By Jake Force
Boston University News Service
Kevin Dupont at The Boston Globe wrote a great column commending everything Tuukka Rask did for the Boston Bruins but also noted how Rask’s best was never enough for some fans.
Sorry Rask, but guilty as charged (hand-raised emoji).
Dupont is right, though. Rask did do a lot for the Bruins. He’s won more regular season and playoff games than any goalie in franchise history — that long history dates back to 1924. He has the most shutouts (52) in franchise history. Rask also boasted of a solid .921 career saves percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average.
Last week via the Bruins’ social media, Rask announced his retirement from his 15 years in the NHL, all of which was spent with the Bruins. “… it is with a heavy heart that I announce my retirement from the game of hockey,” Rask wrote, adding that Boston is “the best sports city in the world.”
Let’s clear up a few things. I have always liked Rask. However, at the end of the line, when the Bruins tried to bring him back for one more kick at the can, it was clearly time for them to move on.
I’m sorry for this one, but having no Stanley Cup victories as a starter is a gigantic measuring unit for goalies. It may be unfair, but it’s true. So much of winning the Stanley Cup depends on a goalie getting hot for a deep playoff run.
This by no means outrightly blames Rask for these losses, but he is certainly culpable. Not to mention when the Bruins started him in the playoffs last year despite knowing he needed hip surgery.
That was frustrating, wasn’t it?
If you’re now asking whether or not I hold it against Henrik Lundqvist for not winning a cup despite being one of the greatest goalies in history, I’ll be consistent and say yes. The same goes for Carey Price and Roberto Luongo. They are — and were — great, perhaps even greater than Crawford or Niemi, but they have no Stanley Cup rings to call their own. Like it or not, it’s a big deal for goalies. Just like it is for quarterbacks. Rask is sort of like Dan Marino in that way.
Now, let’s get to where this leaves the Bruins’ current goalie situation. The Bruins got to where they are today by making a series of decisions. The first was trading young Czech goalie Daniel Vladar to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 third-round draft pick. The move didn’t seem bad at the time, but it is something the Bruins’ general manager, Don Sweeney, will surely botch.
Vladar only started five games for the Bruins and was just okay. However, giving him a little more time to prove himself could have suited the Bruins well. To pile on, Vladar put up a shutout against the Bruins in his return to TD Garden with the Flames on November 21.
He made Boston pay for not believing in him.
Then, Sweeney decided to sign free agent goalie Linus Ullmark — who previously played backup for the lowly Buffalo Sabres — for a four-year, $20 million contract. Ullmark now largely plays in a backup role … and makes $5 million per year to watch most of the games.
Sign me up for that gig.
The NHL salary cap is at roughly $75 million this year — meaning every NHL team is allowed to spend that much money collectively paying all players on their roster — and Ullmark has a larger “cap hit” than some guys who contribute regularly. His cap hit is even more than Charlie McAvoy’s this year.
What kind of world are we living in where a backup goalie makes more money than one of the NHL’s top defenseman?
Sweeney’s latest gaffe came when he sent the young and capable Jeremy Swayman to the minor league Providence Bruins to make way for Rask. Yeah, because why not give the washed-up 34-year-old who’s fresh off of hip surgery one more chance in the net?
Granted, Rask had already come to terms with reality and called it a career, but many could’ve easily told you that would happen. And in the process of his comeback attempt, Rask potentially cost the Bruins several points in the Eastern Conference standings — they’re currently clinging to the eighth and final playoff seed.
Hope they don’t need those points back at the end of the season.
With a Swayman and Vladar tandem, the Bruins had a combined salary-cap hit of just $1.2 million at the goalie position. That’s with two young, capable and above all, cheap goalies.
To have cheap, quality goaltending is the NHL version of striking gold.