This year there seems to be more of a focus on goaltending, with plenty of options seemingly available for teams looking to add insurance in net. We’ve already seen the Buffalo Sabres ship Ryan Miller and teammate Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jaroslav Halak (with rumors that the Sabres could still flip Halak elsewhere), and names like Martin Brodeur, Cam Ward, Ilya Bryzgalov and Viktor Fasth all being thrown around as potential trade targets. One player who has been quietly flying under the radar, however, is Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas.
The Panthers are one of the few teams in the league firmly out of a playoff spot, meaning they will most definitely be sellers at the deadline. And with Thomas set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, it makes sense for the Panthers to try to move him for picks. The question is who will take him.
After taking a one-year sabbatical from hockey during the 2012-13 NHL season, Thomas attended the Panthers’ training camp as a pro tryout prior to the 2013-14 season and was eventually awarded a one-year contract. Thomas’ statistics have dipped from his time with the Bruins, with him currently sporting a .908 save percentage and a 2.86 goals against average, but Florida also has the fourth-worst goals against average at 3.15 per game. In fact, Florida is consistently ranked toward the bottom of every offensive statistical category, leading one to consider whether Thomas is having an off season, or, well, if it’s simply because he’s playing for the Florida Panthers.
Bear in mind that Thomas isn’t far removed from a Stanley Cup winning season where he was named both the Conn Smyth Trophy winner as playoff MVP, and later the Vezina Trophy winner. Still, not many teams will gamble on Thomas as a starting goalie for a long playoff run. Any team looking for a starter would have likely targeted Ryan Miller instead, or could put some muscle behind Martin Brodeur. A team seeking a solid starter could also pursue Jaroslav Halak, who has been known to have the ability to steal a playoff game. That leaves teams looking for goaltending depth more than anything else, and for one team in particular, Thomas should be at the top of their list.
The Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tomas Vokoun has missed the entire season for the Penguins after a life-threatening blood clot was found and removed during the pre-season, essentially saving his life. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and Vokoun, who would have likely been the backup to netminder Marc-Andre Fleury for most of the season, has been medically cleared to play, but it’s uncertain how quickly he will be able to get into game condition and get back out on the rink. Fleury will get most of the starts coming down the stretch in preparation for the playoffs anyway, making it unlikely that Vokoun would get enough playing time to really shake off the rust from missing most of the season.
Remember, Fleury has had a rough go at it the past few years during the post season, enough so that trade rumors had begun to circulate if he couldn’t pull his act together. While he has had a strong regular season this year, that first playoff game will be a critical one in telling where Fleury’s confidence is at. If Fleury flounders or sustains an injury, are the Penguins really prepared to ride Vokoun through the postseason?
Thomas would give the Penguins a strong backup who is not only in game shape, but has plenty of playoff experience and knows what it takes to win big games and go all the way. With an abundance of goalies potentially available this year at the trade deadline, Thomas could come fairly cheap, too.
Given Thomas’ contract status as a free agent at the end of the season, there is a high probability that he is traded at the deadline – it’s just a matter of to whom. Tampa Bay could make a run at Thomas for his experience, and the Rangers, Wild and Sharks could all do the same to secure a suitable backup in case of an injury. Regardless, with all the trade rumor focus on Brodeur, Ward and Bryzgalov right now, Thomas could end up being a trade deadline steal.