Bruins

Ryan White watches and waits for chance with Bruins

cp-bruins-ryan-white-102417x.jpg

Ryan White watches and waits for chance with Bruins

Ryan White has been with the Bruins on a tryout basis for a couple of weeks now, He practices with the team, and goes through all of the motions of being an active NHL player on a roster.

But White, 29, hasn’t yet been signed by the B's even though they've been beset by injuries, and there are no guarantees that he’s going to eventually sign with Boston.

For the former Habs, Flyers, Wild and Coyotes forward, the PTO allows him to come back from a concussion suffered while on a training camp tryout with the Vancouver Canucks and stay in shape if some kind of opportunity pops up elsewhere. White said he has standing AHL offers if it gets to that point, but understandably he’s still looking for an NHL deal after posting 9 goals and 16 points in 65 energetic games with Minnesota and Arizona last season.

It’s a bit of a strange limbo for White, being unable to play in games or throw a hit at an opponent in earnest, but he’s being patient with the Bruins as they work things through with their surplus of forwards on the NHL roster right now.

“I haven’t been able to hit anybody or run anybody over in a while, so I’ve been chomping at the bit for a while,” said White, who is on an open-ended tryout with the Bruins that can last as long as both the player and team are interested in playing it out without a formalized contract. “I’m just kind of waiting to see what happens. The team has some things going on that are out of my control a little bit, so I’m just going to continue working hard. This has been good for me coming off the concussion in Vancouver. Just being back with an NHL group, skating and competing and working hard [has been good]. I definitely would like to play in games, but I’m focused in being ready to go.

“Certainly I need to start getting a paycheck again, but I’m kind of focused on being okay to wait a little bit. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. I feel like I’m an NHL player and that I’m ready to contribute, and if it’s not here then it might be with someone else. A lot can happen in the NHL on a day-to-day basis. I’m just glad to be around a good group and a good veteran team right now, and pushing myself every day.”

So what will eventually give way for White to get on Boston’s NHL roster?

Well, Frank Vatrano and Matt Beleskey both have zero points and have been minus players in the early going, and at a certain point one has to wonder if a move is going to be made with one or the other. A demotion to Providence for either would open up a roster spot for White, and allow him to bring the energy, physicality and decent level of bottom-6 production that he’s shown throughout his 313 career NHL games.

Certainly it would be a drastic move to clear Beleskey off the roster, and it seems premature with plenty of years still left on his contract. But there’s also a sense that the B’s will lose Vatrano if they expose him to waivers. So it remains unclear what exactly the Bruins are going to do to potentially create a spot for White in the short term.

One thing that holds very true: It certainly feels like Boston’s bottom-6 group has some players in it that could use a jolt, and it White could provide it.

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