clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Bruins aren’t trading Rask because they’re not ready for life without him.

A vocal contingent of fans want to move on from Tuukka Rask. The Boston Bruins...can’t.

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Two Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

As another postseason comes to an end, radio callers and fans pining for the days of literally once in a lifetime goaltending begin their war chant. Usually misspelled.

“Trade Tuukka!”

There’s logic to it. It’s only natural that the emotional, angry response of being ripped from the postseason early, and when that happens usually you expect or want changes to come so that it doesn’t happen again, and of course, the very last person in front of the net before the puck goes in is Tuukka Rask. You’re either the hero or the asshole, as he himself once put it.

But here’s the thing about that, and I want to talk specifically to you, Advocate of a Rask trade;

You don’t actually want Rask traded.

What you want is the emotional catharsis of Boston trading Tuukka Rask. At some point you decided this guy will never bring Boston to the Cup finals or even win the Stanley Cup (even though he did.), and you are just sick of this guy. You want this idea of “moving on” or “going to the next chapter” for the Bruins (whatever that means for you), or are maybe still enchanted by the once-in-a-lifetime performance of Tim Thomas and are still personally grappling with him leaving in your heart, even if it’s been a little over half a decade since.

And so the warchant goes out from the heart, and not the head. Without thinking about the actual ramifications of trading Tuukka Rask and how that effects the team going into next year, year after that, and maybe three or four years after that.

And if you knew those, you wouldn’t want to trade Tuukka Rask, at least not as much as you seemingly always want to. You don’t even want to whinge too hard about his contract. Why?

Because he’s the best short and long term option in goal Boston currently has or will have for the forseeable future.

Allow me to explain, in three simple parts:

1 - Trading Rask is already a hassle to begin with, and the return would have to be phenominal to make it worth it:

Rask’s $7 Million dollar a year contract is set to suddenly shoot down to make him merely be “one of” the highest paid goaltenders in the league and honestly seem a lot more reasonable in comparison to the contracts Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist are getting once next season begins and he will likely be on a much better team than either of those two will be in net for. But in order to even consider moving him? (which they aren’t) They have one giant hurdle to clear; his modified No Move Clause, which until at least 2019-20 requires him to create an 8 team list of places he’d like to go. It balloons all the way up to 15 by then.

And even then, with specific, noted exception; most teams are pretty fine with whoever they’ve been developing, have already plonked down enough money on goaltenders to begin with, or are teams both desperate enough to need more than just goaltending. That $7 Million AAV is also a tight squeeze to begin with, so Boston would have to take on at least a couple of bad contracts from a team that probably wouldn’t need Rask that badly in the first place to get rid of him. It becomes less of a “change of the guard” and more of a faustian bargain, repeatedly asking much objective crap you’re willing to take on in order to get rid of him. Miserable forwards, slow and useless defenders, former goons, problem prospects...all can be yours if you really want Rask to not be yours.

2 - Free Agency for goalies right now is built for Backups, not Starters:

Of all netminders who will be looking for a new contract this year, the ones who played the most games were Cam Ward, and Jaroslav Halak. Two men on the wrong side of 30, posting well below league average in SV% (which is .912, the lowest it’s been in years), and were on teams that didn’t make the playoffs. Sound like attractive options to you?

Or maybe you want to go with the man who obviously performed the best this year like Carter Hutton, who played to a .931 on a St. Louis team that was effectively quit on by it’s upper management and still managed to stay in the hunt for the playoffs up until the very end. Sure, he only played 32 games, he himself is 32 and has never shown this kind of performance before, but surely he can replicate it in front of a much different defense than the one St. Louis provides, right?

The other options you can look at? Kari Lehtonen. Johnathan Bernier. Antti Niemi and Ondrej Pavelec. To name a few choice examples.

Those sound like attractive options to you to take the brunt of your NHL starts? Maybe a few of these guys might catch your fancy about 4-5 years ago but in 2018? Hell no. The goalie market might be good for someone to help take the load off Rask behind him, but someone who can outright replace him? That’s not going to happen unless you’d like to shut Bergeron’s cup contention window entirely for the sake of a new face in net.

But if Free Agency or Trades can’t pull the weight, then surely development from within is the way to go! Why let the evils of outside talent get in the way of getting a guy who can rise through the ranks as a young gun and take the place of the old guard? It’s hockey, we love those kind of stories!

3 - Boston hasn’t developed anyone who can replace him.

I want to share a theory with you I have about why Tuukka Rask makes $7 Million AAV.

Tuukka Rask was signed in 2013 hot off the heels of a phenominal shortened season. That was a big part of it. But was also to make sure he was a source of stability in a goaltending depth chart that had suddenly gotten a lot more confusing and uncertain in the aftermath of the 2011-12 season.

When he was signed, Boston did not have a goalie prospect pool deep enough to say they could afford to lose him without at least a couple of years for Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre to develop. And so Boston came up with this large deal to not only ensure that they have a guy they know can at least take the starting job, but also give the front office plenty of opportunity to scout and re-deepen the prospect pool and ensure they could be as flexible as possible with who they picked up for the job, and hopefully find a heir apparent to move on gracefully from Rask if they couldn’t contend while he was under contract. I mean, they had until 2020-21 after all, so that’s plenty of time, right?

5 years later, Boston still can’t say they have a clear heir apparent. The closest player you could theoretically say that held that position is currently in the Western Conference Final due to being placed on waivers early into the season. And that’s a much bigger problem for the team than feeling like Boston isn’t getting their money’s worth.

Boston’s goaltending prospect pool is, as of May 15th, 2018...4 men deep. Of the four, three are under 21, and half aren’t up to snuff in comparison to the rest of their leagues.

Bruins Goaltender Prospect Performance in 2017-18

Player Name Team - League Games Played Age 2017-18 SV% League Average SV% Better/Worse than League Average? Playoffs GP Playoff SV%
Player Name Team - League Games Played Age 2017-18 SV% League Average SV% Better/Worse than League Average? Playoffs GP Playoff SV%
Zane McIntyre Providence - AHL 47 25 0.914 0.92 Worse 2 0.895
Dan Vladar Atlanta - ECHL 41 20 0.911 0.918 Worse 3 0.917
Jeremy Swayman UMaine - NCAA 31 19 0.921 0.913 Better! N/A N/A
Kyle Keyser Oshawa - OHL 47 19 0.904 0.896 Better! 5 0.882
Average SV% from each league was calculated from goaltenders who played at least 30 games.

Now granted, goaltending is just as much a part of the team in front of your goalie as it is about the goalie himself, developing prospects more often than not never exactly sticks to the timetables you set, nor does it take the intended path you’d like, but to say that Boston has any long term expectations for at least three of these guys other than “improve your game and we’ll see what happens” is being extremely generous. Swayman, Vladar, or Keyser will have to make big strides in the coming years to even consider cracking the lineup by 2020.

Swayman had the dubious privilege of being the best player on a pretty mediocre UMaine squad that didn’t get to attend the national tournament, Keyser was on an offense-first Oshawa Generals team that got pounded into the dirt in 5 games in the OHL playoffs, and Vladar in limited engagements with Providence looked fine, but that’s all they were; limited. 2 to 3 games at a time over a weekend or so. Not exactly a sign of positive growth, nor a sign he’s acclimating when he suddenly plummets down to .911 back in the ECHL.

The only one with NHL experience; Zane McIntyre, has played 8 NHL games, started 3, and lost 4. He has never had a SV% in the big leagues above .900. He has shown that he either still has major flaws in his game that haven’t been worked out yet, or that the NHL is a climb too high for the guy. And they have to decide on whichever of those is correct pretty soon, as he is currently the oldest prospect in net and one year removed from a Goaltender of the Year bid in the AHL that he appears to have regressed pretty painfully from, to the point that a loaned player from St. Louis in Jordan Binnington ended up being the better option in the long run for Providence. Not having a solid plan for him would be disastrous for the team and for his long-term performance and chances of ever making the NHL full-time.

In order to functionally move on from a starting goalie, you need to have a lot of things ready in case the risk of losing that player backfires on you. A strong pool of players and prospects to pick from, a backup that can also reliably take starts, and in the best case scenario would be taking more and more starts as time went on. And finally, and arguably most important, a team that can support their goalie with goals and net-front defense through most of the regular season.

Right now with Khudobin hitting the free agent market?...Boston has only one of those things, and even that’s technically still a work in progress.

The 2017-18 season being such a magical thing it was might have re-jumped fans expectations on what the Bruins should be like and how they will contend in the coming years, but let’s not act like Rask was the be-all, end-all problem that faced them when the Lightning showed up, nor would being rid of him be the be-all, end-all solution to the problems they faced in Round 2. Goaltending is a tricky thing, based on not just how the player is doing but how the players around him are doing.

After all, it’s not his fault the B’s went 150-plus minutes at even-strength getting their heads kicked in.

It’s good to hold your starter to a high standard, and be worried if he struggles. But cutting them at the first sign of trouble, real or perceived, is a fool’s errand. It is a decision based on emotion and confirmation bias, and it can lead to disastrous, years-long consequences that can seriously screw a team up bad.

Take the consequences you have in Philadelphia where they gave up on their starter a good long time ago, and have struggled ever since to find a single player consistently good enough to play the position for a majority of their games, and struggle near constantly because they cannot find that coveted consistency in net. And if they do go to the postseason by some miracle of a player going out of their minds to try and get them into Round 1? They all get torched when their luck runs out. It happened this year, it will happen again.

Or take the Blues, whose singular curse seems to be a never-ending goaltending rotation in which nobody stays for any longer than a few years at the most, and many of their seasons are made by a player getting lucky at the right time, and then crashing into dust and disappointment when that luck runs out.

Both teams exemplify a problem from making a rash decision with a starter goaltender without a plan in place; nothing gets accomplished in the season because the replacement isn’t good enough, the position is never stable long enough to start building for tomorrow so they have to keep throwing prospects at the problem until one sticks and is okay, and the team is left scrambling to find “the next guy” without ever making a firm statement on a player being that “next guy”. It’s an endless cycle of mediocre decisions and soul-selling just to compete again.

And no one wants that. Especially not in Boston.