Sunday

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas earned a reputation as a clutch goal scorer while a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Time and time again he would score dramatic goals late in games, much to the delight of the Maple Leaf faithful. As a result he is one of the most popular Leafs in the modern era.

The fire-hydrant sized Thomas was a clutch scorer, once standing as the all time leading scorer in regular season overtime with 21 points. He had more than 70 career game winning goals, ranking him among the all time best in terms of highest game winning goal average compared to goals scored for players with more than 50 win clinching goals scored in a career.

Thomas was a high energy player, relying on explosive speed bursts to key a ferocious fore-check. With his low center of gravity and tree trunk legs, he was almost impossible to remove from the puck once he took it from a player. He possessed and absolutely lethal shot, a weapon that allowed him to score 421 times in the NHL. Unfortunately he always thought shot, and he could have benefited from developing a passing game after forcing turnovers on the forecheck.

Steve has the unusual birth place of Stockport, England, but he grew up in Toronto idolizing the great Darryl Sittler. Steve joined the Toronto Marlies junior team full-time in 1982-83. That year, he scored 38 points in 61 games as an OHL rookie. In 1983-84, he improved to 51 goals and 105 points. Despite these numbers he was passed over in the NHL entry draft. Fortunately the Leafs gave the local kid a tryout. His energetic play combined with an obvious but still developing knack for finding the net earned him a contract. Over the following couple of decades Thomas would play exactly the same way as he did in that training camp, and he developed into one of the NHL's most consistent snipers over that time.

"Stumpy" as he affectionately is called, apprenticed in the AHL with St. Catherines Maple Leafs in 1984-85. Thomas proved he was a definite NHL prospect in less than a full season there. He scored 42 goals and 90 points and won the Red Garrett Trophy as the league's top rookie, and was named as a First Team All Star. All this despite spending 18 games as an NHL call up - scoring his first NHL goal against Detroit's Colorado Micalef.

In 1985-86 Thomas was again demoted to the minors but was recalled permanently after scoring 18 goals in 19 games. He finished the year strongly in Toronto - scoring 20 goals and 57 points in 65 games. He then paced all Leafs scorers with 6 goals and 14 points in 10 playoff games.

In 1986-87 Thomas' 35 goals were only bettered by Wendel Clark, while he paced the team with 7 game winners. He followed that up with another strong playoff as the Leafs entered the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

However that appeared to be the end of Thomas' fast rising career in southern Ontario. A blockbuster trade saw the Leafs prized youngster along with veteran leader Rick Vaive traded to division rivals Chicago Blackhawks for Ed Olczyk and Bob McGill. The trade was much discussed in the media and the fans - while Toronto was excited to get silky Ed Olczyk, they were saddened to lose Thomas. Thomas, who essentially was an opportunistic mucker and grinder. His physical game made him popular wherever he played.

Furor over the loss of Thomas was quieted quickly as Thomas struggled through two injury plagued years in Chicago. He rebounded in 1989-90 when he scored 40 goals in a full season, but fell to 19 goals the following year. Early in the 1992-93 season Thomas was traded in another big trade. He and big Adam Creighton were moved to Long Island in exchange for Brad Lauer and the great leader Brent Sutter. Thomas enjoyed several good personal years in New York despite some weak teams. He set a personal best of 87 points in 1992-93 and with 42 goals in 1993-94.

Beginning in 1995 Thomas joined New Jersey and over the course of 3 seasons his numbers dwindled in the offense-stifling Devil's system of play. His career appeared to be over until the Maple Leafs came calling - giving the local kid another shot.

Thomas did not disappoint. In his first year back he was teamed often with Mats Sundin, and scored 28 goals and 73 points - an increase of almost 50 points from the year before! His 7 game winning goals helped the Leafs become a true contender once again. He followed that up with 26 goals and 63 points, but had 9 game winners in 1999-2000.

Injuries limited Thomas to just 8 goals in 2000-2001. That was the final year of his contract and the Leafs made an unpopular decision not to bring back their energetic leader. Thomas did find a familiar home though, as he returned to Chicago.

After two forgettable years in Chicago, Thomas had one last hurrah after joining in the Anaheim Ducks at the trading deadline of 2003. The notoriously streaky scorer proceeded to explode for 10 goals in the final 12 games of the season (after scoring just 4 all year in Chicago), and scored 4 big goals in the playoffs. He helped the Ducks advance to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, but the New Jersey Devils would prove to be too much. In his 19 year NHL career, it was Thomas' first trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

Thomas returned for one last season in the NHL, playing with Detroit in 2003-04. He retired at year's end, with 1235 career games played, 421 goals, 512 assists and 933 points. He added 54 goals and 107 points in 174 career playoff games.

3 comments:

Nicholas 11:08 AM  

Thomas is one who immediately comes to mind when the discussion of the most underrated players comes up. He always worked hard and was a great team guy.

Nicholas 11:11 AM  

Thomas was a hard worker and a gritty team guy. He always comes to my mind when discussing the most underrated players.

Anonymous,  1:20 PM  

Re: "Steve joined the Toronto Marlies junior team full-time in 1982-83. That year, he scored 38 points in 61 games as an OHL rookie. In 1983-84, he improved to 51 goals and 105 points. Despite these numbers he was passed over in the NHL entry draft. Fortunately the Leafs gave the local kid a tryout."

I don't think he was passed over despite his 105 pts in 83/84-he was signed by Toronto in May (per Total NHL), before the draft. He'd have been 21 before the next season-I don't think he'd have been eligible for the '84 draft anyway.

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