There was a time when the future of Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins might have been in some question based on his abrupt exit from the Toronto playoff bubble.
That time is absolutely over at this point, however, with the Boston Bruins potentially readying for a training camp next month, and some kind of regular season in the months that follow afterward.
The simple truth is that the Bruins couldn’t move away from Rask for next season even if they wanted to do so. There was no ready-made replacement in the system with Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar not ready for NHL prime time, and a 35-year-old Jaroslav Halak clearly not the guy to take on a No. 1 goaltender’s workload.
That doesn’t even mention that every indication is the B’s firmly supported Rask’s decision to depart from the team for a family emergency back in Boston last August. Rask ended up finishing second in the Vezina Trophy voting after a stellar regular season, and the duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak won the Jennings Trophy with the NHL’s best goals against average.
But Halak and Rask both struggled in the postseason, to put it mildly.
The Bruins were 16th out of 24 playoff teams with the .899 save percentage during the playoffs, and Halak finished with a 2.76 goals against average and .902 save percentage that was well below his regular season stats. Rask understandably looked distracted during the bubble playoffs and never seemed altogether comfortable before leaving midway through the first round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
It all begged the question whether the Bruins were fully confident that there would be no issues this time around if it’s another bubble scenario for the playoffs, as it might end up being when the NHL formulates a return to play format. The B’s answered that it’s “full steam ahead” with Rask and Halak as they begin preparations for a new season regardless of the format.
“I think Tuukka, he can speak for himself,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy during an interview with NHL.com. “But I think he just wants to get back in the net and play hockey and play well and give us a chance to win. Probably nobody more excited on our team to [be] getting back in there. I would assume that Tuukka would sort of say ‘hey, I’m still the goalie I was last year and I’m ready to go.’ Family’s good, I’m good. Everyone’s in a good place. Let’s play hockey.”
This would all make sense for the 34-year-old Rask to be at his very best this coming season given it’s the last year of his contract. If he wants to continue playing after next season then the next deal he signs at the NHL level will be based heavily on both his reliability and performance this season.
It’s been twice in two seasons that Rask has needed to take leaves from the Bruins to deal with off-ice issues, so an ability to balance the personal and the professional without interruption is something he’s going to need to prove this year. It sounds like Rask is ready to do just that, and both the Boston Bruins and the goalie himself could be the beneficiaries of his motivation level rising to an all-time high for this coming season.