Bruins

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.

MORE BRUINS OFFSEASON

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.  

MORE FROM JOE HAGGERTY

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.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

It’s pretty much official at this point as countless reports have the NHL settled on Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities when teams return to play at the end of the month.

TSN Insider Bob McKenzie revealed on Thursday afternoon that Edmonton will also end up being the site for the conference finals as well as the Stanley Cup Final given how well the city has contained the COVID-19 virus over the last three months.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer confirmed that it indeed is looking good for Edmonton and outlined some of the finer points to the Edmonton plan that attracted the NHL once they decided to avoid Las Vegas despite its glamorous appeal.

“Edmonton is in a unique situation. It’s low-population density and the majority of the international travel went through Calgary, so if you compare [Alberta] to the U.S. there’s only four U.S. states that have fewer cases per million [people] than Alberta. And Edmonton only has 13 percent of the cases for the entire [Alberta] province despite the fact that Edmonton has 37 or 38 percent of the population. We only had 15 deaths total [from COVID-19] in the last 15 weeks and just three deaths over the last two months. The caseload has been light.

“That’s a major reason why Edmonton got this [hub city designation]. Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group was really aggressive to get the bid. The province really wanted it. Edmonton has a brand new JW Marriott hotel that’s adjacent to Rogers Place and, if we’re able to push the ball over the goal line here, all 12 teams’ players will stay there. There are a couple of supporting hotels that will house the executives and the rest of that 50-man group as well the television crews that will be in to work it. I would call this more of an Olympic-style hub city bid. That was the key.

"They’ll work out an arrangement with 5-8 restaurants, they’ve got the hotel they want to use and they’re just going to cordon everything off. There’s lot of green space for the players and there’s a golf course five minutes away right in the downtown. The average temperature is 68-76 degrees during the day, so it’s not like the 110 degrees that it would be in Vegas. I get it that Vegas was super-sexy [as an option]. I think Gary [Bettman] wanted Vegas. I think the players wanted Vegas. But it seems that the COVID situation really knocked [Vegas] out. At this stage of the game it really looks like Edmonton and they’ve been working on it for a while.”

TSN Insider Darren Dreger had mentioned Edmonton as the biggest and best option for the NHL when he spoke to NBC Sports Boston about a month ago as well.

“Edmonton is on a full-out campaign. They’ve talked about having a million square feet inside their facility. They’ve got a practice rink there. They can literally put 12 dining areas and separate sanitization stations for all 12 teams inside that building,” said Dreger. “And then they’ve got the ice district and they’ve got the JW Marriott, which is a brand-spanking new, world class hotel. Everybody can be housed in that.

"You want to watch a movie outside on a big screen, or you want to watch some of the other games that are being played in the other hub city? You can do that in the ice district. You can watch multiple games if you’re not playing. They were heavily investigating a private golf course and renting it out, so that on their off days the players could go and play golf as a leisure activity as well.”

At that time, it seemed that Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton were the lead candidates with other U.S. locales in the mix as well, but Edmonton became a no-brainer once it turned to an all-Canada setting for the NHL games. It also seems clear that the NHL is going to keep the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and the Western Conference teams in Edmonton for the first couple of playoff rounds following the qualifying round/round-robin games.

But then it will be the many amenities being offered in Edmonton that are going to create a safe, remote environment for the NHL to pull off a Return to Play when so many areas in North America would not be right for it at this point.

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

Retirement or extension? Looking at Bruins' options for Tuukka Rask

The clock is ticking for Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins.

The 33-year-old Finnish netminder will be headed into the final year of his contract with the Bruins following this summer’s Return to Play playoffs, and he’ll be coming off a season that should make him a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time in his career.

Rask, of course, won the award in the 2013-14 NHL season and is in a bit of a two-man race with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for the honors as the NHL’s top goalie this time around.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

But it’s all proof that he’s essentially lived up to a contract that paid him $7 million a season as one of the highest paid goaltenders in the NHL. Rask is also the second-highest paid player on the Black and Gold behind center David Krejci, but he’s dropped to fifth in salary among NHL goalies with Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury all equal or greater in annual salary.

All of that makes it all the more fascinating what’s going to happen following this summer when Rask will enter the last year of his deal as a 34-year-old goalie with a 36-year-old backup in Jaroslav Halak. Rask and Halak won the Jennings Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltending duo this season and could very well be in line for those honors again next year.

Next year may be the last season that the Bruins can afford that partnership for a number of different reasons, but that doesn’t mean that Rask won’t continue as the No. 1 guy in Boston.  

Meanwhile, the regular season accolades go on and on for Rask. He’s the all-time winningest goalie in Bruins history with 291 wins, and has the most games played (536), the most saves (13,711) and the best save percentage (.922) in the B’s nearly 100-year franchise history. Rask ranks seventh all-time in NHL history with a .9268 save percentage in the playoffs and is the active leader among all NHL goalies with a .9218 career save percentage over his 13-year career.

He ranks third all-time in career save percentage behind Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower, both Hall of Famers. All that and he showed this season that he’s still got it as one of the NHL leaders in goals against average (2.12) and save percentage (.929) while largely splitting time with Halak. The reduced workload has been a big deal to Rask in the last couple of seasons and it allowed him to carry the Bruins with a .934 save percentage during last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Still, Rask has yet to get the B’s over the top in two tries at the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 and the contract negotiations are going to be fascinating given that the NHL is looking at a largely flat salary cap for the next three seasons.

According to Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Freidman, the cap is going to go up a million to $82.5 million in 2022-23, but that’s essentially a flat cap for three years considering that the salary cap ceiling had been going up $3-6 million pretty much every season like clockwork.

The good news for the Bruins: They are going to presumably have some salary cap space to work with following next season as they are currently committed to just $35.7 million in salaries for the 2021-22 season, and aren’t going to be on the hook for much more than $52 million when they’ve finally dealt with open contracts for Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk following this summer’s run of playoff hockey.

A big factor is the $7.25 million cap hit for Krejci that will be coming off the books at the same time as Rask following the 2020-21 NHL season. The expiration of the Krejci contract is going to open up considerable cap space for a strapped front office, and taking both Krejci and Rask deals off the books at the same time lops off a whopping 17 percent of their cap. It will be fascinating to see how the Bruins utilize that space with the expectation a 36-year-old Krejci will either be done playing by then, or will be playing at a greatly reduced rate moving forward.

The real question will be exactly what kind of salary an aging Rask will command at 35 years old?

He’s flirted with the notion of retirement several times over the last couple of years and it seems clear he won’t be the type to keep hanging on when it’s clear he’s at the end of his career.

But he also reiterated his desire to keep playing when he spoke with reporters about it a couple of months ago on a Zoom call.

“I haven’t thought about retirement at all,” Rask said. “I know that this [offseason], I can start talking to the Bruins about a possible extension. When that day comes, we’ll see what happens. But definitely I haven’t put any thought into retirement, nothing like that. We’ll see how this season plays out, and then we’ll see if there’s extension talks.”

He also needs a particular situation to be successful and that means the B’s employing a backup who's good enough to help keep Rask to a modest 50-55 game workload.

The need for a quality backup in Halak has meant that the B’s have shelled out well north of $9 million per year for goaltenders in their three seasons (counting next year) together. That’s a big chunk of salary cap space devoted to the guys who stop the pucks.

Given that Rask isn’t a workhorse type goalie at this point in his career, perhaps that means the Bruins could get him back for a slightly reduced rate in the twilight of his career. At a similar stage in his career, Pekka Rinne signed a two-year, $10 million contract extension with the Nashville Predators in 2018 that should pave the way for exactly what Rask could be looking at following next season.

The $5 million cap hit would take $2 million off Rask’s current cap hit and hand the Bruins extra room to improve their roster while staring down a pretty bleak financial picture over the next three seasons, if not longer than that.

A two-year deal in the $5 million AAV range would still put Rask in the middle of the pack for NHL goaltender salaries, but it would also be the same kind of reasonable deal other core Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and David Pastrnak have taken to keep the band together over the years. All in all, not a bad solution to the Tuukka contract dilemma.

As dire as things seem fiscally for the NHL and especially this coming offseason for the Bruins with limited funds to sign a handful of key players, it actually doesn’t seem like a new contract for Rask will be all that tricky as long as all parties involved want to keep Tuukka Time going for a while longer.