Bruins

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.

Bruins absolutely should play for Islanders matchup over Hurricanes

Bruins absolutely should play for Islanders matchup over Hurricanes

It comes down to a simple equation for Boston’s opponent in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next week, and it all depends on how the Bruins perform in their round-robin finale Sunday against the Washington Capitals.

If the Bruins win in any fashion against the Capitals then they will face the New York Islanders in the first round starting Tuesday or Wednesday, and if they lose Sunday then they will go up against the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Friday started with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a possible first-round opponent as well for Boston, but that went out the window once they were eliminated by the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens.

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As the Bruins players themselves had discussed, there is no preferred first-round adversary while knowing every team is going to be a quality opponent.

“We do sit and talk as a group every and whether it’s the first or the fourth seed, it does not matter who you are going to be playing…it’s going to be tough,” said Torey Krug in a zoom call with NBC Sports Boston earlier this week. “We went through all the teams yesterday and it just doesn’t matter. That being said we’re working our way into that playoff mode of hockey and trying to get our head wrapped around it.”

In all honestly, it’s clear the Bruins should want to win on Sunday vs. the Capitals, clinch the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and face off against an admittedly solid Islanders team. The Islanders are well-coached as a Barry Trotz team, they have outstanding goaltending in Semyon Varlamov (.923 save percentage vs. Florida in the qualifying round) and they boast some very good players like Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau among others.

But the Islanders are a hustle-and-hard-work kind of team that maximizes its talent level during the regular season. That means they tend to have a more difficult time beating talented opponents in the playoffs working just as diligently as they are during the postseason. There is an absolute ceiling to how good the Isles can be while constantly scrapping for offense, and that means they would experience a difficult time matching the firepower of the Bruins.

The Islanders were 22nd in the NHL in offense averaging 2.78 goals per game and finished 24th in the league in power-play percentage. They relied heavily on defense, goaltending and hustle to offset the modest attack.

They will play physical and try to frustrate the Bruins, but they just can’t hang with the high-end talent of the B’s provided they show a little more urgency and competitiveness than they have during the round robin.

On the other hand, a B’s loss would put them against a Carolina team that absolutely dominated the New York Rangers in the qualifying round. The Hurricanes are a deep, young and very talented roster with young scorers like Sebastian Aho (3 goals and 8 points in 3 games vs. the Rangers), Andrei Svechnikov (3 goals and five points vs. the Rangers) and Teuvo Teravainen up front, and Jaccob Slavin and Sami Vatanen on the back end with the hope that ex-Bruins D-man Dougie Hamilton may return at some point in the first round as well.

The Hurricanes were a top-10 power play team during the regular season and had one of the best offensive groups in the NHL. They are a significantly improved team compared to the group that the Bruins ushered out of the Eastern Conference Finals with a sweep a year ago, and they added big pieces Vatanen and Vincent Trocheck at the trade deadline.

Clearly, the goaltending is still an area to exploit with the Hurricanes, but they are also coming off a playoff series where Petr Mrazek played the best hockey of his career while posting a .940 save percentage in two starts. Combined, James Reimer and Mrazek had an amazing .955 save percentage in the three wins over the Rangers in the qualifying round, but neither one is a clear-cut No. 1 guy for the Hurricanes in the postseason.

What does it all mean?

Carolina is to be avoided if you are the Boston Bruins based on the torrid way it has played in the Toronto bubble, and based on the way Rod Brind’Amour’s crew can match firepower with the B’s all over the ice.

It will be entirely up to the Bruins to control the fate of their first-round playoff matchup with a win or loss against the Capitals on Sunday, and that ultimately could make all the difference on how long the Bruins will manage to stay in the hunt for the Cup.

Here's Bruins' first-round playoff scenario entering Sunday vs. Capitals

Here's Bruins' first-round playoff scenario entering Sunday vs. Capitals

The Boston Bruins' potential first-round playoff matchups are laid out for them as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Washington Capitals.

The Montreal Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, thus eliminating the Pens from playoff contention. That means the B's will either begin their Stanley Cup run against the New York Islanders or the Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Bruins beat the Capitals on Sunday, they'll face the Islanders in the first round. If they lose, they'll face the Hurricanes.


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Carolina comes off three straight convincing wins over the New York Rangers in the Toronto bubble. As for the Isles, they took three out of four from the Florida Panthers.

Either way, the B's will have a tough test in Round 1, and their fate will be determined by their final round-robin matchup on Sunday.

Boston currently is 0-2 in Toronto, falling 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers and then 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In order to gain some momentum heading into the postseason, there's no doubt the Bruins will need to show more of a sense of urgency than they have in the bubble to this point.