Earlier this month, Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask decided to leave the NHL bubble and his team to go home and be with his family. It was a decision that the Bruins supported, as did a lot of media and NHL insiders, even if a large contingent of Bruins fans were not pleased.
His departure was noted to be due to a family emergency, but Rask had said not long before leaving that he didn’t like the feel of playing games in the NHL bubble and that the action felt more like two teams were playing in exhibition play than playoff contests. We’re not suggesting Rask’s emergency wasn’t real. By all accounts it certainly was. It’s still fair to assume that Rask was contemplating leaving anyways.
Recently, ESPN reporters Greg Wyshynski and Emily Kaplan wrote a very interesting article talking about what’s going on behind the scenes as NHL executives have conversations about what next season is going to look like. The news suggests that the any projections the NHL had for next season are well off and that, at the very least, there could be a lot more games in the NHL bubble.
That’s not good news if you’re the Boston Bruins and you have one more season with Rask as your starting goaltender at $7 million.
What If Rask Sits?
If the NHL starts next season in arenas and with some fans (even a small amount) this might all be a moot point. But, should the NHL make it official that the league has moved to four hub cities and that more games will be held inside the bubble, one has to wonder how much Rask thinks about opting out until things get back to normal. And, should he, how will that work for salaries?
He won’t get paid. That’s a given. But are the Bruins on the hook for his cap in a season where money is already tighter than normal?
The NHL has yet to have to deal with the idea that players might opt out to start next season. Even today, public statements from the league suggest they expect everything to work. Unfortunately, recent news suggests differently and that’s a real concern — whether or not to return, retire or wait — that many players will need to deal with in a few months. Rask will be among them.
Bruins Are in Trouble Without Rask
For Rask, he’s potentially as likely to hang up his skates as he is to return if half of the season is played in a bubble environment. Now 33, there were already suggestions he wasn’t sure how long he’d keep playing and if his passion for hockey was still as strong as it had been. It’s not impossible to imagine Rask simply choosing to walk away.
And, as proven during this year’s playoffs, that’s not good news for the Bruins.
Jaroslav Halak wasn’t terrible in the postseason. But, his .906 save percentage and poor performance that led to a totally inexperienced Dan Vladar getting some NHL action showed the Bruins have a real weakness if Rask is not part of the equation. The B’s goaltending will certainly take a hit if his 93 career postseason starts and 51-42 record, with a .926 save percentage are gone.
So What Do the Bruins Do?
Right now, the Bruins likely sit tight. But, as goaltenders get moved in trades and free agents pop off the board, the Bruins will have to make a decision. Do they trust that Rask will return if the start of next season is uncertain? Do they use some of their limited cap space on another goaltender?
Or, do they trade Rask in a preventative measure to make sure that no matter what happens with the season or what Rask decides, they aren’t left without a netminder they can count on?
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