By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The mid-July hockey hot takes around these parts are equal parts frightening enough to want to stay away from and tantalizing enough to want to run across like hot coals during a confidence-building retreat.
There’s no better summertime hot take than one about Tuukka Rask. The annual rite of summer passed this week with a new theory that Jaroslav Halak is so talented he may knock Rask out of the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie job for as long as a month and might even make Rask expendable.
I hesitate to make you waste any brain cells contemplating this notion, but like I said, sometimes the flames of foolishness lure me in and just dare me to touch them. So here I go into the fire:
*The Bruins finished fourth in the NHL overall standings and fourth in goals allowed last season. That’s amazing considering they played without a goaltender.
All kidding aside, Rask found his groove last season after a slow start and had a .920 save percentage from Nov. 1 until the end of the regular season. He was dreadful for much of the Toronto first-round playoff series, but in the Tampa Bay series he had a .907 save percentage. That’s below average for a regular season but was the same save percentage the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy had from the start of the second round through Tampa Bay’s third-round exit, and was three percentage points less than Marc-Andre Fleury’s save percentage over the same span. Clearly save percentages in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs took a bit of a beating.
There was a time when a team could expect more from a goalie making $7 million, but Rask earned that money before and for several seasons after signing that deal. He’s behind Dominik Hasek by .0002 for first place in all-time save percentage. But now they know they have to make accommodations for him at 31, like getting him enough rest. That means having a strong backup, and it means paying one a healthy sum because of the Bruins’ original sin, not drafting and developing their own goaltender to be Rask to Rask’s Tim Thomas. We’ll save the Malcolm Subban debate for another day.
But you can’t say Rask hasn’t lived up to his end of the contract or that he’s headed for a fall. And you especially can’t broach the topic of trading him without getting a No. 1 goaltender in return considering you were FOURTH in the NHL last season and figure to again challenge for the Stanley Cup.
*You especially can’t plan for a Rask-less world just because Halak is in the fold. On paper he seems like an upgrade on Anton Khudobin based on track record and experience. The Bruins’ argument that Halak was a victim of the New York team in front of him, and thus shouldn’t be blamed for his -7.93 goals saved above average percentage, is worthy of betting on. Once the compensation amounts got above the $2 million range, the Bruins were right to spend the money on the goaltender they had more faith in to fill in should they lose Rask, and the one they thought would push Rask the most from the start of this season.
But we won’t know how Halak will handle being a backup until he’s done it. We won’t know how much the 33-year-old’s game has deteriorated playing behind those Islanders teams until he gets the reps behind the Bruins. But if you’re expecting a 9.34 GSAA like he had in 2013-14, you’re wishing for the moon. A 3.78 GSAA, like the one he had his first year with the Islanders in 2015-16, would be a bonanza for the Bruins, assuming Halak plays just 30 games and Rask stays healthy all season.
(As an aside, it’s funny how people who thought Khudobin should’ve been the starter instead of Rask as recently as November now claim Khudobin didn’t push Rask enough.)
*As for the total money the Bruins are paying to two goaltenders, I’ll reiterate what I’ve written in this space numerous times: that’s the cost of doing business as a championship contending team with quality goaltending if that team doesn’t draft and develop a goaltender pipeline (which the Bruins maybe have within a couple of years).
Looking at the Bruins as the second-place team on the list of money spent on goaltending and saying ‘this won’t do’ misses the point that plenty of strong teams spend nearly as much on goaltending or have question marks in one of their two slot.
Vegas did well paying its goaltenders last year but the aforementioned Fleury just signed a three-year extension worth $7 million (where have I see that number before) with Vegas. There’s no telling how the Golden Knights’ backup situation will shape up.
The Capitals had to trade Philip Grubauer because he was going to make too much money as a backup. Now he’s making $3.3 million for Colorado and the Capitals are in search for someone to back up Braden Holtby as well as Grubauer filled that role.
As I mentioned in another post, Connor Hellebuyck is making $6.2 million and the Jets don’t have a proven backup. Martin Jones, the easiest name to say and remember among NHL goaltenders (or at least that must be why his name always comes up), is going to be making $5.75 million this season and his backup Aaron Dell will make $1.9 million.
Goaltending costs money. Two quality goaltenders cost a lot of money. Now there’s a take that’ll warm you up while your A/C is cranking this week.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.