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BOSTON (CBS) — Sometimes it feels like NHL teams — especially those residing in the city where the cheesesteak passes for gourmet faire — treat their goaltenders like they’re disposable. The success of teams that believe just anyone can play net on a nightly basis, or hold open auditions every season, usually comes up several rungs short of championships.
The Bruins have subscribed to the opposite theory ever since general manager Peter Chiarelli began his tenure. That’s why it was no surprise the Bruins committed to Tuukka Rask this week with an eight-year deal worth a cap hit of $7 million per season. Stability in the crease is one of the most important tenets of Chiarelli and the Bruins organization’s platform for success.
Chiarelli wasn’t afraid to re-up with Tim Thomas at 34 years old for four years and a $5 million annual cap hit. Rask, 26, has a similar track record as Thomas had in April 2009 when the eventual 2011 Conn Smythe winner signed his new deal, and just by virtue of his youth has a higher ceiling for even more success over the length of this contract.
As a human whose common sense hasn’t been warped by working in a NHL front office, I shiver at the idea of giving anyone an eight-year deal. So many things can go wrong, from injury, to complacency, to an unexplainable drop-off in production. But the NHL has changed tenfold since the days of Byron Dafoe coming back after a season where he posted a 1.99 goals-against average and 10 shutouts and had to haggle with the Bruins just to get $3.1 million out of the team when he wanted $4 million. He even had to hold out to get that deal.
Well, from Thomas to Rask, Chiarelli has decided that whatever it takes to get top-notch goaltending, even in a salary-cap league, he’ll spend it. The Bruins, like most teams, pride themselves on strong defense. It all starts with the goaltender. You can argue that Rask truly only proved his worth over one season and postseason (his previous year of starting was back in 2009-10). However, Rask (.929 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in the 2013 regular season) has hit every goal along his development with the Bruins. He toiled for two seasons in Providence (AHL), sat for two years behind Thomas and now it’s his time. The Bruins have invested in Rask as their next great goaltender for years, and they’re not changing track now. There’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to make every marker in terms of being the rock behind coach Claude Julien’s system for 55-60 regular-season games and playoffs each season.
For now, the Bruins are tight up against the cap because of Rask’s deal. Going forward, it’s anticipated the cap ceiling will increase. Considering the rate of cap expansion prior to the most recent lockout, by year four or five of Rask’s deal, it could look like a bargain or at least not be a clog on the Bruins’ other plans. Should he stumble, Rask could be tradeable or even a buyout candidate by the second half of the deal.
Of course, the Bruins aren’t thinking about life without Rask. They’re planning on him manning their crease into the next decade. Stability doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with championship potential.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.