't be an NHL record if he were able to maintain it for the rest of the season. The best modern-day GAA belongs to Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff (1.69) in 2003-04, and the all-time record is 0.92 set by George Hainsworth back in 1928-29, a number that won't ever be broken.
But Thomas's save percentage would be record-setting if he can maintain it, breaking Dominik Hasek's record of .937 set in 1998-99.
It's not as though Thomas is facing fewer shots or playing behind a superior defense that he has those amazing numbers, as the Bruins are giving up more than 33 shots per game, fourth-most in the NHL this season.
A dominant goaltending performance like this hasn't been seen in the NHL since Hasek's heyday with the Buffalo Sabres back in the 1990s.
Improved health is a major reason for Thomas' performance this season. Thanks to surgery last summer, he's no longer hampered by the hip injury that limited his effectiveness last season.
Motivation is also a likely factor. Thomas took a longer, more difficult path to the NHL and to stardom than most of his peers. Selected 217th by the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) in the 1994 entry draft, Thomas spent several years bouncing between the minors and Finland before finally cracking the Bruins' lineup for good midway through 2005-06.
Even then, it took him a couple of seasons to establish himself as their starter, culminating in his Vezina-winning performance in 2008-09. But last season's setback once again had critics casting doubt on his ability.
Thomas had to prove himself yet again. And as he has done throughout his career, he not only rose to the challenge but exceeded expectations.
Little wonder, then, Thomas is not only being considered a lock (barring injury or serious decline) for his second Vezina Trophy in three years, but is now being mentioned seriously as a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.
Considering he has made a successful recovery from an injury that can threaten a goalie's career, the Masterton Trophy for perseverance can't be ruled out, either.
Had Crosby not been sidelined by concussion, he would be the lead candidate for the Hart this season. But Thomas' performance would have given Crosby a significant challenge.
A goaltender winning the Hart Trophy is rare. The most recent were Jose Theodore back in 2002 with the Montreal Canadiens, and Hasek in 1997 and 1998. Before that, the last goalie to garner league MVP honors was Hall of Famer Jacques Plante in 1962.
It's possible Stamkos, either of Vancouver's Sedin twins or maybe Crosby with a late scoring surge could get the nod over Thomas, but none of them have dominated at their respective positions throughout this season the way Thomas has.
And, arguably, none have been as valuable to their teams this season.
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