Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Mitch Hedberg used to have a standup bit that went a little something like this:
"When you go to a restaurant on the weekends and it's so busy they start a waiting list. They say 'Dufrane, party of two' ... but then if no one answers they'll move on to the next name. 'Bush party of three.' Yeah, but what happened to the Dufranes?"
Whenever I hear this, it makes me think of Tim Thomas.
You're probably familiar with Thomas. The Boston Bruins netminder has won two of the last four Vezina trophies and in 2011, was given the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP.
But just like the Dufranes, Thomas has gone missing.
Inexplicably, Thomas decided not to return from the lockout, though leaving open the possibility that he could come back next season.
Maybe Thomas is in the islands drinking martinis with Daniel Craig. Maybe he's auditioning for American Idol.
Who knows. What we do know is that he won't be suiting up for the Bruins in 2013.
Now that Thomas is out of the picture, Tuukka Rask will take over as the team's starting goaltender.
Rask is an iPhone autocorrect disaster waiting to happen, but he's also a star in the making. ESPN has him at seventh in their goaltender rankings, while Yahoo has him at No. 5.
Rask has quietly been very good for the Bruins over the past few seasons. Though he only played 23 games to Thomas' 59 in 2011-12, Rask was more efficient, stopping 92.9 percent of the shots he faced compared to just 92.0 for Thomas.
If Rask had played enough games to qualify, his 2.05 goals against average would have been the sixth-lowest in the NHL. Meanwhile, Thomas and his 2.36 GAA finished a distant 13th.
Rask has appeared in 97 games over the last three seasons, producing a 2.19 GAA and a .927 save percentage during that span. Let's see how those numbers stack up against some of the NHL's other top netminders over that same period of time:
Henrik Lundqvist: 2.22 GAA, .924 save percentage
Ryan Miller: 2.44, .921
Tim Thomas: 2.28, .926
What do Lundqvist, Miller and Thomas all have in common? They're the last three recipients of the Vezina Trophy -- AKA, the three best goalies in hockey over the last three years. And Rask has better stats than all three of them.
Granted, Rask's sample size is much smaller (he's only played 5,445:46 minutes compared to 9,157:21 for Thomas, 11,412:55 for Miller and 11,963:59 for Lundqvist). But the potential for greatness still exists.
Out of the three, Rask's build is most similar to Miller's. Both are tall and thin (6-foot-2, 175 pounds for Miller, 6-foot-3, 171 for Rask), which allows them to be agile while still being able to cover most of the net. Miller is known as a hybrid-style goalie, while Rask uses the more traditional butterfly stance.
Several players have already warned their teams that they might be rusty after the long layoff, but that won't be the case with Rask. While half the league was waiting on the couch for the lockout to end, he was sharpening his skills over in Europe. In eight games for the Czech team HC Plzen, Rask went 6-2 with a 1.85 GAA and a .936 save percentage.
Rask should be extra-motivated heading into the 2013 season, which starts Saturday at home against the New York Rangers. That's because his performance could very well determine the length of his next contract (he signed a one- year, $3.5 million pact to stay with Boston this past offseason).
Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Philadelphia's Ilya Bryzgalov have each received contracts in excess of nine years and $50 million over the last few seasons. Neither player has a career GAA lower than 2.50 or a save percentage higher than .920. That's good news for Rask's bank account.
Here's another interesting case for Rask. The 25-year-old from Finland has a history of playing well early in the season and cooling off late (2.12 GAA/.929 save percentage before the All-Star break versus 2.61/.912 after). With just 48 games to work with because of the lockout, Rask and the rest of the NHL will essentially be playing only half a season. Fewer games means less fatigue, and that should bode well for Rask's fantasy prospects.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Rask plays for the Bruins. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, only the Canucks (105) and Penguins (100) have won more regular-season games than the B's (95).
You better learn how to spell this kid's name, because he's the real deal. Rask, party of three, your table is served.