Perhaps the biggest moment of Jocelyn Thibault’s hockey career was something he had no control over. On December 6, 1995, Thibault was part of the blockbuster deal that sent future Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche along with Mike Keane in exchange for Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky.
Thought Thibault didn’t become a Hall-of-Famer in his own career, he was a workhorse in net during his 14-year NHL career, with the heart of that tenure coming during his six seasons with the Blackhawks.
Thibault stayed in Montreal for three years after the Roy trade, coming to Chicago on November 16, 1998 in a deal that sent Thibault to Chicago with defensemen Dave Manson and Brad Brown in exchange for goaltender Jeff Hackett, defenseman Eric Weinrich and prospect Alain Nasreddine.
Hackett had been the Hawks No. 1 goalie so Thibault, then just 22 years old and a former first-round pick (10th overall) in 1993, immediately became the Hawks top netminder of the present and expected goalie for the future. Despite joining the team late, Thibault played in 52 games that season, posting a 21-26-5 record with a .905 SA% and 2.71 GAA. One year later, in an incident we’ve already covered in this series, Thibault broke his finger trying to catch a slapshot from Hall of Famer Al MacInnis. Thibault played a ton of hockey for the Blackhawks in the next four seasons, appearing in at least 60 games each year. This was during an era when goalies often cracked the 70-game plateau during the regular season. That trend has since subsided: in the 2001-02 NHL season, six goalies played over 4,000 minutes. Last season, no one did.
In that same 2001-02 season, Thibault was in net for the Hawks first playoff win since 1997, when Hackett was the starter. The next playoff victory for Chicago, after Thibault, came with Nikolai Khabibulin as the starter, seven years later. Chicago defeated the St. Louis Blues (then coached by Joel Quenneville) 2-1, thanks to a late goal by Alexander Karpovtsev (Pat Foley’s favorite former Hawk), But the good times ended there, as Chicago was shutout for the next three games by Brent freaking Johnson. Jamal Mayers (the same one who joined the Hawks a decade later) scored the winner in Game 5, ending Chicago’s lone playoff appearance over a 10-year period.
The next season was Thibault’s best. He played in 62 games in 2002-03 while posting a .915 SA% and 2.33 GAA with eight shutouts. Thibault earned All-Star honors with his excellent play in the first half of the year and looked like he’d be leading the Hawks back to the playoffs. But all that was undone, as it so often was in those days, when the Hawks won just once in a 13-game stretch between February and March.
The 2003-04 Blackhawks season will sound an awful lot like the 2017-18 version. Thibault, the No. 1 goalie, missed most of the season with an injury. Behind him, a revolving door of goalies continuously under-performed, and Chicago fell far out of the playoff picture. That was the year that Matt Underhill played his first and only NHL game (another story from a past edition of this series). In August 2004, Thibault was traded to Pittsburgh for a fourth-round pick, where he played for two more seasons after the lockout. After appearing in 12 games for the 2007-08 Buffalo Sabres, Thibault’s career ended with 586 games played, a 238-238-75 record, .904 SA% and 2.75 GAA.
Since retiring, Thibault’s stayed active in the game, leading a group that founded the Sherbrooke Phoenix, a team in the QMJHL. He remains the franchise’s general manager.