Bruins

Report: Schaller signs with Canucks on two-year deal

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Report: Schaller signs with Canucks on two-year deal

Tim Schaller, who spent the last two seasons with the Bruins, signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday according to Mark Divver of The Providence Journal.

Schaller played in all 82 games with the Bruins during the 2017-18 season, racking up 22 points on 12 goals and 10 assists.

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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.

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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.

Give the NHL credit, they've handled the Return to Play challenge the best

Give the NHL credit, they've handled the Return to Play challenge the best

There have been plenty of times when the NHL has been the butt of the joke in the sporting world.

There are the work stoppages that included an entire lost season.

The NHL website that, until fairly recently, couldn’t even simply give you league leader statistics when you logged on.

There’s always been a nagging feeling that the NHL acted as the inferior younger brother to the NBA when it came to national interest across the United States.

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There’s the constant, repeating scene of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman getting booed in pretty much every NHL arena when he hands the Stanley Cup off to the winner, or when he announces the first round picks during NHL Draft weekend, or sometimes maladroitly navigating through all those work stoppages of the past including the lockout that wiped out half of the 2012-13 NHL season.

There have been NHL nadirs, to be sure.

But through all that stuff, it’s clear that the 27 years Bettman has put in running the NHL has also taught him all the lessons he would need for this COVID-19 outbreak. Give the NHL credit here: It has handled the COVID-19 situation better than any of the other major pro sports across North America and that has put the league in position for a successful return to play a month from now.  

The latest news is that it will be the Canadian cities of Edmonton and Toronto that will be named the NHL hub cities as the league is rightfully pulling out of the United States completely while our country grapples with an out-of-control COVID-19 outbreak. This is 100 percent the correct call and is being finalized less than two weeks away from the 24 NHL teams readying for a July 10 open to training camps across North America.

The proper, informed option for any of the pro sports leagues was to wait until the last possible moment to decide on host cities and utilize the latest COVID-19 developments and information to make the safest possible choice for everybody putting on the games.

The league was rightfully concerned by what was happening in Las Vegas where hotel workers and arena staff would not be under the same quarantine rules as players and personnel, and therefore would have been threats to infect NHL personnel and shut the entire operation down.

At the outset when the NBA chose Orlando as its hub of operations this summer, the move was widely lauded because the NBA, Disney, ESPN and ABC could effectively isolate the entire league to the Disney campus while playing the games. Hopefully it will work out that way even as COVID-19 case numbers are skyrocketing in Florida, but clearly there has been some uneasiness among NBA personnel while watching the dire situation play out in the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile the NHL appeared as if it was lagging behind and perhaps even in danger of not returning because it was holding off on announcing locations. The league still hasn’t even zeroed in on an official start date that’s reportedly going to be at the end of July for the qualifying round games.

Instead, the NHL slow-played the process while working hand-in-hand with NHLPA head Don Fehr and a Return to Play committee with a number of influential NHL players. The league made certain to choose the safest options in Edmonton and Toronto that could maximize security, health, integrity of the game and still provide adequate facilities for players who will effectively be marooned there for a few weeks to a few months.

"We will create an environment that will be exciting, will be entertaining, will be consistent with a competition that has integrity. Everybody we’ve been doing has been a joint effort [with the players] working together to make sure we’re adhering to the protocols, which will be very strict," said Bettman, during a June program on ESPN that hosted all the commissioners talking about a return to play. “I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we're going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players. The Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports."

Now the NHL and the NHL players are on the verge of approving an entire return to play document, site locations, start dates and it sounds like they will even tack on a couple of years to a CBA that was expiring soon, with an eye toward steadying the ship through unprecedentedly difficult financial years expected in the near future.

The NHL has done it without embarrassing themselves like Major League Baseball did by squabbling over money, and without having any players like Tom Brady decide to go rogue on the NFL while showing that marketing themselves was more important than embracing and adhering to the safety protocols.

Instead the NHL quietly, sagaciously and efficiently navigated through a volatile COVID-19 epidemic and all the while has kept the players to under 5 percent positive COVID-19 test results with no isolation rules currently in place.

Clearly the real challenge will come when training camps open and games get played in the hub cities, and the league will be challenged to contain positive tests and avoid outbreaks while getting through a few months of playoff hockey. But it appears as if the NHL is at least going to get there to give it a try with very little complications to this point.

The sometimes-maligned NHL is on the verge of a return with zero fuss, and as much care and forethought as possible while heading into an admittedly scary unknown of playing through a global pandemic.

That is the best that can be done under the trying circumstances right now. The NHL has handled these trying times in way that’s looking like the gold standard for the rest of pro sports across North America, so those other leagues would do well to take notes and pay attention while everybody remains hopeful that circumstances will allow for the return of hockey a month from now.