Stars Hoping Thomas Provides Solid One-Two Punch in Goal

Did the Dallas Stars add an important piece in Tim Thomas as a player who significantly deepens their netminding corps and considerably reinforces their chances to make and even advance deep into the playoffs? Or will they be disappointed by the sizzle that the ex-Bruin Stanley Cup winning puck stopper brings to the green shirts?

Thomas was acquired from Florida on Wednesday, March 5 for backup netminder Dan Ellis in the aftermath of the swap that brought marquee goalie Roberto Luongo to the Panthers from Vancouver with minor league forward Steven Anthony for goalie Jacob Markstrom and center Shawn Matthias.

Thomas, who backstopped the Bruins to the 2010-11Stanley Cup triumph against Vancouver, learned of the Luongo trade while he was on the team bus to Boston’s TD Garden for Tuesday (March 4) night’s game (a 4-1 Bruin win), according to the Miami Herald. TSN reported that Thomas was not thrilled about how he learned of the Luongo deal, or the trade itself.

Thomas, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and who waived his no-trade clause to facilitate his change of address, believed he had a future in Florida. But the team’s plans changed as a result of the reacquisition of Luongo.

“This was a business decision,” Florida GM Dale Tallon said. “(The deal came) out of nowhere. I told (Thomas) the truth, how it went down and what happened. That’s just the way it is. It’s strictly business. We have to win games, build a solid championship team here. It was a good conversation. I don’t blame him for being upset. This is the direction we’re going in.”

Ironically, the trade will alter the Panthers’ scheduled Tim Thomas Bobblehead Doll giveaway at this Sunday’s game against (you guessed it) the Bruins. A Panther spokesman admitted that while the dolls won’t be distributed at the game, the team will fulfill individual fans’ request for the collectible, according to the Miami Herald.

The Stars, who pursued Thomas in free agency last summer, are thrilled to acquire a netminder of his experience and talent. “This is a great example of how things can change quickly,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “When Roberto Luongo got traded….our mindset was it was a chance to pick up a Stanley Cup champion goalie who has been to the playoffs and been through the pressure. The (team owner Tom) Gaglardi family stepped up, were behind it the whole way and it was just important for us to solidify that position.”

Thomas, who will be 40 next month, captured a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy (as the top playoff performer) with the Bruins in 1010-2011 while setting an NHL record with a .938 save percentage during the regular season. He also posted a 1.98 goals against average in the post-season.

Having earned the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in 2009 and 2011, he has compiled a 212-141-45 won-loss-overtime loss log, a 2.51 goals against average, and a .920 save percentage in nine NHL seasons with Boston and Florida.

Thomas also turned down an invitation to visit the White House for political reasons, lost in a tough first-round playoff series with Washington in 2012 and then sat out the 2012-13 season.
He returned this season to post a 16-20-3 record with a 2.87 goals against average and a .909 save percentage for the Panthers, who are currently in 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference. Ellis had a 5-6-0 record with a 3.04 average and a .900 save percentage.

“When the opportunity came (to join) Dallas, I didn’t really expect it,” said Thomas, who will wear number 30 for the Stars. “But once I thought about it, the excitement started right away. (Wednesday) night I had a little bit of time on the flight (to Dallas) to think. It is exciting to be with a team in this situation at this time of year.

“I’m pretty sure that my role is going to be that when they play me in a game, I stop as many as I can so the team can win,” he added. “Really, I try to keep it as simple as that. I’ve got (Kari Lehtonen) here (in Dallas). I’ve partnered with Finnish goaltenders quite a few times over the course of my career (i.e., Tuukka Rask in Boston, etc.) and have always had great relationships with them. I just really get along well with them for some reason. So I’m looking forward to helping him to play his best when he’s playing and him helping me, pushing me in practice and in games.”

Thomas said he is excited to join the Stars, whom he sees as “a good team that I think should make that final playoff spot this year, one that has the potential to raise some eyebrows in the playoffs. To be honest with you, I haven’t watched (them) too much, (having been) in Eastern Conference, so I’ll be getting more familiar here over the next few days.”

Nill and the Stars hope that Thomas will team with Lehtonen and provide the club with a solid one-two punch between the pipes. “We’ve liked how he’s played — he’s experienced,” Nill said. “I think it is going to be good for Kari to see how he prepares and how he handles pressure. Kari is kind of growing into this role. It’s still Kari’s team, but when we have back-to-back games or four games in six nights, he knows there is somebody that can go into the net and the team is going to continue to win. That’s very important.

“I am not too worried about (the two goalies co-existing),” added Nill. “They both want to win (and for) the team to win. There will be lots of hockey, so there will be lots of net for both of them and they are both very professional. I think it is going to work out well.”

According to Stars coach Lindy Ruff, “we’ll handle them on a game to game basis based on the (20 games over the final 39 days of the season) and make sure that we’re not overplaying (Lehtonen). At the same time, I want to give Tim his opportunity to play. If he plays well, he’ll be rewarded for his play. I think in unison, with how compact the schedule is and the number of games we have to play, I think he can be a vital piece for us. I do not have a set number of games in mind, nor will I put one together. We are going to do what it takes to win, and I think that will involve both goaltenders.”

Just 24 hours previously, the Stars — pleased with how their defensive corps has played since veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas went down with a broken leg on Nov. 29 — dealt the veteran blueliner to Anaheim for a conditional fourth round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

The 37-year old Robidas played in 24 games for Dallas this season with five points (four of them goals), but has not appeared in a game since suffering a broken leg on Nov. 29 against visiting Chicago. Robidas, who was drafted by Monteral in 1995, has appeared in 871 career NHL games (704 of them with Dallas) and accumulated 246 career points (55 goals and 191 assists).

Stars GM Jim Nill discussed the defenseman’s options after teams began to inquire as to his availability. “I respect Stephane a lot for what he has meant to the organization,” said Nill. “I told him there are some teams that are Stanley Cup contenders, they had called (about) him, and asked if he wanted to (maximize his) opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. He said he loved the guys here and didn’t want to leave them. We discussed that, and in the end he said it would be a great opportunity at his age to go win Cup. He was very appreciative.”

The 37-year-old Robidas is in the final year of a four-year, $13.2 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in July, with six defenseman already under contract for the 2014-2015 campaign.

The Stars currently have seven defenseman on the NHL roster with plenty of depth at the minor league level. The Texas Stars of the American Hockey League features bluelines such as Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Jyrki Jokipakka, Cameron Gaunce and Maxime Fortunus.

Team captain Jamie Benn lauded Robidas for being a key team member for many years. “I got to build a great relationship with him,” said Benn. “He was a heart-and-soul, warrior kind of guy. It’s tough to see him leave but he’s been working hard since he got injured to get back in this lineup and he’s got a good chance to make something happen here so we definitely wish him the best of luck.”

Defenseman Brenden Dillon credited Robidas with “(teaching me) how to be a professional in every aspect of life, at the rink and away from the rink. He’s a great player. His résumé speaks for itself. He’s a guy I credit a lot for helping me get to this level and do what I do at this level. He’s a great guy and he is definitely going to be missed. At the same time, I wish him all the best in Anaheim.”


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