Impatience is an odd trait. Impatience in one person may mean grabbing dinner on the way home because they don’t want to spend the extra 10 minutes cooking for themselves. Impatience in another may mean a decade-long unhappy relationship because they don’t want to spend more time alone and wait for the right person. Impatience can mean jumping the gun. It can mean making rash decisions. It can mean speeding tickets. It can mean trading young defensemen for a handful of draft picks. And it can mean getting fired from your job. Just ask Todd Richards.
When we get impatient, we consider the alternatives. The greener grass on the other side of the fence. Only, if the grass was always greener on the other side, there’d be no fence. It would be knocked over. There are always two sides, and the sides that stick it out when the grass is still growing are sometimes rewarded.
While the leaves are falling and covering the green grass all over New England, the air feels like 2009 all over again. The Bruins are on the struggle bus, trying to weave through traffic and road construction that appears to be on every goddamn street in the state. And in net, we’ve got two goaltenders with sub-par, sub-.900 save percentages, and goals against averages of 2.50 or higher. They’ve got one shutout between them, and their shaky defense has allowed over 30 shots per game. No, this isn’t this year’s 2015-16 Boston Bruins. This is 2009, with two future Vezina winners in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.
This year, we’ve got Tuukka Rask and journeyman netminder Jonas Gustavsson. Tuukka Rask has had a very slow start to the season, aided by the porous defense in front of him. A defense that has allowed 30.2 shots per game on net, and a team that has on average scored 3.20 goals per game. He’s this year’s version of Tim Thomas, circa 2009. The same Tim Thomas who had yet to lead this team to a Stanley Cup. The same Tim Thomas, who had just signed a 5-year, $25 million dollar extension with the team, yet started the year massively underperforming. That Tim Thomas was 2-3-0 in his five games started, with a 3.20 GAA and .896 SV%, including one shutout. The team in front of him managed to score a measly 2.60 GPG.
That year, rakes were traded in for pitchforks, as the critics lined up outside TD Garden asking to sit Thomas. Trade Thomas. Cut, bench, waive Thomas. They wanted Tuukka. The clock had struck midnight on the reigning Vezina-winning goaltender, and it was now Tuukka Time.
This year, Tuukka Time is now Monster Time. Despite the fact that Jonas Gustavsson has never started 40 games in a season in his life. Despite him never having a season with a sub-2.50 GAA, or over a .915 SV%. Despite only 6 shutouts in his 7-year career (Rask had 7 shutouts in 2013-14 alone). Despite all these things, the question is seriously being asked – do we have a goalie controversy in Boston?
While it’s true that Tuukka’s save percentage right now is worse than Gustavsson’s, that will undoubtedly change come the end of the season. If you think otherwise, please refer to their career numbers. In seasons where they’ve each started 10+ games, Jonas’s best season was a combination of a .911 SV% and 2.56 GAA. That save percentage would be a career worst for Tuukka, and the GAA would be second worst for Rask, the only exception being his 2.67 GAA in 2010-11.
Believing that Gustavsson would ever be the better option than Rask would be like saying Sidney Crosby isn’t as good as Leo Komarov simply because he has less points than him through 8 games. Slumps happen. They are a part of the game, and part of the reason why the season is 82 games long. You show me a guy who doesn’t go winless or scoreless for multi-game stretches once in a blue moon, and I’ll show you the all-time leader in wins, and another guy who forced the entire league to retire his number.
This argument is refuted not only by lunacy, but because it completely ignores the play in front of the netminder. In Tuukka’s five games started this year, the team has averaged 3.20 goals per game. That sounds pretty good, until you realize that one came in garbage time against Montreal—his best game in net this season—and five more came against the Coyotes. And in comparison to the help that the Goose has had, it’s night and day.
The advanced stats...
The Bruins have scored 11 goals in the two games Gustavsson has started—that’s a 5.5 goal-per-game average and over two more goals per game than Tuukka. If Jonas had the offensive support that Tuukka had and vice versa, Tuukka would be 5-0-0, and Gus would have two losses to start the year. Not to mention that Tuukka’s Shots Faced per 60 is 11.74 more than Jonas. And then we get to possession…
The Bruins CorsiFor% when Rask is in net is a mere 47.3. When Gustavsson is between the pipes, that number jumps to 57.1. Meaning that the Bruins possess the puck and create scoring chances nearly 10% more in games that the Monster has started, and Tuukka is drawing the short straw while his team plays like garbage in front of him. Only six skaters have a +50 CF% in front of Rask—Bergeron, Marchand, Eriksson, Chara, Krejci and Zach Trotman. If you didn’t spot the trend here, you’ll notice that only two of the four skaters listed play the position of defense, which translates to show that the worst skaters on the ice in terms of possession are the ones directly in front of the goddamn net. And Trotman barely counts because he’s FOR SOME REASON sitting on the 9th floor while Tommy Cross and his 36.6 CF% got ice time.
These numbers are alarmingly different with Gustavsson in net. Like, who is this team and where did they come from and what did you do to my gloriously horrible Bruins team, different. A whopping 17 players have a +50 CF% in front of Gustavsson. Six players have a +60 CF%. Kevan Miller looks like a fucking Norris candidate with his 63.9 CF%, and Tommy Cross and his 73.7 CF% shows that holy shit hold the phones, we’ve got Bobby Orr reincarnated before he even died. Only one (1) defenseman currently has a CF% under 50 in front of Goose, and that’s Colin Miller at 44.2. Every other defenseman is playing at a substantially better level with J.G. (Wentworth) in the crease and it’s not even close. The play in front of Rask, on the contrary, is AHL-caliber at best.
It doesn’t stop at Corsi or shot attempts, either. In every facet of the game, the Bruins have played much, much worse in front of Tuukka than Gus. The team’s GF% with Tuukka is an abysmal 26.1, while with Gus it’s a laughable 75.0. The team’s shooting percentage is 19.57% with Goose in net—everybody is all of a sudden better than Alex Ovechkin—while with Tuukka in net, it drops to 5.45%, aka John Scott. In regards to PDO, Gustavsson ranks at 5th best in the NHL, while Rask sits just ahead of the recently-waived Karri Ramo at 4th worst.
"Is it really that bad," you might ask? Why yes, it is truly that bad. Of the 52 goaltenders that qualified, Gustavsson’s Team CF% is 3rd best in the NHL. Tuukka sits at 41st, somewhere in between Steve Mason and Anton Khudobin. So the fact that Gustavsson has the 3rd-best possession play on paper skating in front of him but is still sitting at a 2.50 GAA and .896 SV% shows you that not only is he not the answer, he’s not even close to as good as you might think he is.
Tuukka isn't let off the hook...
Now this isn’t at all to put down Goose. We’re not in the business of bashing the players unless they’ve reached major levels of suckitude—the most scientific term applied to hockey awesomeness. But he’s got goaltending numbers equivalent to Mike Smith, with a far superior team in front of him than the Coyotes. Meanwhile over the last two years, Tuukka has put up good-to-great numbers with the epitome of mediocre possession play (39th out of 73) in front of him. If there were a WAR for hockey, Gustavsson would be middle of the pack, and Tuukka would be easily Top 5. Goose is a perfectly acceptable backup, but if he’s manning the helm of your ship then you’re going to sink and sink fast.
This also doesn’t take away from the fact that Tuukka needs to play better, because he does. He’s had a terrible start to the season, albeit not entirely his fault. That said, the best goaltenders over the last handful of seasons haven’t benefitted from fantastic play in front of them. Of the last seven Vezina winners, only three of them had teams with a +50 CF% for the season (R. Miller, T. Thomas, T. Rask).
But to explore giving up on a 28-year-old who has a career 2.21 GAA, .925 SV%, 26 shutouts, and 56.5 Goalie Points Share (an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his play in goal) would be recklessly, desperately, gravely, and carelessly stupid. It would be a fireable offense, if not for the outright absurdity, then for the indisputable impatience shown by the Bruins coaching staff and front office. And for anyone to honestly suggest otherwise, stop being snide and aiming to rile up the crowd of critics. It’s time to put away your pitchforks, and start watching the team on the ice, not just smirking childishly at the box scores.