If Tuukka Rask is retiring, he should tell Bruins sooner rather than later

Matt Kalman
March 23, 2020 - 12:03 pm

It's difficult to imagine the Bruins without Tuukka Rask.

That’s especially so considering when the NHL suspended play because of the Coronavirus pandemic the Boston goalie was second in the NHL with a .929 save percentage and had led the Bruins to the top of the league standings.

But one person that seemingly could imagine a Bruins team without Rask in the near future is Rask. The 33-year-old expressed as much to Matt Porter of The Boston Globe, and the Globe published the following exchange on Sunday:

“I have one year left in the contract, so we’ll see if I even play,” he replied.

Is that a real possibility?

“We’ll see,” he said. “Always a possibility.”

Porter went on to ask Rask whether he might play overseas, but Rask said he would stop playing, adding:  “The wear and tear of the travel with two, almost three kids now, makes you think. I love to do it. But it’s tough.”

Rask is signed through the 2020-21 season, after which his seven-year, $56 million contract will expire. If he’s serious about what he told the Globe and wasn’t just having a bad day, he owes it to the Bruins and general manager Don Sweeney to let them know he’s calling it quits well before his contract expires.

Now Rask and Sweeney may have already had this talk, and for obvious reasons neither one would ever admit it if they did. But the Bruins need to be able to plan for life after Rask, and that goes beyond just trying to make up for the loss of their all-time leader in wins and games played. He’s a gift from former interim GM Jeff Gorton that should land the current New York Rangers GM in the Bruins’ Hall of Fame, and he’s a player that’s going to be nearly impossible to replace one-for-one.

But there is a chance that if the Bruins resign Jaroslav Halak, or a comparable experienced goalie, they could pair that veteran with one of their three prospects – Daniel Vladar, Jeremy Swayman or Kyle Keyser – and get the type of play in net that could keep them among the elite teams in the NHL. Vladar was leading the American Hockey League in save percentage when the AHL suspended play and Swayman just finished an awards-filled college career at Maine. Keyser’s career was knocked a little off track this season by injuries, but some had him as the second-best, if not the best, prospect of the three before this season.

There’s a roster situation, though, that Rask’s decision could impact and it could mess up Sweeney’s plans for Bruins goaltending in the second half of this decade if Rask isn’t clear about his intentions.

Although the world’s current situation with the pandemic makes it feel like it will never be 2021, there should be a next year and that’s when Rask’s contract expires and the Seattle expansion team will be choosing its players. Every NHL team except Vegas is required to expose a goaltender under a NHL contract for 2021-22 or one that’s a restricted free agent that’s received a qualifying offer. First and second-year NHL players will be exempt from selection.

If the Bruins were to let Rask’s next contract linger to July 1, 2021, they wouldn’t have to protect or expose him to the expansion draft. Of course, if he’s going to keep playing then they’d want to re-sign him before the rest of the NHL gets to bid on one of the premier goaltenders in the league.

That would make it more difficult to keep Halak on a multi-year deal because then he’d be exposed to Seattle. If there’s not going to be a 2021-22 season for Rask, the Bruins could pitch Halak on being a protected goalie and playing time might open up behind Halak in the NHL or in Providence of the AHL for a journeyman-type goalie that could inevitably be exposed to Seattle.

Rask’s intentions could also affect the Bruins’ thinking in terms of playing time at the NHL level. They might be more apt to go with Vladar as his backup and spend less on a Halak-type fallback type (one that plays in the NHL only if things don’t work out with Vladar). This could give Vladar some NHL experience in 2020-21, give Swayman a full season to learn the professional game, and give Sweeney a better idea of what type of goalie he needs to get at the start of the post-Rask era.

Putting aside the small contingent of Rask bashers that reside on radio and social media, most of New England and the Bruins’ fanbase worldwide appreciates what Rask has accomplished for the Bruins. Revealing that 2020-21 will be his last season would give the Bruins and the fans a chance to give him a hearty farewell. He’s too humble to want a big goodbye, but he should give the Bruins a parting prize by letting them know his intentions well ahead of time.

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