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.

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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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Bruins' young guns firing right now in camp, but can they keep it up?

Bruins' young guns firing right now in camp, but can they keep it up?

BRIGHTON – It’s obviously still early in Bruins training camp and the two separate groups haven’t even practiced together yet thanks to the week-plus trip to China, but a theme is most definitely developing for the Black and Gold.

Similar to training camp a year ago, the youthful wave of Bruins prospects are taking their preseason by storm in the very best way possible. A third-round pick just a couple of months ago, 18-year-old Jakub Lauko has two goals in as many games and has shown that he may indeed be a first round talent that was snagged a couple of rounds later.

“I’m never nervous, so I think it’s a good thing for me that I’m never nervous,” said Lauko, after suiting up for his first NHL preseason game for the Bruins. “So, yeah, [it was] just fun.”

There's a bevy of B’s young guns out there having “fun” right now.  

Former BU center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson is one of a trio of young prospects vying for the third line center spot in Boston, and the Swedish pivot currently leads all Bruins players in preseason scoring with three points in two games. JFK has shown the strong two-way abilities that he’s always been touted for, and his passing skill has been on display in setting up fellow youngsters like Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato around the net. Speaking of Donato and DeBrusk, each of those young wingers earmarked for the NHL roster has a couple of counts in two preseason appearances as well.

Zach Senyshyn may have come into camp slightly under the radar after a so-so debut season in Providence last season, but he deposited a couple of goals in Tuesday night’s preseason win over the Capitals in Washington.

Trent Frederic scored a goal in the first preseason game against the Calgary Flames in China, and has teamed with David Backes for a big, strong and physical crash and bang line to this point in the preseason as well. Jack Studnicka, Cameron Hughes and Axel Andersson have all cracked the score sheet as well, and big winger Peter Cehlarik had two assists during the two China games vs. Calgary as well.

So in a camp where a couple of young players could come away with NHL jobs if their preseason performances are up to snuff, the Black and Gold young guns have been that and then some to this point.

That’s great news for a Bruins team that’s become accustomed to young players breaking through over the last few years, but the bad news for all these talented youngsters is that it’s going to get tougher from here on out. With the China contingent and the Boston-bound B’s crew set to be reunited at the end of this week, the training camp competitiveness is about to ramp up a few notches. There’s also the simple fact that things get quicker, more physical and more intense as the preseason goes along, and the veteran players began to really fight for their spots.

It’s the natural rhythm of training camp, and it’s about to become a little more eye-opening for a kiddie corps that’s been great thus far in B’s camp.

“Every year players coming into training camp and whether you’re a third-year player, second-year player, there’s always competition and there’s always somebody pushing from underneath [the NHL level], or pushing on a [camp tryout],” said Sacco. “Every team has young players that are hoping to push through and leave their mark to get their opportunity to play in the NHL.

“Once you see more players with NHL experience start getting into the lineups, it becomes a little bit more of a challenge for those young players to maintain that level that they had early on in the preseason. The ones that do, then you quite frankly start looking at them more and giving them a longer look.”

That will be the million dollar question for each of these young guys. There are plenty of cautionary tales of guys that flashed early in Bruins training camps in the past, but then couldn’t maintain that performance once the lineups got a little closer to NHL ready toward the end of the preseason. But there are also players, like Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, on the current roster that just kept producing and performing as young talents that played their way into Boston’s NHL plans earlier than anybody could have projected when they were first drafted.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s another one of those guys in this Bruins training camp with so many of them off to a strong and promising start. 

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Jakub Lauko banged up in Bruins practice after strong start

Jakub Lauko banged up in Bruins practice after strong start

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins may have dinged up the brand new sports car that they just zoomed out of the show room.

Standout rookie winger Jakub Lauko had a collision with Noel Acciari during drills in the second session of Thursday’s camp practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and got “banged up” according to Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. The 18-year-old didn’t return to the practice session on Thursday and is currently being evaluated by the Bruins medical staff in a set of events that doesn’t look all too encouraging.

“He got banged up in one of the drills in the second half there, so he’s being evaluated as we speak now and we’ll know more later,” said Sacco.

It could be a “Welcome to the NHL” moment for Lauko colliding with the rock-solid Acciari as a friendly fire incident in practice, and the hope is obviously that it doesn’t hinder the momentum that the third round pick has already built in training camp. Lauko has two goals in two games and has shown blazing skating speed, an ability to finish around the net, tenacity and a bit of an edge to his game that has him playing much older than his teenage years would initially indicate.

With the rest of Boston’s China contingent coming back to camp at the end of this week, the rest of camp would have been a great chance to show if Lauko is nearing NHL readiness or if he’s merely a young guy flashing his skill at the start of the preseason.  

In other injury news, Torey Krug and Acciari returned to taking contact at training camp and remain on schedule to get into some preseason games toward the end of camp. Anders Bjork is still being held out of contact in camp practices, and both Sean Kuraly (lower body) and Ryan Fitzgerald (lower body) are missing from practice after suffering injuries in preseason games. Patrice Bergeron (back spasms/groin surgery) has yet to make an appearance in training camp this date, but still has a couple of weeks to get ready for the season. 

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