You’re not supposed to be able to take a year or more off in professional sports. Especially when you’re on the “wrong side” of 30. Especially when, for many of your critics, the difference between failing and being brilliant can come down to a few percentage points.
Still, there have been some special athletes who have done it before.
Mario Lemieux is the most memorable example for the NHL.
He retired from the game in 1996-97, still in his early thirties, seemingly making a 50-goal, 122-point season his cruel curtain call. That wasn't to be, however, as he returned four years later to stun the hockey/sports world by scoring 76 points in 43 games in the clutch-and-grab era. Great moments followed that return season - the 2002 gold medal in particular - although health issues brought Lemieux down one last time.
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In the NBA, Michael Jordan is another example … and he’s a guy who gave the world two comebacks.
Whether it was to chase baseball or for other oft-rumored reasons, MJ skipped the 1993-94 season and much of 1994-95 and came back around age 31. He won three more championships, seemingly sealing his legacy with the indelible image of that shot against the Utah Jazz.
Instead, he came back around age 38, and made many wish he didn’t.
Those legends bucked the trend before, but Father Time is the most unstoppable defenseman, shooter, tactician and thinker. And while those situations worked out, plenty went down with a whimper many will forget (see: Barber, Tiki).
This is all a long way of saying that Tim Thomas faces some tough odds to make this return work.
There are plenty of bright sides, though.
For one, it’s not like he was gone for that long, and even the season he missed was a 48-game abbreviated mess. If you were to pick a time to take a step back and recharge your batteries, 2012-13 (only called 2012-2013 and not just 2013 to avoid confusion) would be it.
It’s almost a cliche of sorts at this point, but it’s also undeniable that Thomas has defied logic for most of his NHL career. After all, how many two-time Vezina winners didn’t really get their first true chance at regular reps until they were at least 30?
If anyone can pull this off, it’s Thomas.
A GOOD START
It’s just one game, but Thomas nailed his first game back. That actually seems like a convenient segue to kick off some game notes, starting with Thomas’ debut with Florida.
FLORIDA 4, DALLAS 2
Thomas looked pretty sharp, stopping 25 out of 27 shots. One goal came on the Dallas power play - actually, the Stars' only shot on the man advantage - and the other at even strength.
One extra thing working in Thomas’ favor, more big picture-wise than in fantasy, is that the team will want Jacob Markstrom to get reps. Thomas hasn’t carried a big workload very often, so you wouldn’t want him to start now.
In case it isn’t obvious, yes, Thomas is absolutely worth having, even as your third goalie.
Speaking of reclamation projects, Scott Gomez scored one of Florida’s goals. I wouldn’t add him, but the abuse got a little excessive toward the Alaskan pivot after a while …
On paper, Tyler Seguin + Jamie Benn = glory, but the first night wasn't spellbinding. They were held off the scoresheet with a -1 each. Specifically regarding Seguin: 20:35 minutes of ice time, 2:52 of PP, which isn't bad since Dallas only drew three penalties.
Aleksander Barkov scored in his NHL debut. He also managed a hearty four shots on goal, which isn't bad at all considering he only logged 15:34 of ice time and 2:15 on the PP.
Of the Panthers other PTO/late additions, Tom Gilbert is the one to watch. He had an assist, three SOG, 4:41 of PP TOI and an impressive 24:41 TOI overall. It's not at Brian Campbell's level (28:21!), but still.
Brenden Dillon was involved in both Stars goals (one tally, one assist) and received more ice time (20:18) than Stephane Robidas. The biggest surprise is that Alex Goligoski topped all Stars with 22:01 of ice time.
After the jump: the rest of the game notes, injuries and more.
LA 3, MINNESOTA 2 (SO)
The Wild signed Jason Pominville to a five year, $28 million ($5.6 million per) deal on Thursday. While we’ve probably already seen the best of him at 30, that’s a pretty fair price for the useful winger, especially if he can convince his buddy Thomas Vanek to go to Minnesota, too.
Don’t blame Zach Parise and his ridiculous eight SOG for the loss.
Matt Cooke scored a goal in his Wild debut, but … just no.
PITTSBURGH 3, NEW JERSEY 0
The numbers imply that the Penguins took their feet off the pedal after generating a 2-0 lead early on, but I could be wrong. Feel free to share your take on that one.
Either way, Marc-Andre Fleury enjoyed a comforting start to the season, grabbing a shutout (the 24th of his career). He stopped all 27 shots.
Cory Schneider didn’t have such a great start, allowing three goals on 21 shots. I still strongly believe he’s New Jersey’s best option, but I’d also expect Martin Brodeur to get the next start (or at least start soon).
Ryane Clowe logged 14:37 of ice time (four hits, five PIM), Jaromir Jagr didn't do much beyond getting one SOG in 15:40 of time and Michael Ryder went goose eggs in just under 16 minutes. Not a great start for the Devils' score-by-committee approach.
BOSTON 3, TAMPA BAY 1
Valtteri Filppula scored a goal - the Lightning's lone tally - in his first game for Tampa Bay, went 10-7 in the faceoff circle and logged 14:59 minutes (2:41 PP). He generated two SOG and missed the net twice more. Not half-bad.
Jarome Iginla didn't score, but his linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic did. Iggy still made his presence felt, getting in a fight, throwing three hits and two SOG. I think he can have a strong year, and I also believe Krejci might finally convert some of that playoff dominance into more reliable everyday production.
Anders Lindback got the nod instead of Ben Bishop, but allowed three goals on 25 shots.
Loui Eriksson is a talented player and could have a strong season with Boston, but he's not the greatest peripheral guy. He's only reached more than 200 SOG once (214 in 2009-10) in his career and has never generated more than 28 PIM, so it's usually points or nothing with him.
PHOENIX 4, NY RANGERS 1
Radim Vrbata (25 percent owned) has quietly carved out quite the stealthy-good niche in the desert. He generated a hat trick on Thursday night and has actually been really productive since Phoenix brought him back in 2009-10. Here's his rundown since then:
2009-10: 82 GP, 24 G, 19 A, 43 P
2010-11: 79 GP, 19 G, 29 A, 48 P
2011-12: 77 GP, 35 G, 27 A, 62 P
2012-13: 34 GP, 12 G, 16 A, 28 P
He generally zeroes in at the three shots-per-game mark, too. Not a bad depth sniper, at all.
Mike Ribeiro had a quiet debut for the Coyotes, generating only a shot in 19:19 time on ice (2:49 PP). I'm concerned that Phoenix isn't exactly the best place for his skillset, but it's obviously early.
Two positives for the Rangers: Marc Staal was their goal-scorer and the fancy stats weren’t as lopsided as the final score.
ST. LOUIS 4, NASHVILLE 2
Pekka Rinne was chased from the net after giving up three goals midway through the first period. It’s unfair to place it all on Rinne, but should we be surprised that he’s struggling a bit coming off of hip surgery? I’d be calling Ilya Bryzgalov or Jose Theodore’s agent if I were David Poile.
Derek Roy didn't get much time on ice (14:15 overall, 2:17 PP), but he managed an assist. Maybe he got lost in the shuffle with that early lead, maybe he'll be more of a support player.
Seth Jones generated three shots, one hit and a surprising +2 rating. He received 18:35 of ice time and almost four minutes on the PP. The Predators' PP didn't look great last night, but maybe things will change a bit once some finesse players (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Stalberg) get off the shelf.
WASHINGTON 5, CALGARY 4(SO)
Braden Holtby’s had a tough start so far. Michal Neuvirth could become a threat considering his experience, although I’d still go with Holtby.
Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin looked great again. Also on the looking-great list: Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Three Flames defensemen received more than 26 minutes last night: Mark Giordano (26:54), TJ Brodie (26:29) and Dennis Wideman (26:24). It wouldn't be surprising if Calgary’s blueline is the best area to invest.
Hopefully this is obvious, but still: stay far, far away from Karri Ramo.
Perhaps it’s based on Michael Cammalleri’s absence, but David Jones received a nice opportunity last night and took advantage: 18:32 TOI, one goal, four shots, three hits and two PIM.
SAN JOSE 4, VANCOUVER 1
There’s not much turnover to discuss among these two teams. The biggest factor is contract years galore: the Sedin twins, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle all need new deals.
One new face to watch, however, is Tomas Hertl. I don’t know how long this will last for the 2012 first-rounder, but he started off with Thornton and Brent Burns. Jumbo Joe’s lost a step or two, yet the Thornton boost can be enormous (just ask former Jonathan Cheechoo and Sergei Samsonov owners).
INJURY BITS (full list)
Carl Soderberg was placed on the IR with an ankle injury ... Ville Leino's ribs are bothering him. Also, did you know he's getting paid too much? ... Gabriel Landeskog is day-to-day with a leg injury ... James Neal does seem banged up, despite playing for about four minutes during Thursday's game ... Sami Salo is suffering from an upper-body injury. This is not a repeat.