BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins had exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with restricted free-agent-to-be Tuukka Rask before July 1, and they agreed to a deal with three days to spare. The deal is for one year and $3.5 million, certainly a fair value for a player who’s posted solid numbers in his first three seasons in the NHL.
So who wins with the one-year deal?
There’s no doubt that Rask still needs to prove that he can start for a full season, perform at a high level and, above all, stay healthy. Remember, back when he was a starter in 2009-10, he didn’t assume that role until midseason, starting just 39 games.
So the Bruins would have been taking a rather large risk if they committed, say, three years and $12 million to the goalie who missed the final two months of last season with a groin injury. Fair enough.
But what are they rooting for now?
If Rask excels next season and posts numbers close to his ’09-’10 numbers (1.97 goals-against average, .931 save percentage) and starts somewhere in the 60-65 games range, he’ll set himself up to become a very, very rich young man. If Ondrej Pavelec and his 2.99 career GAA and .907 save percentage is $3.9 million per year for the next five years, then what would a healthy Rask be worth? He’d at least get the Tim Thomas contract of four years, $20 million, but with the market changing so dramatically in recent years, there would be at least one team willing to spend even more.
All of which puts the Bruins in an odd situation. Certainly, they want (and need) Rask to play well next season, with Thomas out of the picture and Anton Khudobin not nearly polished enough to be a starter in the NHL. From top to bottom, the Bruins’ roster is one that can and should compete deep into the playoffs next season, but they won’t even get there if they don’t have a goalie.
However, if Rask does perform to that level, the Bruins may have a difficult time locking him up next season. (His free-agent status, restricted or unrestricted, won’t be known for sure until the new CBA is agreed upon.) If a goaltender in his mid-20s proves he’s a top-10 or top-five goalie, how much can he make on the open market? The Bruins might have to find out.
And obviously, they can’t root for him to have a bad season or get hurt. That would be sheer lunacy. Even then, if he does struggle or misses significant time due to injury, will he be in line for a big pay cut with his next contract? You rarely — if ever — see that in sports these days. So why play it so safe with a one-year deal, knowing the number of risks involved?
Not being privy to the negotiation, we’ll have to assume Rask and agent Bill Zito asked for the moon after seeing Pavelec get his pay day. After all, Chiarelli’s never been too hesitant to pull the trigger on slightly overspending to keep the guys he wants, so now, with a goalie situation in flux, would be an odd time for him to start.
Regardless, Chiarelli and the Bruins at least guaranteed they’ll have a goalie this season, even if under less-than-ideal circumstances. If they had paid too much and committed too many years to Rask this summer, then they’d be punished by having a mediocre or injured goalie on their roster who carries a large cap hit. But if they played it too safe this summer, and Rask ends the season among the league leaders, then they may have lost their chance to lock down the kid who’s been tabbed “the goalie of the future” for the past three years.
More than likely, the Bruins will end up having to pay a bundle next summer, or else they’ll lose him to free agency. It might have been risky to agree long term this year, but given the way the goalie market is shaping, doing so would have likely saved them a lot of money.