Bruins

Pastrnak likely to miss start of camp; 'no breakthrough' in talks

Pastrnak likely to miss start of camp; 'no breakthrough' in talks

The Boston Bruins are set to kick off their training camp for the 2017-18 NHL regular season on Thursday morning with fitness testing at Warrior Ice Arena, but they’ll be missing one key player from the roster. B’s 21-year-old right winger David Pastrnak remains behind in his native Czech Republic as his agent and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney continue to try to work toward a contract extension for the game-breaking forward. 

Pastrnak won’t be returning to North American until he has a contract agreed upon, and therefore won’t be in attendance for the start of camp on Thursday. Instead Pastrnak will seek out a team to work out with in Europe if the holdout becomes a long term situation, and will be forced to explore other options for the season aside from Boston. 

For now, though, there is still plenty of time for Pastrnak to get signed to a big contract and quickly make the cross-continental flight to be on the ice for the weekend with little harm done to his preparation for the upcoming season. Pastrnak’s agent said he continues to go over ideas with Sweeney in very open lines of communication, and the two sides are talking about multiple deals with varying lengths of term. 

“I’m still talking to Don on a few terms, but no breakthroughs yet,” said Pastrnak’s agent, J.P. Barry, in a text message to CSN New England. “We will keep at it.”

It certainly sounds like it’s entirely up to the Bruins to provide the “breakthrough” in negotiations that’s finally going to close the deal with their young player. 

The increase in discussion between the two sides comes in direct proportion to the ticking clock when Pastrnak’s absence from camp begins to negatively impact his season. It’s believed that the Bruins and Pastrnak’s camp are a little closer than previously when the two sides were $2 million apart in average annual value (AAV) of the contract. It’s likely that the Bruins aren’t currently willing to go much past the $6.75 per season million handed out to Johnny Gaudreau a year ago, and Pastrnak’s camp could be convinced to take the $7.5 million per season that Vladimir Tarasenko signed for in St. Louis a couple of years ago. 

Both are undoubtedly comparable contracts to Pastrnak, and that would leave around $7 million per season on a long term deal as the amount it would probably take to finally close the deal with the 21-year-old sniper. Pastrnak’s teammates and the Bruins coaching staff are undoubtedly hoping that things get done sooner rather than later, and that he’s able to step into camp and take his place on the right side alongside David Krejci early on in the preseason process. 

“You coach the guys that are there. You’re putting lines together all summer, and now at this particular moment you’re thinking about who is going to be on David [Krejci’s] right side if Pasta isn’t here. That’s about as far as it’s gone in that regard,” said B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy. “I think with most guys if they miss some time, they’re playing a little bit of catch-up. How much catch-up? That’s speculation. How far behind? That’s speculation.

“But generally there is a bit of a catch-up period [with holdouts]. But let’s face it for his sake and for our sake, let’s hope there it’s very little if any at all [time missed].”

At the very least Pastrnak is going to miss the first official day of training camp for the Bruins, and will begin missing crucial on-ice practice days beginning Friday if the two sides haven’t been able to work out a suitable contract. 

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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