July 21, 2015

Wayne Thomas

One of the most under-reported NHL retirement stories in the summer of 2015 was the stepping down of San Jose Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas. His exiting caps a 45 year career in the National Hockey League as player, coach and executive.

Thomas had spent the last 22 seasons with the Sharks. He started out as a goaltending coach and became a full assistant coach but spent the last 19 seasons as the Sharks’ assistant general manager and the last 14 seasons as vice president.

“I am very proud to have been a part of this organization and its accomplishments,” Thomas said in a statement. “My only regret is not being part of a group that brought a Cup to San Jose. After 22 years of being part of the Hockey Operations of the Sharks, it is time to spend a little more time being a husband, father and grandfather.”

Thomas was a former NHL goaltender, playing in 243 games over nine seasons. He posted a 103-93-34 record with Montreal, Toronto and the New York Rangers in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In his rookie season, he posted a shutout in his very first game and was a member of the Canadiens’ 1972-73 Stanley Cup Championship team, though his name is not engraved on the Stanley Cup.

His big chance came in 1973-74. The Montreal Canadiens could not secure superstar goaltender Ken Dryden to a new contract, so he sat out the entire season to practice law. The Canadiens tried three goalies to replace Dryden. Bunny Larocque and Michel Plasse were good, but it was Thomas who got the bulk of the work. In 42 games he posted a 23-12-5 record in the regular season. But it was Larocque who got the nod from coach Scotty Bowman come playoffs time. Ultimately the Canadiens direly missed Dryden, as the defending Stanley Cup champions were knocked out in the first round.

Dryden returned in 1974-75, with Larocque serving as a back up. Interestingly, Thomas never played a game anywhere that season, yet was considered to be on the Canadiens active roster all year. He sat in the press box all season.

The Canadiens settled that issue by trading him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1975-76 season. Thomas played a lot with the Leafs that season, going 28-24-12 in 64 games and a 5-5 playoff record. He also got to represent Toronto at the NHL All Star Game.

Thomas was bumped by a young hot shot goalie named Mike Palmateer the next season. By 1977-78 Thomas was off to the New York Rangers were he and Doug Soetart split back up goaltending duties behind starter John Davidson for four seasons.

 After his retirement in 1981, Thomas spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Rangers. He also served as an assistant in St. Louis and Chicago, while running his own show with several minor league teams, including the 1986-87 Salt Lake City Golden Eagles team that won the IHL's Turner Cup championship.

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