If you're a general manager rebuilding a hockey team, signing a 38-year-old free-agent right wing and picking up a 37-year-old defenseman in the waiver draft is not the conventional way to go.
But the evidence from the first four weeks of the season suggests Blackhawks general manager Mike Smith made shrewd moves when he decided to try to get more mileage out of right wing Steve Thomas and defenseman Phil Housley.
Despite the loss, the Hawks have been one of the league's biggest surprises and Thomas and Housley have been important contributors to the early-season success story.
Thomas was in the forefront Thursday night in Los Angeles, scoring two power-play goals as the Hawks rallied in the third period to knock off the Kings 3-2.
Housley returned after missing the two previous games with a concussion, and it was his shot from the perimeter that set up Thomas' deflection to break a 1-1 tie with 5 minutes 53 seconds left in the game.
"Phil had a premonition," Thomas said. "We were lining up for a faceoff and he came up to me and said, `Get in front. I'm going to get the puck on net.'"
Steve Sullivan won the draw. Thomas went to the front of the net and put his stick on the ice to meet the puck that Housley sent in from the point, deflecting it past Los Angeles goaltender Felix Potvin.
It was the sixth goal and eighth point of the season for Thomas. And it was the fourth assist for Housley, who went into the Anaheim game with three goals, two coming Oct. 4 when the Hawks got the season off to a good start by opening with a 5-4 victory in Vancouver.Last season Thomas had a career-low eight goals in 57 games with Toronto, suggesting he might be over the hill. But in the playoffs Thomas rediscovered his scoring touch and had six goals and three assists in 11 games.
In Smith's opinion, Thomas' playoff performance--not his statistics from the regular season--was the indicator of what he could bring to the Hawks.
Thomas emerged from his slump Oct. 18 by scoring twice to help lift the Hawks to a 5-3 victory in Nashville, and since then he has picked up where he left off last spring in the playoffs.
"It's nice when things go your way," Thomas said. "I seem to be in the right position at certain times. My legs are good and my mind is clear."
Brief vacation: After stopping 29 shots Thursday--improving his record to 8-3-3, his save percentage to .906 and his goals-against average to 2.41--goalie Jocelyn Thibault was out of the Hawks' starting lineup for the first time this season.
Hoping to rest Thibault for Sunday's home game against Detroit, coach Brian Sutter started Steve Passmore, whose only previous appearance was a 33-minute relief stint during the 6-4 loss Oct. 12 in Minnesota.
However, Passmore sustained an apparent knee injury at 33 seconds of the second period when he collided with Mike Leclerc while the Anaheim right wing was rushing the net and he was replaced by Thibault.