The Boston Bruins have been extremely fortunate for the last decade or so with the goaltenders they’ve had...but could it all be coming to an end after the next season of hockey?
During that last decade-plus of stellar goaltending, Tuukka Rask has been in net for the majority of those years. And how good has Rask been?
Over the past five seasons, Rask sits at 2nd in GAA (2.36), a tie for 7th in SV% (.917), 3rd in wins (155), and 1st in shutouts with 24.
Incredibly, his numbers are even better come playoff time. Rask’s 2.20 GAA and .928 SV% are near the top of the list for all goalies in the decade.
But could this all be coming to an end next season?
Following next season, whenever it may be, Rask will be an unrestricted free agent, as his 8-year, $56 million contract expires.
And obviously, any time a player becomes a UFA, there's a lot of uncertainty about that player's future. In this case, there could be others factors at play that may decide whether Rask returns to the Bruins - or any team at all.
While “the end of next season” seems pretty far off given how uncertain the start of next season is at the moment, the Bruins and their fans should be concerned about Rask’s future.
Let's take a closer look at why Rask may not be a Bruin for much longer.
Bruins' cap space + Rask's potential value on the market
Rask is not the only Bruin who will become a free agent following the 2021 season.
Boston is also going to have to decide what to do with Brandon Carlo, David Krejci, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, and Jaroslav Halak, who will all be either UFA’s or RFA’s.
The decisions don’t end there, as upon the completion of the 2022 season, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron, and Jake DeBrusk will also need new contracts.
This is relevant because if Rask plans to continue playing hockey after next year, it will probably not be cheap for the Bruins to retain their star goalie, thus impacting other upcoming signings.
Rask, who’s been just as good as Andrei Vasilevskiy over the past few years, could demand the same type of money as Vasilevskiy, who has a cap hit of $9.5 million per season. Rask is older, obviously, so he won’t get quite the same money as the Tampa netminder, but he could ask to be in the same neighborhood.
Anything close to that figure could seriously hamstring the Bruins’ other signings. And let’s not forget that David Pastrnak is going to need a new contract in a few years as well.
Another factor that may stop the B’s from re-signing Rask is that he’ll be turning 34 in March.
Although a bit dated, according to Hockey-Graph’s model, a goalie’s play typically begins a noticeable decline at the age of 32 and tanks at the age of 35. Thus far, this has not been the case for Rask, as he is coming off one of his best seasons statistically; however, you do have to wonder how long it will be until Father Time steps in to slow #40 down.
There have been goalies that have been able to play at a high level well into their 30’s, like Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Pikka Rinne, and former Bruin Tim Thomas, but the list of such players is not long.
The Bruins would be betting against the odds if they choose to re-sign Rask for more than a season or two, max.
Rask’s desire to play hockey
Over the last couple years, there’s been speculation that retirement has been on the mind of Rask.
Rask himself has never come out and said so directly, but comments he’s made have hinted at him thinking about leaving the game, not to mention the personal leaves that he has taken over the past few seasons.
This past February, Rask again hinted at retirement when speaking with Matt Porter of The Boston Globe: “I have one year left in the contract, so we’ll see if I even play,” he told Porter.
When asked if not playing was a “real possibility,” Rask replied: “We’ll see. Always a possibility.”
Although head coach Bruce Cassidy fully expects Rask to be in net when the puck drops on the 2021 season, you have to wonder about Rask’s desire to play beyond next season.
With an average age of 29.4, there are only a handful of teams in the league that are older than the Bruins.
For the most part, these other teams are in or will soon be in the rebuilding stage.
As much as Bruins fans may try to ignore it, this team is going to need to start re-tooling to fill a relatively empty cupboard of prospects at some point in the coming years. The reality of having a number of key players in the twilights of their careers may not hit Bruins fans next season, or even the year after, but eventually the Bruins are going to regress and maybe even downright stink for a while.
The questions then become: 1) Does Tuukka Rask fit into this re-build? 2) Would a big contract for 3 - 5 years hamper the Bruins chances of a successful re-build? 3) And could the Bruins possibly move Rask before he leaves or retires to get a future asset that could help in the long run?
If Rask does decide to sign elsewhere or hang up his skates, what's next for the Bruins?
While Jaroslav Halak has been a great backup and admirably filled in for Rask in the playoffs, with his age, you can hardly expect Halak to fill the shoes of Rask in the future.
The Bruins do have some decent looking goaltending prospects in their system in Dan Vladar, Jeremy Swayman, and Kyle Keyser, with Vladar probably being the closest to making the next step to the NHL.
However, it’s really hard to distinguish which prospects are NHL caliber until they’re put into a position to either sink of swim.
The Bruins could also look for help in net from the existing pool of goalies in the league to replace Rask.
The 2021 free agent goalie list will include names like Phillip Grubauer, Linus Ullmark, and interestingly enough, Jordan Binnington. All three will still be under 30 and could serve as a temporary #1 goalie until some of Boston’s younger goalie prospects can step up to the NHL.
Some very big questions about Rask are going to have to be addressed before July 1st, 2021, and fans have two choices about how to proceed:
- Sit back and enjoy the awesomeness that is Tuukka Rask while he’s still in a Bruins uniform.
- Live in a constant state of hockey-induced anxiety over who could possibly fill Rask’s skates.
Which one will you choose?