The Panthers landed one of the biggest names in goaltending Monday when former Boston All-Star Tim Thomas agreed to a tryout with the team.
Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in 2009 and ’11, will be on the ice with the Panthers for practice Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs.
Because he is in on a professional tryout (PTO), Thomas does not have a contract with the Panthers. If Florida likes what it sees from Thomas, it has the right to offer him a deal for the 2013-14 season. The Panthers have plenty of room under the salary cap.
The 39-year-old led Boston to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and was named MVP of those playoffs.
“All I know is he won a Stanley Cup … and was a big reason for it,” general manager Dale Tallon said after Thomas officially agreed to join the Panthers.
“We need goaltending and need someone to get to where we need to go. Right now, it’s Tim Thomas. He’s going to get an opportunity. He’s in good shape and is eager to go. He’s very strong mentally and physically.”
Thomas looked for a new home after leaving Boston following the 2011-12 season. Thomas left the Bruins after a controversial season and sat out last year’s lockout-shortened season.
The Bruins traded Thomas’ rights to the Islanders who kept the contract on the books, without paying Thomas, to stay below the salary cap. That allowed Thomas’ final year to expire and make him a free agent.
With Scott Clemmensen out for the first few weeks of camp after having minor knee surgery, the Panthers made it clear they were looking for goaltending. In Thomas, Florida gets one of hockey’s most decorated netminders of recent years.
Thomas could play in his first game with the Panthers either Wednesday at Dallas or Friday against the Stars in San Antonio.
“This is good. The guy is a proven winner,” said Brad Boyes, who is also in Florida camp on a PTO and played with Thomas from 2005 to ’07 in Boston.
“He’s one guy out of every goalie I’ve played with who is the hardest worker. He doesn’t let guys score on him. It’s impressive. A guy with his stature coming in here is big.”
A number of Florida players worked out before Monday’s exhibition double-header against visiting Nashville when news of Thomas’ impending arrival spread.
Brian Campbell, who played with Thomas during the lockout of 2004-05 in Finland, said it would be hard to find a player who worked harder than Thomas does.
Thomas, who played collegiately at Vermont, didn’t become a full-time NHL starter until he was 31. Thomas spent almost a decade toiling in the North American minor leagues as well as playing in Finland and Sweden but never gave up on his dream to make it to the NHL.
In parts of eight NHL seasons, all with the Bruins, Thomas has played in 378 games, going 196-121-45 in stopping 92 percent of shots faced. Thomas is also 29-21 in 50 postseason starts, stopping 93 percent of his shots.
“I enjoyed my time playing with Tim,” Campbell said. “He’s a great goalie, a great battler and a great person. Him coming here is a bonus for us. We feel we have two strong goaltenders here, but if you can add a piece like this, it’s not going to hurt you.”
The Panthers are a little more crowded in net and may have to make a tough decision.
If Clemmensen comes back from his knee surgery before camp ends and Thomas looks good enough to keep, the Panthers would have to choose between sending Clemmensen (who will make $1.2 million this year) or 23-year-old Jacob Markstrom to the minors.
“Competition is great and the more you have internally for spots, the better off you will be,” Tallon said. “It’s wide open. May the best man win.”
Said Boyes: “He’s very competitive and wants to win. He’ll want to be in there and play. He’s going to be a guy who pushes other guys. As a goalie, he’ll give us a chance to win. That’s huge. You win in this league with goaltending.”
Thomas made headlines in 2012 when he refused to join his teammates at the White House, citing differences of opinion with President Barack Obama.
Thomas’ play slipped a bit after that as rumors of him not participating in the team event didn’t sit well in the Boston locker room.
“Everyone has their opinions and that doesn’t hurt anyone,” Campbell said. “The whole White House thing, well, maybe you would like him to go, but he cares about his country. If that’s his biggest fault, well, let’s move past it. He has strong views about everything, not just politics.”