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Tim Thomas has a new goal for 2011-12: the Hart Trophy

Sep 19, 2011, 8:00 AM EDT

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People tend to rush to hyperbole after an athlete accomplishes something of note, but it’s pretty tough to overstate how special Tim Thomas was in 2010-11.

Thomas broke the single-season record for save percentage and won the Vezina Trophy during the regular season and then topped that with an even better save percentage in the playoffs, a Conn Smythe nod and a Stanley Cup victory. He joined Philadelphia Flyers great Bernie Parent as the two netminders to manage the triple crown of a Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup win in the same campaign.

With some major milestones crossed off the list, some might wonder if the 37 year old goalie will have the same motivation next season. After all, how can you top an almost incomparable run of performances? In a league with such a small margin of error, the slightest hint of relaxation could mean a drop from world class status to borderline mediocrity.

Then again, there’s still one far flung objective the odds-beating goalie hasn’t achieved yet: winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. That’s something he (somewhat seriously) discussed as Boston Bruins training camp began.

“I’m really not trying to be cocky,” Thomas replied, “but I’ve never won a Hart Trophy (as league MVP). At least it’s a goal I can shoot for, you know? That’s a goal to shoot for, whether I accomplish it or not. A lot of it is up to me, but a lot of it’s up to fate, too.”

The odds are stacked against Thomas

Hart voters aren’t exactly prone to handing the award to netminders. In fact, here’s the list of goalies who have won the Hart Trophy.

Roy Worters (1928-29)
Chuck Rayner (1949-50)
Al Rollins (1953-54)
Jacques Plante (1961-62)
Dominik Hasek (1996-97 and 97-98)
Jose Theodore (2001-02)

While it’s pretty neat that Hasek is the only two-time winner among goalies, it’s pretty stunning that Theodore earned an MVP award while the likes of Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, Martin Brodeur and so on never won a Hart Trophy. That underscores the “fate” part of Thomas’ quote; it’s not just about how well Thomas plays, but also how sportswriters view his performances relative to top scorers and elite defensemen.

Sharing starts won’t help his cause

Then again, the biggest impediment to his goal of winning the MVP is his talented backup Tuukka Rask. While Rask’s 29 games played was far less than people expected last season, that’s still a significant enough chunk of games to hurt Thomas’ cause as far as being perceived as more valuable than a skater who can suit up for 82 games.

The word is that Rask will take an even bigger “bite” from Thomas next season, so that will only make it tougher for the unorthodox goalie to prove that he’s the league’s most valuable player. When you add Rask’s presence to the fact that Thomas struggled (relatively speaking) in his other post-Vezina season in 09-10, a Hart push seems far-fetched.

That being said, Thomas carved out an outstanding career while proving people wrong again and again. It might be reasonable to doubt Thomas when it comes to throwing out the idea of going for the Hart Trophy, but it’s best not to tell the ultra-competitive netminder what he can and cannot do. The guy has a knack for defying odds.

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