Bruins

Why aren't Bruins players back skating yet? Here's what's 'gummed things up'

Why aren't Bruins players back skating yet? Here's what's 'gummed things up'

While NBA players on teams like the Boston Celtics began getting back to work at their practice facilities this week, Bruins players and their brothers across the NHL are still in a bit of a holding pattern when it comes to getting back into playing shape.

Some like 43-year-old Bruins captain Zdeno Chara have already traveled back to the Boston area to get ready for small, informal practices that will happen when the league moves to Phase 2 of the return-to-play program. Some others undoubtedly have found smaller, local rinks to at least get back on the ice and begin skating again while also still practicing social distancing.

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But the NHL doesn’t want a staggered opening of NHL practice facilities when some teams skating together earlier than others could give them a potential competitive advantage when it does come time to return to play.

What’s holding up the NHL at this point with so many states around the United States beginning to open back up things like athletic practice facilities?

In a nutshell, the NHL won’t let Phase 2 begin until all 31 teams can safely and legally open up their practice facilities and there are still complications with the Canadian cities when it comes to practicing, or when it comes to foreign-born players not being allowed to head back to Canada from other places around the world.

Until that changes, the NHL will still be on pause with July 10 as the earliest date being looked at when NHL training camps could start in earnest with a goal of returning to play in the 24-team tournament in late July/early August. That all could and should change over the next week or two, but there are no concrete indications when exactly it is going to happen.

“We need to find out and find out very quickly. It’s early June and the NHL and NHLPA have indicated that they want to initiate Phase 2 in early June. That’s now. I think we’re going to learn a lot this week and drifting into next week,” said TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger during an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with his Ray & Dregs Hockey Podcast partner -- TSN Hockey Analyst Ray Ferraro -- earlier this week. “You talk to people around the league and players are already beginning to return to their NHL cities, so as soon as it’s safe to initiate Phase 2 they are going to do that. The tricky part is that Canada, and the seven Canadian teams, are holding things up a little bit. And that’s not on the NHL.

“Health Canada and the provincial officials and the federal government here in Canada are being incredibly careful. I’m appreciative of that and so is Ray [Ferraro]. We both live in Canada. But it’s gummed things up a little bit, no question about that, in terms of the NHL moving things forward.”

Ferraro, the longtime NHLer with 18 years in the league, including a memorable stint with the Hartford Whalers at the beginning of his career, likened the current NHL stage to the very beginnings of building an entire house.

“What I got from when we talked to the commissioner [on the Ray & Dregs Hockey Podcast] is that they’ve got this plan, but now it’s like if you’re building a house and you’ve poured the foundation and put the studs up,” said Ferraro. “Now they’re trying to fill in everything else inside the studs. Each time you finish one thing there is something else that comes up. Even just in the conversation we had, you start running ahead on what you need to accomplish just to get [the NHL] back as safely as possible… never mind whether you like the format or whether the Bruins as the best team in the season are getting the short end of the stick, which they kind of are ... but that doesn’t even matter right now.

It’s about can you even execute an incredibly complicated and detailed plan? For me that’s what this is about first and foremost, is can you even execute it?

The United States recently signed an order that made professional athletes essential workers, which enables them to travel back into the country from other areas of the world in order to return to their NHL cities.

The COVID-19 restrictions in Canada could also eliminate Canadian cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton from consideration when it comes to the two designated hub cities that the NHL narrowed down to 10 candidates last week when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the league’s return-to-play plan.

The best guess is that the NHL’s Phase 2 should begin in the next two weeks with groups of six NHL players on the ice at the same time in informal, voluntary settings, but stay tuned on exactly when that might happen for the Bruins and the other 23 teams still alive in the NHL's postseason format.

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

Interesting details why NHL reportedly chose Edmonton as hub city

It’s pretty much official at this point as countless reports have the NHL settled on Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities when teams return to play at the end of the month.

TSN Insider Bob McKenzie revealed on Thursday afternoon that Edmonton will also end up being the site for the conference finals as well as the Stanley Cup Final given how well the city has contained the COVID-19 virus over the last three months.

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Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer confirmed that it indeed is looking good for Edmonton and outlined some of the finer points to the Edmonton plan that attracted the NHL once they decided to avoid Las Vegas despite its glamorous appeal.

“Edmonton is in a unique situation. It’s low-population density and the majority of the international travel went through Calgary, so if you compare [Alberta] to the U.S. there’s only four U.S. states that have fewer cases per million [people] than Alberta. And Edmonton only has 13 percent of the cases for the entire [Alberta] province despite the fact that Edmonton has 37 or 38 percent of the population. We only had 15 deaths total [from COVID-19] in the last 15 weeks and just three deaths over the last two months. The caseload has been light.

“That’s a major reason why Edmonton got this [hub city designation]. Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group was really aggressive to get the bid. The province really wanted it. Edmonton has a brand new JW Marriott hotel that’s adjacent to Rogers Place and, if we’re able to push the ball over the goal line here, all 12 teams’ players will stay there. There are a couple of supporting hotels that will house the executives and the rest of that 50-man group as well the television crews that will be in to work it. I would call this more of an Olympic-style hub city bid. That was the key.

"They’ll work out an arrangement with 5-8 restaurants, they’ve got the hotel they want to use and they’re just going to cordon everything off. There’s lot of green space for the players and there’s a golf course five minutes away right in the downtown. The average temperature is 68-76 degrees during the day, so it’s not like the 110 degrees that it would be in Vegas. I get it that Vegas was super-sexy [as an option]. I think Gary [Bettman] wanted Vegas. I think the players wanted Vegas. But it seems that the COVID situation really knocked [Vegas] out. At this stage of the game it really looks like Edmonton and they’ve been working on it for a while.”

TSN Insider Darren Dreger had mentioned Edmonton as the biggest and best option for the NHL when he spoke to NBC Sports Boston about a month ago as well.

“Edmonton is on a full-out campaign. They’ve talked about having a million square feet inside their facility. They’ve got a practice rink there. They can literally put 12 dining areas and separate sanitization stations for all 12 teams inside that building,” said Dreger. “And then they’ve got the ice district and they’ve got the JW Marriott, which is a brand-spanking new, world class hotel. Everybody can be housed in that.

"You want to watch a movie outside on a big screen, or you want to watch some of the other games that are being played in the other hub city? You can do that in the ice district. You can watch multiple games if you’re not playing. They were heavily investigating a private golf course and renting it out, so that on their off days the players could go and play golf as a leisure activity as well.”

At that time, it seemed that Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton were the lead candidates with other U.S. locales in the mix as well, but Edmonton became a no-brainer once it turned to an all-Canada setting for the NHL games. It also seems clear that the NHL is going to keep the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and the Western Conference teams in Edmonton for the first couple of playoff rounds following the qualifying round/round-robin games.

But then it will be the many amenities being offered in Edmonton that are going to create a safe, remote environment for the NHL to pull off a Return to Play when so many areas in North America would not be right for it at this point.

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.