The Dallas Stars pursued goaltender Tim Thomas in free agency last summer, but were never able to work out a deal and Thomas ended up in Florida. The Stars got another crack at pursuing Thomas when Florida acquired Roberto Luongo from Vancouver on Tuesday, which made Thomas available via the trade market. And the Stars seized the opportunity just before Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, shipping goaltender Dan Ellis to the Panthers for Thomas.
“This is a great example of how things can change quickly,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “When Roberto Luongo got traded that opened a position in Florida and it’s something we talked about. Our mindset was it was a chance to pick up a Stanley Cup champion goalie, who has been to the playoffs, been through the pressure. The Gaglardi family stepped up, were behind it the whole way and it was just important for us to solidify that position.”
Thomas, who turns 40 next month, has an impressive track record. He won a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Boston Bruins in 2011. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in 2011 and in 2009. In nine NHL seasons with both Boston and Florida he is 212-141-48 with a 2.51 goals against average and .920 save percentage.
Thomas is making $2.5 million this season and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. He took off the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, but returned this season and has posted a 16-20-3 record, 2.87 goals against average and .909 save percentage with the Panthers, who are currently in 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference.
Ellis makes $800,000 this season and has one year left on his contract at $1,000,000. He had a 5-6-0 record for the Stars with a 3.04 goals against average and a .900 save percentage.
The Stars believe Thomas will come in and give the Stars a strong combination in net along with No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen.
“We’ve liked how he’s played. He’s played very well. He’s experienced,” Nill said of Thomas. “I think it is going to be good for Kari Lehtonen to see a guy, how he prepares, how he handles pressure. Kari is kind of growing into this role. It’s Kari’s team still, 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.”
It’s still Lehtonen’s team, and Nill said he didn’t see any problem with Lehtonen and Thomas, who are both No. 1 goaltenders, co-existing.
“I am not too worried about that,” Nill said. “They both want to win, they both want the team to win. There’s going to be lots of hockey, so there is going to be lots of net for both of them and they are both very professional, so I think it is going to work out well.”
Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley said Thomas should push Lehtonen down the stretch, and that Thomas’ postseason experience will be a major plus.
“It will be good to have a guy that is a proven playoff performer,” Valley said. “It will be good to have a second guy come in and really push Kari. With this busy schedule there are so many things that can come into play and can happen, so you really want to make sure that you have two guys that are top goaltenders in the league. It’s a pretty clear statement from our ownership and management that they want to get into the playoffs, and in order to do that you need top notch goaltending every night. We’ve got two guys that can do it.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he’ll take scheduling the goaltenders on a day to day basis. The Stars have 20 games over the final 39 days of the season. There are three back-to-backs coming up over the rest of March.
“We’ll handle them on a game to game basis based on the schedule and making sure that we’re not overplaying Lehts,” said Ruff. “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.”
Thomas, who will wear No. 30 for the Stars, was expected to arrive in Dallas Wednesday night and be on the ice when the Stars skate at American Airlines Center Thursday morning in preparation for that night’s game against Vancouver.
No other deals for Stars
The acquisition of Tim Thomas was the only deal for the Stars on Wednesday, which marked the NHL’s trade deadline. Stars GM Jim Nill said he likes the team’s current roster and there were no deals that made long-term sense.
“There was a lot of talk, but in the end there were not going to be any trades made that were going to be short-term,” Nill said. “If there was something there that was going to be long-term that we were going to add to our team, but nothing like that really ever popped up. In the end, Lindy and I have talked, we like our team, we like where it’s going and there just weren’t any fits that were going to help us long-term and we didn’t do anything short-term.”
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