While Tuukka Rask never ended up speaking during the customary end-of-the-season media availability after opting out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the middle of Boston’s first round playoff series, Don Sweeney said he has “zero reservations” about his No. 1 goaltender both on and off the ice moving forward.
There were certainly some questions about Rask’s future in Boston, despite unified support and unquestioned respect for his choice to be home with a family that needed him in this most unusual NHL playoffs setup.
But Sweeney seemed to put those swirling questions to bed while admitting he hasn’t yet spoken with his goaltender. The Bruins are getting around to their usual exit interviews with players in the next couple of weeks as a most unusual offseason commences for the Black and Gold.
Rask has one year left on his current deal for next season, and at the very least the Bruins seem to be planning on continuing for at least that one more year with Rask and Jaroslav Halak while reassessing where they're at during the 2020-21 season.
“We checked up on him to make sure him and his family are doing well, and our reports are that they are indeed doing well. I have zero reservations about where Tuukka will be both on and off the ice for us. We feel we’ve had strong goaltending the last couple years, and we've done a good job of mapping out the health of both players and preserving when they're at their best,” said Sweeney during a Wednesday Zoom call with reporters.
“We continue to want to do that going forward and I think we're in a really good spot with our goaltending. We’ll address needs as we see them going forward. I think we've got a couple of younger players in [Daniel] Vladar and [Jeremy] Swayman and [Kyle] Keyser coming back off injury that will battle for playing time. We’ll allow those guys to continue to battle for playing time.”
It would be natural for the Bruins to have some reservations about Rask given there are now two tangible instances when their No. 1 goalie experienced difficulties balancing his personal and professional life, both with the leave of absence during the 2018-19 regular season and opting out of the playoffs this summer.
But we’re also talking about a goalie who was a Vezina Trophy finalist this year, is the B’s all-time winningest goalie during the regular season and has formed the NHL’s best 1-2 punch with Halak when both goalies are focused mentally and physically.
Sweeney, when asked about Rask’s desire to play, once again answered while inserting the phrase “zero reservations” into the conversation.
“I have zero reservations. If you look at Tuukka’s actual play – I do believe he’s a Vezina finalist this year. For me, that pretty much dictates everything. Obviously, his own personal life, we all have matters that at times we have to deal with and he’s been given the opportunities in a couple instances to make sure he feels good on and off the ice. I think any player, any manager, any person involved in sport or in life has to respect that people have to tend to their own personal business,” said Sweeney of Rask, who posted a 26-8-6 record with a 2.12 goals against average and a .929 save percentage this past season.
"How he chooses to do that is his own decision and his alone. We provide resources for all our players to work through any issues that they may or may not have on and off the ice, and then provide support [for them] accordingly. We’re not going to deviate from that. You have to respect his privacy and allow him the latitude to take care of it. Ultimately it hasn’t affected his play on the ice. We have good goaltending and we’ll continue to do so."
One could argue it did impact his play after posting an .899 save percentage while not looking fully focused in the two first-round playoff games he suited up for vs. Carolina, and Rask’s absence certainly impacted the team when the Bruins fell in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the postseason.
But it’s also 100 percent hockey truth that the Bruins do not have a sufficient succession plan in place were they to move on from Rask at this point in time, so they are married to the 33-year-old Finnish goaltender for at least next year regardless of what happened this past postseason.
Perhaps an opportunity will arise where those circumstances will change over the next year as Rask moves into the last year of his contract, but it doesn’t feel like the Black and Gold are in that place right now when it comes to their top goaltender.