Spector: Thomas still stealing Luongo’s thunder?

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo congratulates Boston Bruins counterpart Tim Thomas folloowing the Bruins 4-0 in game 7 of NHL Stanley Cup final.

So, let us recap:

Roberto Luongo donned the black hat when he complained that Tim Thomas wasn’t “pumping my tires,” then proceeded to be badly outplayed by the Bruins goalie during the 2011 Stanley Cup final.

But Thomas didn’t know when to stop stealing the thunder from Luongo, refused a visit to the White House, and started spouting his Tea Party rhetoric. Suddenly, he became the bad guy.

Meanwhile, owing mostly to his Twitter account “@Strombone1,” Luongo became a bit of a sympathetic figure in Vancouver throughout that fumbled trade process. He said he’d go elsewhere if that’s what was best for the team, but the Canucks GM Mike Gillis couldn’t make it happen.

Of course, Luongo’s “elsewhere” was always the Florida Panthers, which is where Thomas practiced for the first time on Tuesday. He’s there on a professional tryout, hoping to secure the job that Luongo so dearly wanted.

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So, does that mean Thomas is mowing Luongo’s (saw)grass?

Will Luey move the wife and kids up to Vancouver, and rent the Florida compound to Thomas?

Will Roberto leave the convertible in the garage in Florida, with the tires slightly deflated so that… Well, you get the picture.

“I haven’t listened to the media much for the past 10 months,” Thomas said on Tuesday in Florida, where he met with the Panthers media after practicing with the team for the first time.

He has been away from the game, focusing on “faith and family,” Thomas said, for the past year. The good news was, he picked the lockout season to take a year off. The bad news, of course, was his Boston Bruins went to the Cup final.

“What really gave me the itch (to return) was watching the playoffs,” the 39-year-old said. “Over the season, I didn’t watch hockey at all. Then over the last playoff season … I started to get the competitive juices flowin’. I saw my former team, the Boston Bruins, have the success they had. I was so proud of those guys, and what they did…”

Thomas spent his year away from the game living in Colorado. He built some townhouses, got involved in some business ventures, spent time with his kids, and went on a few hunting trips. That included an excursion to the Florida Everglades where he bagged a ‘gator.

“After 14 years of pro hockey, I got tired, and I needed a break. Now I’m re-energized,” he said.

But can Thomas, at 39, reclaim his game after a year away? The sample size is small, of those who have pulled off what Thomas is attempting.

Jacques Plante took two seasons off in his late 30s and then played six more seasons upon returning. Dominik Hasek took a year off at 37 and came back to post three more 25-win seasons, and back up on a Cup winner in Detroit in 2008.

Florida, meanwhile, is far away from success. By the time the Panthers are ready to challenge for a Cup, Thomas will likely be retired for good.

“I don’t want to speculate how many years I could or couldn’t go,” he said. “But I do feel rejuvenated, refreshed, and I’m ready to go. I’m really enjoying myself.”

The Panthers have 6-foot-6 Swede Jacob Markstrom projected as their future No. 1, but “projected” simply means he isn’t there yet. Markstrom is 23, and with a save percentage of just .901 last season, he’s got much work ahead.

Backup Scott Clemmensen opened the door for Thomas when he required knee surgery, which sent Talon shopping. Once Clemmensen returns, providing Thomas shows somewhere close to the Conn Smyth winner he was two seasons ago, we can see Tallon making a profitable trade at the deadline to a team with goaltending issues.

For now though, it’s all about Thomas regaining his place among the elite goaltenders in this game. About saying the right things regarding a franchise on the rise, and what he can bring to the table.

“Experience, competitiveness… just leadership,” Thomas said. “Nothing can replace experience, that’s one thing I’ve learned.”

Well, experience tells us that Thomas has a long road ahead. A few have travelled it successfully, but many more have tried and failed.

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