Twelve months ago, the Boston Bruins goaltender was recovering from major hip surgery, attempting to prove to the team that he still was capable of being the club's No. 1 goaltender. Despite being one of the highest-paid goaltenders in the NHL, Thomas watched the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs from the bench.
Fast-forward to this September, when Thomas is the League's reigning Vezina Trophy winner after going 35-11-9 with a 2.00 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and nine shutouts. He is coming off one of the greatest individual postseason performances in NHL history, one that saw him win 16 of 25 games while posting a 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage. Those numbers ultimately led to the Conn Smythe Trophy and helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1972.
He became the first goalie to win the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the same season since the Philadelphia Flyers' Bernie Parent in 1975.
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"It was that and then not even knowing for sure whether you'd be able to get to anywhere near the level that I was the first time I won the Vezina (in 2009)," Thomas told NHL.com. "I don't think it was retirement-serious at any point, but I didn't know if I was looking at spending the rest of my career as a highly paid backup that was taking all the heat in the media and from the fans constantly."
Twelve months after closing arguably the most painful offseason of his career, Thomas is now finishing his fastest one. That's what happens when you win the Stanley Cup, not to mention all his other individual awards.
"Outside of the shortness of it, it was just a busy summer," Thomas said. "A lot of attention comes with winning the Cup -- and the Conn Smythe and the Vezina."
All that attention hasn't given Thomas much time to reflect on just how special his 2010-11 season was, from an individual and team perspective.
"Those times were few and rare," Thomas said when asked if he had time during the summer to appreciate what he accomplished last season. "But that type of accomplishment, you're going to appreciate it for the rest of your life. I'll have plenty of time for that.
"There were a couple of times where I was able to appreciate it for a short period. One was just watching the DVD. It reminded me of everything that happened. I think that's what made it kind of hard to appreciate to a certain extent. So many great things happened for us to win the Cup that even if I had the time, it's hard to wrap your mind around everything that had to go right -- the overtime goals, the save by (Michael) Ryder, coming back in Montreal in the third period with Chris Kelly and Ryder scoring that overtime goal -- the list just goes on and on and on. It's part of what makes it great, but it's also part of what makes it hard to totally soak in and say, 'Wow.'"
Now 37, Thomas is entering his ninth training camp as a member of the Bruins' organization. Due to Boston's success in the postseason, the offseason obviously wasn't nearly as long for Thomas. But he says that won't change the way he approaches camp.
He'll be ready.
"The summer before, I was rehabbing the hip and I was just barely making it back for the beginning of camp for practice," Thomas said. "The approach this summer is kind of the same way because I'm an older player. I've kept an emphasis on making sure that physically I'm ready. I've learned -- especially as you get older -- if you're not (ready), you're in trouble. It's hard to catch up."
Despite winning the Stanley Cup only a few months ago, the Bruins will have somewhat of a different look this season. Ryder, who scored at least 18 goals in three seasons with the club, signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent. Tomas Kaberle, acquired from the Leafs at the trade deadline, signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. To replace him, they acquired Joe Corvo from Carolina. But the biggest impact will be the departure of Mark Recchi, who retired this summer after winning his third Stanley Cup. Thomas admitted it will be strange not having Recchi around.
"I've been fortunate and had the honor of playing with a future Hall of Famer for the last three years straight," Thomas said of Recchi. "What he does in the locker room -- especially the last couple of years -- was just as important as what he was doing on the ice, and what he was doing on the ice was great, too. He was a necessary part of our accomplishment last year. It's going to be tough not having him there. He filled a lot of roles."
One has to believe it will be Thomas who fills that veteran void left by the 43-year-old Recchi. That shouldn't be too difficult considering the respect he already has from his teammates.
"The way that he carries himself and battles -- night in and night out -- is just amazing to see and watch," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "He's given us a great chance to win every time he's stepped between the pipes. He was a huge part of our success last year and he deserves all the credit and all the things he's earned.
"He's always having a great time out there. He's a great teammate and I'm happy to have him on our side, obviously, because he's very tough to beat."
Unlike most goalies in the NHL, Thomas did not arrive on to the scene until after the age of 30. His first season as a full-time goaltender in the League was in 2006-07, when he was 32. With so many goaltenders playing in the minor leagues or abroad still looking for a chance to play at the world's highest level, there's little doubt they are inspired by arguably the world's best goaltender.
His advice? Don't give up.
"Work every year to improve," he said. "Let your play on the ice ultimately lead you to the NHL. I'm a little bit of a different story sometimes because I'm a little bit different style, but I'm sure there's other goalies out there that kind of have a similar rap. To overcome that negative look at your style, you have to consistently prove year after year that it's repeatable, what you're doing. I had years of repeatable statistics to back me up by the time I got to the NHL."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL