The Boston Bruins will honor Tuukka Rask Thursday night giving him the ceremonial puck drop prior to their game against the New Jersey Devils. Rask retired from the NHL on Feb. 9.
For all the Boston Bruins fans out there who still think they weren’t blessed to have Tuukka Rask as the team’s starting goalie since the 2013-14 season, just ask yourself this:
Would you have preferred Justin Pogge, who played a total of seven NHL games and none since 2009 while Rask became the winningest goalie in Boston Bruins history?
Tuukka Rask or Pogge was the choice former Boston Bruins interim general manager Jeff Gorton was given at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft after Gorton let then Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. know the Bruins were willing to part with former Boston Bruins goalie and 2004 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. For Gorton and his scouting staff, acquiring Rask, and not Pogge, for Raycroft was a no-brainer after the Leafs took Rask 21st overall at the 2005 draft, one pick ahead of the Bruins who wanted the Finnish netminder at 22.
“Really more than anything it dated back to the previous draft when we thought we were going to take him,” Gorton, now the executive vice president of hockey operations for the Montreal Canadiens recalled in a phone interview with Boston Hockey Now Wednesday.
“He was there, we were late, and Toronto picked him one pick ahead of us. We looked down on the floor and they basically pulled out his jersey with Rask on it and we were like ‘Oh no!’ and so, we were going to take him and we ended up missing out on him. So a year after that, they had two pretty good goalies in Toronto. They had [Justin] Pogge – who was pretty impressive at the World Junior – and then they had Rask, but they had a need for kind of an accomplished No.1. So ‘Fergie’ had called me asking about Raycroft’s availability and we sorta got down to it and we basically had choice of those two guys. Obviously we loved Tuukka and it was kind of an easy choice for us. So it wasn’t anything more complicated than that. It was just their need for an established guy and they had two young guys.”
As Jeff Gorton pointed out, when the Boston Bruins came out of the 2005 lockout, they had quite a logjam between the pipes and that depth combined with how bad they still wanted Rask was why they still pulled the trigger on the deal.
“When we came back from the lockout, we had ‘Razor’, we had Hannu [Toivonen], we had Timmy [Thomas], we had a lot of stuff going on with the goalies,” Gorton pointed out. “So Razor became a guy we looked at to potentially move. We had kept track on Tuukka and we still really loved him so when the opportunity arose, we took it.”
After the trade, Gorton immediately headed over to Finland to meet his prized acquisition and he knew right away, that he and his scouts had nailed it in choosing Rask over Pogge and Raycroft.
“So after we got him, I remember going over to Finland to meet him and he was just so dialed in and just a great kid,” Gorton said. “He told us that all he ever wanted to be was a hockey player and you could see that for sure. On the ice as it played out, that’s how he was; calm movement, positioned well and dialed in like I said. He did have a mean streak as you may recall in Providence, but he channeled that well as he matured.”
What’s impressed Gorton, a Melrose MA native, since then, has been Rask’s consistency.
“It’s hard to have the kind of career he had and sustain it like he did,” Gorton said. “I mean if you look at it closely, he was pretty consistent and that consistency is probably what amazes me most. I mean if you look at a goalie’s career, most of the time they’re gonna have one or two seasons where they dip; maybe the save percentage goes in the .800 but not with him.”
Somehow though, that consistency (308-165-66, 2.28 GAA, .921 save percentage), has not been enough for a rather large contingent of Boston Bruins fans and some media. Gorton can understand why given the success the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots have had over the last decade, but as he feels about his former goalie when he was general manager of the New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist, just because he and Rask (as a starter) didn’t win the Stanley Cup, doesn’t mean they weren’t winners.
“I mean, Timmy Thomas won, so he raised the bar, but it’s also what’s going on in the market,” Gorton pointed out. “But it’s also what’s going on in the market at the time. If you look around at every other sport in Boston, teams were constantly winning. You’re spoiled there in Boston! You had Tom Brady and the Patriots; Big Papi and the Red Sox, even the Celtics won a title so the other teams are winning and the fan base expects that.
What becomes deemed a winner in Boston might be different somewhere else because you’re spoiled right? So, with Tuukka, he was there twice and it didn’t work out but I mean, that St. Louis series could’ve gone a totally different way and it wasn’t on Tuukka by any means. So, if you look at his career, anyone that would suggest that he wasn’t a winner, would be crazy I think. So Timmy Thomas, he had a heck of a run and got the Stanley Cup, so good for him but that doesn’t mean Tuukka wasn’t great. We dealt with that a lot in New York with Henrik [Lundqvist] right? Does that mean he wasn’t a winner? No, of course not. Both of them two of the best goalies of their time.”