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Bean: Why the Bruins have to move on from Tuukka Rask

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Can’t believe you fell for that. In fairness, a lot of people scream “clickbait” at everything these days, so it’s about time someone actually did it. Anyway, let’s talk about that disaster of an end to the Bruins’ season.

It ended the way it was going to all along: by running into a team that could expose Boston's lack of depth on forward and D. 

Someone was going to take advantage of the fact that the Bruins' bottom-six and bottom-four were not championship caliber. That team should not have been the New York Islanders. 

So make it about Tuukka Rask all you want -- he’s certainly part of the Bruins’ demise -- but if you boil this season down to “Rask tailed off at the end of the series and now I get to say he’ll never win,” you’re dismissing why they actually lost. You’re also enabling the Bruins to stick to a roster construction that doesn’t work.

More Bruins: How B's should handle Rask's future, goalie situation

Since the Bruins blew it against the St. Louis Blues, they haven’t had good enough teams to win. They were clearly a paper tiger when they won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20. This year, they bridged the gap by picking up Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly, but they’d also lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara the previous offseason while adding Craig Smith. 

On the strength of star power alone, the Bruins should have been able to beat the Islanders before being dismissed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York’s roster is not better, but it’s deeper. Boston’s bottom six was terrible this season, so that group struggling in the series could at least be expected.

 

The lack of serviceable depth on defense is what ultimately did them in, though. Once Brandon Carlo went out of the series in Game 3, the B’s became a circus in their own zone. 

An injured Rask’s job became to make up for Boston only having one reliable defensive pairing, but Matt Grzelcyk’s performance in Game 6 bumped that number down to zero. Grzelcyk got his pocket picked at the blue line to give Brock Nelson a breakaway goal, then got mugged in front by Kyle Palmieri to give New York its fourth goal of the evening. 

Now, Rask was right there with the rest of his teammates turning the puck over, as his pass to Mike Reilly before the Islanders’ third goal was reminiscent of Cam Newton whipping a short pass off his running back’s hands.

But when you look at an injured Rask not bailing out his teammates and most of the Bruins’ roster being subpar, which one is the problem? Which is more likely to continue being the problem if you only address the other? 

It’s the roster construction, and it starts with Boston’s inability to draft impact players. Charlie McAvoy is a No. 1 defenseman and Carlo, if healthy, is an important piece. That’s about it for Don Sweeney’s drafting.

The B’s let Krug and Chara walk because they figured they’d drafted enough guys that one or two of them would grow into a big role. None of them did. The best result of the experiment was Jeremy Lauzon, who was only in the lineup by season’s end because the B’s didn’t have anybody else. 

The Bruins left holes on their roster and hoped for the best because they had enough stars to get them through a round or two. It didn’t work and it won’t work if they try it again. 

The "big three" for Boston as it relates to signing its own guys is Hall, Rask and Krejci. They’ll have the dough to sign Hall to a team-friendly deal, but who is his center? It would be consistent with their handling of the defense this year to just hope Jack Studnicka can be a No. 2 center, but the smarter play is to bring back Krejci for another year or two.

As for Rask? Depending on his health and his desire to keep playing, the smartest play is to sign him for a year or two at $5 million per. That gives you a strong tandem while you figure out whether Jeremy Swayman is capable of taking over. Just giving the net to a good young player can be risky; look what happened with Philadelphia this year.

 

But this offseason won’t just be about who stays and goes. Boston absolutely must beef up its defense. We can rule out them signing the top free agent (great player you may have heard of; name rhymes with Shmuggy Shmamilton), but they need a good second-pairing defenseman (and perhaps then some to make sure they don’t get a repeat of this year). Reilly is a fine third-pairing defenseman, but he might get overpaid on the open market because he played well late in the regular season for Boston. 

The B’s also badly need some stability in their bottom six. Charlie Coyle had a down year but is worth keeping given Boston's questions at center. Jake DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie are both expendable. DeBrusk makes sense to be exposed in the NHL Expansion Draft, while Ritchie is a restricted free agent whose postseason (one point in the final seven games) says buyer beware. The Bruins shouldn’t just walk away from Ritchie, but they should absolutely be willing to use him in a deal to get something more reliable. 

Boston’s fourth line was a mess all season. Getting Curtis Lazar helped, but Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner had down years. Kuraly’s a free agent and Trent Frederic should be pushing for a full-time job. 

Every year we have the, "is this their last run?" conversation, and every year the Bruins are back in the postseason. It’s clear they’ve got what it takes to get that far, but the current plan isn’t bringing them much more.