Bruins

McQuaid has gotten over those 'long few days' when he could've been Vegas-bound

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McQuaid has gotten over those 'long few days' when he could've been Vegas-bound

Hockey players are nothing if not loyal creatures of habit, routine and ritual.

They all have their idiosyncratic game-day routine, enjoy sliding into the same time-honored rhythm during the season and in the offseason, and even after some experience tend to get accustomed to the sometimes unpredictable nature of being a professional hockey player. Sometimes, there are things that even the most grizzled players can’t possibly prepare for and last summer’s Vegas expansion draft would have to qualify as one of those rare instances.

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For Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid, it certainly was a curveball thrown at him in late July that he most certainly could have done without. The Bruins didn’t protect the 30-year-old defenseman in the draft for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion team. Instead, they opted to make certain Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller were protected.

As it turned out, the Golden Knights selected defenseman Colin Miller from the Black and Gold instead of the hard-nosed, Cup-winning McQuaid, So, one of the longest-tenured Bruins will be back with Boston this season. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder made it clear that he didn’t want to go Vegas, so obviously he’s glad he got his wish.

“It was a long few days at one point, but I had kind of forgotten about it,” said McQuaid, who finished with two goals and 10 points in 77 games last season. “I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen for a little while there. I’m definitely very excited to be back and be a part of this group. I don’t need to reiterate what I’ve said over the years about how much I love this city and this organization, and everything it’s done for me. I want to continue to give back.”

That being said, it’s also a situation where McQuaid had to pack away any conflicted feelings he might have gone through in those uncertain few days. It’s a sobering dose of reality for any player to see where they might sit in the organizational pecking order. There’s no doubt McQuaid felt a bit of that while his NHL future was a little uncertain, but it’s become water under the bridge while he and his teammates use captain’s practices to get ready for the season.

McQuaid had a summer to get past it and instead refocus on being the tough, selfless stay-at-home defenseman he’s always been for the Black and Gold.

“Just looking at it, every team was going to have tough decisions,” said McQuaid. “Whether it was a tough decision or not, there were going to be guys that were going to be exposed. That was just the reality of the situation. I knew that going in, but it didn’t really make things any easier. I was just able to breathe a little sigh of relief once it was over. You move on and I’m just happy that I’m back here now.”

Clearly, the Bruins had some sound reasons for leaving McQuaid unprotected. He is in the middle of a pretty weighty contract for a player who projects to be a third-pairing D-man this season. The multitude of injuries in McQuaid’s career figure to grow now that he’s approaching the wrong side of 30. Those may be a few of the reasons the Golden Knights opted for the young, faster and more skilled Miller as their selection from the Bruins.

There’s little doubt, though, the Bruins would have missed McQuaid’s toughness when it comes time to stand up for his teammates, and his selfless, professional and winning approach to the game in all circumstances. McQuaid should also have a strong season of shutdown defense and stalwart penalty-killing for the Bruins now that he knows what the future holds for him. This much is certain for McQuaid: He’ll be in a much better position to succeed as a third-pairing defenseman with a simplified role that plays to his strengths this season

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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