By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If you’d like to see the Bruins move on from goaltender Tuukka Rask, or if you believe that Rask is overpaid, you may be disappointed this offseason.
Bruins GM Don Sweeney was asked directly about Rask and the team’s goaltending situation during his season-ending press conference on Thursday. He acknowledged the ups and downs of Rask’s season, which had some injury troubles to go along with it. Sweeney admitted that Rask was overworked in playing 65 games, tied for the third-most in the league among goaltenders.
But Sweeney also tabbed Rask as the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie moving forward, effectively killing any idea of trading the goaltender or seeking more affordable options than Rask’s $7 million cap hit.
“We needed it,” said Sweeney on Rask’s hot start. “[In the] middle of the season we probably rode [Rask] a little too hard and he broke down a little bit, and then he finished on such a high note. … He had some injury troubles that he was battling through during the course of the season and really came back, after getting a little bit of rest, a better player.
“If we’re going to have the success that we expect to have, then he has to be the go-to guy. And I think he proved that down the stretch and in the playoffs that he can be that goaltender.”
[graphiq id=”3sxAlElsfdj” title=”Tuukka Rask 2016-17 Game Log” width=”600″ height=”564″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/3sxAlElsfdj” ]
The talented but often maddeningly inconsistent Rask got off to a blistering start, going 10-1 in his first 11 games with a 1.54 goals against average and .945 save percentage. His next 48 games played were not so hot, as the Bruins went 23-19-4 in his starts and Rask had a weak .900 save percentage in that span.
However, Rask finished the regular season strong after allowing two of his weakest goals of the season in a late-March loss to the Lightning and missing a weekend start against the Islanders. Rask went 4-0-1 in his last six games played, allowing just four goals with a .971 save percentage.
Rask’s overall performance in the Bruins’ six-game playoff series against the Ottawa Senators was up-and-down. He was outstanding in their only two wins of the series, making big save after big save in Games 1 and 5. But Rask was subpar in the third period and overtime of Game 2, when the Bruins blew a 3-1 lead, and he would probably like to have back the goal that he allowed to lose the series in overtime of Game 6, when he was positioned completely out of the crease.
Rask’s .920 playoff save percentage looks good on paper, but it is currently 11th out of 14 goalies who have made at least five playoff starts this season.
It’s clear that Rask has the ability to steal games for the Bruins when they need it, but the “good” Rask hasn’t shown up consistently enough in recent seasons. It could simply mean that he is being run into the ground over the course of seasons and cannot make 60-plus starts in a season.
Sweeney sounds as if he would like Rask’s starts to be closer to 55 than 65, meaning the Bruins will look to upgrade behind him in the offseason. Anton Khudobin, while strong down the stretch of the regular season, was not consistently reliable in his own right. And when neither were available, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre did not look like NHL-caliber goalies when they filled in.
Sweeney acknowledged that regardless of who starts in goal, the Bruins need to address the rest of the depth chart at the position.
“The backup goaltending situation was certainly a challenge in the first part of the year,” said Sweeney. “It put a lot of strain on us early in the year.”
Rask has ostensibly been overworked in recent seasons and needs his workload reduced to keep him fresh for the end of the season. That may lead you to say that he is simply not worth $7 million against the cap per year, which is the third-highest hit in the league behind only Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky.
That may be true, but it sounds like the Bruins are going to accept that reality and move forward with Rask in net as they look to upgrade the backup spot. Moving on from Rask would carry considerable risk, but could save them cap space if they find a comparable option at a fraction of the price. It appears, however, that such a move will not happen.
Rask is the guy moving forward for the Bruins, and the team now has to find a more reliable backup who can make 30-plus starts to keep Rask fresh and durable. Sweeney will have to hope that the plan works out, or the move will be questioned as much as any that he’s made in his tenure.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.