When you sit near the top of the National Hockey League as one of the highest-paid goaltenders, one would think that player should not need to have an insurance policy lurking behind him.
For the Boston Bruins, they find themselves in a peculiar position this upcoming season with the goalie situation.
Tuukka Rask, who is slated to make $7 million for the 2018-19 season, is 31-years-old and in the prime of his career. He has been a fixture in the Bruins lineup for the last several years, even going as far back as the 2009-10 season. We all remember that lockout-shortened season in 2013 when Rask led the Bruins all the way back to the Stanley Cup finals, but fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, Rask has been pelted by metaphorical debris from fans and local media alike. His durability has always come into question and his inability to produce in the big moment has always hindered his growth to making that leap from good goaltender to great goaltender.
Let’s be honest…we can all probably count the number of games that Rask has actually stolen for the Bruins on one hand, whether it would be in the regular season or postseason. For a guy who is paid like an elite talent, that is an underwhelming achievement.
At the same time, we need to be fair. Rask ranked ninth with a 2.36 goals against average and seventh in wins (34) last season. Rask has also been overworked the last couple seasons as he was forced into a heavy workload due to a lack of solid and reliable backup goaltending.
And now, introducing: Jaroslav Halak.
The longtime New York Islander has had a solid career as a starting goaltender. Last season, he appeared in 54 games and finished with a 20-26-6 record. He posted a 3.19 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Although the numbers might not jump off the page, Halak is fully capable of providing services that go well past the normal “backup” mold.
He helped the Islanders reach the playoffs in 2014-15. With the unfortunate luck that accompanies the Islanders when it comes to reminiscing about the teams of the past, that is a monumental feat in and of itself.
With two games left to play in the preseason, both Rask and Halak have only seen action during the team’s trip to China in which the B’s swept both games against the Calgary Flames. Halak finished the preseason opener with 40 saves. He was replaced by Rask midway through the third after the free agent-signee had equipment problems. Halak returned with 6:22 left and played the remainder of the game. In the second game against the Flames, Rask played the entire game in goal for Boston and made 22 saves.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has proven that he will not hesitate to pull Rask if he is struggling; he did that last year when Anton Khudobin emerged with the hot hand and road the momentum to a winning streak that catapulted the team to the top of the Atlantic Division. With all due respect to Khudobin, he has been a career backup. Halak, on the other hand, is very much used to thriving in the starting role.
A true number one goaltender should be able to start 55-60 games per season and post strong enough numbers where he can put his team in a position to win every night. One thing that is for sure is that this is still Rask’s team and he will be the regular starter. However, Halak was certainly not brought in this year just to hold open the bench doors.
Halak should be able to push Rask enough where a fire can be lit from under him and have him produce at an elite level for the first time in recent memory. For what it’s worth, the Bruins could have one of the best goalie tandems in the entire NHL.
Halak is scheduled to start in net Wednesday night for preseason action against the Detroit Red Wings. Rask is slated to start in the exhibition finale on Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
We’ll see how things shake out between the pipes for Boston as the season unfolds.