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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Injury-plagued Bruins have a big challenge, but they also have a plan

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Injury-plagued Bruins have a big challenge, but they also have a plan

The Bruins really are at a bit of a breaking point right now with the injuries.

It’s bad enough that they’re missing Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, John Moore and Urho Vaakanainen to injuries at this point, but now Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron both appear to be out for the foreseeable future. That’s about as dire as it gets for the Black and Gold missing their two best defensive players and leaders on the ice while seemingly introducing a new player from Providence just about every game.

Couple that with the fact that it appears Montreal and Buffalo are much improved in the Atlantic Division this season, and the Bruins have a challenge to at least tread water with the rest of the pack while currently sitting in playoff position. That won’t be easy missing so many key players and trying to survive with Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk basically serving as the top two defensemen among the six blueliners on the ice.

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Despite all of that, give credit to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff for formulating the best plan until some of the healthy reinforcements arrive for the Black and Gold. It’s been on display in each of the last two games as the Bruins have taken three out of four points on the road against Dallas and Arizona in low-scoring affairs. The Bruins have only scored two goals in the two games, but still managed to secure the three points because they found a little offense stuffed in between the couch cushions, and then played a conservative brand of hockey that limits chances both for them and for the opposition.

That was on full display against the Coyotes when the Bruins only managed three shots on net in the second period after scoring early in the game to take a quick 2-0 lead in the eventual 2-1 win over the Desert Dogs. It may not be the sexiest hockey in the world for a Bruins team that’s used to scoring early and often while playing at a fast pace, but it should also be effective if the young B’s reserves can keep their discipline and confidence riding high.

They’re also going to need some seriously strong goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask, who combined to stop 68-of-70 shots (.971) over the weekend in taking the three out of four available points against the Stars and Coyotes. Halak continues to put together a strong season with the .935 save percentage and the 2.07 goals against average to date this year, and Rask has always been a strong goalie in the months of November and December once things get to the middle of the regular season.

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There’s clearly hope that the goaltenders are both going to be up for the challenge over the next month or so. They'll need to after the Bruins were outshot 70-46 over the last two games while playing their brand of a bend-but-don't-break defense with rookies, AHL journeymen and undersized puck-movers trying to get the job done. 

There’s also the fact that Kevan Miller may be returning this coming week, and there may be another healthy body or two behind him with the Brandon Carlo issue not expected to be a serious injury to begin with.

So put it all together and there’s no question the Bruins are in the middle of some serious adversity, and that the success of the last two games could become a fleeting thing while banking on a boatload of young, inexperienced players called up from Providence. So far, so good for the Black and Gold, but they’re a long way from getting out of the woods despite being in a good playoff spot with the Thanksgiving holiday bearing down on them this week.

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What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins grinding 2-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the Gila River Casino Arena.

1. Jake DeBrusk is redirecting pucks in front of the net, crashing the painted area for rebounds and generally playing bigger and stronger around the net. Not so coincidentally he’s also begun scoring with regularity for the first time this season and potted the game-winner in the first period on Saturday night when he followed a Brad Marchand shot.

DeBrusk was at the net when Darcy Kuemper kicked out the rebound and was able slam it home for his fifth goal and seventh point in the last seven games. With DeBrusk now heating up, the Bruins are finally getting the secondary source of scoring that they’ve needed to this point in the season. Unfortunately they’re also now missing Patrice Bergeron due to injury and that means it’s not even really secondary scoring anymore. It’s primary scoring, particularly with DeBrusk starting the game on a tinkered line with Marchand being centered by Joakim Nordstrom. If DeBrusk wants to keep scoring he’ll need to keep playing the power game. That’s something that’s come much easier to DeBrusk lately.

2. The real unspoken thing with this Bruins team is how thoroughly and gut-wrenchingly boring they're going to have to play in order to survive this ridiculous stretch with injuries. It’s scrap for goals, pack it in defensively & hang on for dear life just as they did against the Coyotes on Saturday, and like they tried to do Friday night against the Dallas Stars before ultimately falling in overtime. It’s not going to be easy to play that conservative, kind of boring style either.

It will require discipline and a lack of mistakes from the young players being forced into the lineup, it’s going to require playing to step up and score goals while missing so many of their key guys and it’s going to take both of their goalies to bring their ‘A’ games just about every single night. They were able to provide this formula on both Friday night in Dallas and Saturday night in Arizona in back-to-back fashion, but it’s a real question if they’re going to be able to do it over the long haul while waiting for guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to return to the lineup. They may or may not be able to keep up their current pace, but we now it's going to be done in a much more conservative, controlled way for the near future. 

3. The education of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson continues as the rookie was able to jump on a play early in the game and provide some offense for the Bruins with his first NHL goal. It was another gritty play with JFK heading toward the front of the net on a Noel Acciari wraparound attempt, and then popping in the puck when it came right toward him in front. It was an okay overall game for JFK with a goal and two shot attempts in 10:38 of ice time along with a 3-for-8 performance in the face-off circle.

He played a few more minutes than he did Friday night in Dallas and was a little more of a noticeable factor with the goal included. Now he just needs to play a little more consistently and be some kind of a factor even when he’s not involved with the offense, and he’ll really be on to something. But so far he’s at least showing that he can hold his own at the NHL level and that’s a start.

PLUS

*Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored his first NHL goal, passed over 10 minutes of ice time for the game and generally looked a little better on Saturday than he did during an invisible game against the Dallas Stars. JFK simply needs to find a way to be a consistent positive factor and he’ll be okay.

*Jake DeBrusk scored the game-winning goal during Boston’s first period outburst and now has five goals and seven points in his last seven games while providing a steady stream of offense. DeBrusk is doing it by playing strong around the net and combining power with his already present skill.

*Jaroslav Halak was brilliant again for the Bruins in stopping 31-of-32 shots and keeping the Coyotes off the board even as they fired 13 shots on net in the third period in a desperate attempt to tie the game. It was good to see Halak back in his usual form after a bit of a rough game while giving up 6 goals in Colorado.

MINUS

*The news that Patrice Bergeron (upper body) and John Moore (lower body) are both returning to Boston to be evaluated by the medical staff is really, really bad news considering all the other players already missing from the lineup. No Bergeron and no Chara could mean big trouble if it’s for a 4-6 week span.

*Connor Clifton had five hits and was a plus-1 while topping 20 minutes of ice time in the win in only his second NHL game. Those were the definite positives. But Clifton also took a delay of game penalty for the second game in a row after flipping a puck over the glass. He’s going to need to work on that.

*No shots and 3-for-12 in the face-off circle for David Krejci in his 15 plus minutes of ice time in his first game without No. 37 in the lineup. Krejci really needs to start stepping it up until Bergeron can get healthy.

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