By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I’ve said this before, but it always warrants repeating: When you’re in mixed company, never bring up politics, religion, or Tuukka Rask. The conversation will always turn ugly.
It may be a silly notion to those outside of Boston, but yes, the best goaltender by many measures in the 96-year history of the Boston Bruins long ago became a bit of a lightning rod for debate and controversy, bringing about the existence of the not-rare-enough “Tuukka Haters.”
The reason for that, of course, is twofold. For one, he took over for Tim Thomas, who had a great postseason in 2011, ending a 38-year championship drought for the Bruins. Even though nobody had ever posted a shutout on the road in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final prior to Thomas doing it in Vancouver, the standard was set for Rask to equal that accomplishment.
The second part is that Rask hasn’t won a Cup as the starter. Granted, he was as good if not better than Thomas on the whole in 2013, and he was the Bruins’ best player on the 2019 run to the Cup Final, but he and the Bruins couldn’t finish the job either time.
Add it all up — and throw in an ill-timed stomach bug that still irks a lot of people, and an exit from last year’s bubble to tend to a family emergency involving his child — and the “anti-Raskers” are a loud and vociferous bunch.
The most logical stance on Rask — if I do say so myself — is that he’s certainly been good enough to win a Stanley Cup. But it is a team game, and the team has come up short. (The Bruins scored more than five goals per game in their four wins vs. Vancouver, you know? It is a team sport.)
Alas, that doesn’t cut it here with a lot of people, and it never will. Such is life.
That’s why it was awfully interesting when Rask was asked by WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche about how he handles all the criticisms in Boston — criticisms that are objectively over the top for a player who’s been as good as Rask has been for so long.
Here’s what Tuukka said:
“Yeah, well, I don’t — there’s a reason I don’t read social media or the news, really, because when you get caught up in that, it might be mentally tough. So I, it really doesn’t affect me because I don’t I don’t hear that noise. But I think I’ve said many times before, people have their opinions. They have the right to say whatever they want to say, as long as it’s in some kind of a — there’s limits. But I respect them and it doesn’t affect my game. I feel like every time I go out in town or wherever, people have been really supportive.”
“And it’s not like, you know, I go to the grocery store and people are throwing eggs at me or yelling at me over there. You know, that that might suck.”
“So people nowadays, they talk in the social media — whatever the topic is, it seems like everybody has an opinion on everything. So it doesn’t bother me.”
Roche then asked a follow-up question about how Rask how he feels about his body of work with the Bruins, despite not winning the Cup as a starter.
“Yeah it’s … it’s one of those things that this is … the Patriots definitely haven’t helped anybody in that regard. They won championships every year it seemed like. And this city only recognizes champions as their heroes. And obviously, as an athlete, you want to win. And you want a chance to win every year. And I think we’ve been very close. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t, that we haven’t reached that goal yet, and I haven’t won the Cup as a playing goalie. But I feel like I played good hockey and gave us a chance.”
“It’s tough to win. There’s very few guys who win it. It’s not easy. We definitely tried. I just haven’t been able to close the deal, and that’s the way it is. I just have to deal with it. Maybe it will happen. Who knows?”
Given that Rask is such a hot-button issue around here, it was quite interesting to hear him offer this perspective, especially at this point in his career. He’s 34 years old, and he just revealed that he played the past season with a torn labrum in his hip. He’ll be undergoing surgery to repair the issue, and he doesn’t anticipate that he’ll be ready to play until January or February.
Considering Rask just played out the final year of his contract with Boston, and considering the NHL is planning on getting the season started in October, that doesn’t paint the rosiest picture with regard to his future with the Bruins.
An ideal scenario for the Bruins would be to have Rask for two or three more years at a lower rate than the $7 million he made annually from 2013-21 — call it $5.5 million — while also having Jeremy Swayman at under $1 million to serve the role previously occupied by Jaroslav Halak and Anton Khudobin. If all went well with that, the Bruins would have a solid goaltending situation locked up at under $6.5 million for two more years. And if Swayman develops the way the Bruins would hope, he’d be primed and ready to be the No. 1 in 2023.
Alas, the ideal scenario is already kind of shot. Rask won’t be ready to play until midseason, and he can’t even be sure of that just yet, as he hasn’t even gone under the knife. That means the Bruins — who will be Cup-hungry so long as Patrice Bergeron is centering the top line — will need another goalie on the roster for the upcoming season. Deciding whether the team wants a new No. 1 to fill that role or a quasi-No. 1 who can fill in temporarily before ultimately ceding the crease to Tuukka midseason figures to be a challenging angle to tackle for Don Sweeney.
So, certainly, it’s possible that Tuukka Rask’s Bruins career is over. If so, it will be remembered either as “he was great but didn’t win the Cup” or “he’s the singular reason why they didn’t win a Cup,” depending on your outlook on goaltending, the man himself, or life in general.
If it is indeed over, then those of us who try to navigate the waters of painful Tuukka Rask Conversations will be saved of many future headaches. And at the very least, it was nice to get Rask’s perspective on the truly unique interpretations of his play before it — potentially — ends.