Tuukka Rask is certainly being paid like an elite goaltender, carrying a cap hit of $7 million this year, ranking him the second highest paid on the Bruins roster. Rask is currently the third highest paid goalie in the league, making more than the likes of Carey Price and Jonathan Quick.
Expectations for goaltenders are naturally unfair, but to be elite one must play above and beyond the norm, and steal their team a few wins.
Ever since Rask was named the backup netminder for the 09’-10’ regular season he has shown the potential to be among the best in the league. Playing in 45 games that season, he finished with a .931 save percentage and per game average of 1.97 goals allowed: these are impressive numbers, especially for a rookie. By the end of the season he had successfully taken the starting job from Tim Thomas.
After his rookie season, Rask only saw limited work between the pipes until 2013. By the start of the 2010-11 season, Thomas was back to his old self, playing lights out and leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup win. Rask was the backup in 11’-12’ and the lockout-shortened season in 12’-13’, keeping him to just 36 games.
The Bruins traded Thomas away during the lockout season and signed Rask to an 8-year, $56 million contract, dubbing him their goalie of the future. Rask, fully aware that he was still somewhat of an unknown at this point, set out to prove his worth.
Rask played 58 games finishing with 36 wins and certainly looking like the real deal. A goals allowed average of 2.04 and a save percentage of .930 earned him a spot in the All-Star Game and won him the Vezina Trophy. Looking solely at these stats it seems that Rask’s play speaks for itself, but other factors may have contributed to his success.
During the 2013-14 season the Bruins defense played like a brick wall in front of Rask. As a team, they allowed 171 goals, 54 less than the league average. Part of this can certainly be attributed to goalie play but the quality of team play is also a factor.
The defense in that season featured a younger, faster Zdeno Chara, an in his prime Dennis Seidenberg and a fan favorite workhorse Johnny Boychuk. It is completely plausible that a defense like this could inflate any goalie’s stats. Not only was the defensive play superior but the typical Claude Julien defense first playing style was in full effect. The “Merlot Line”, featuring the likes of Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, was far from an offensive masterpiece but specialized in hard-hitting defensive forward play.
Since his Vezina winning season, Rask’s numbers have only fallen. Last season his GAA rose to a 2.30 while his save percentage dropped to a .922. The Bruins “lost” Boychuk due to salary cap issues and were plagued by injuries to their defensive core. Chara missed 19 games with a knee injury and Kevan Miller was out half the season with a shoulder injury. The defense was lead by a slowed Dennis Seidenberg coming back from an ACL and MCL tear that had him out eight months and multiple call-ups from the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence.
This brings us to this season. On a team with a lacking offensive game and a defense with uneven NHL experience, Rask’s average play only becomes more apparent. In 15 games this year Rask is 7-7, allowing 2.94 goals per game while only posting a .900 save percentage. Rask has allowed more than five goals on five occasions this season so far and has been inconsistent throughout. His two shutouts have come on games where he only faced 22 and 24 shots on goal, far below the league average faced per game.
The question remains whether Rask is an elite goaltender or simply a product of Julien’s defensive system. Rask will be tied to his $7 million a year cap hit and unfortunately he isn’t playing up to par with his contract. The team, or worse the fan base, will question if he is indeed worth the money he is receiving, especially with backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson playing well with the same struggling defense at his disposal. Would you rather pay $7,000,000 or $700,000 for the same average goaltending?
Meanwhile, of the top 20 goalies in the league in goals allowed and similarly of the top 20 in save percentage, only one makes more money than Rask: Henrik Lundquist. One of those goaltenders, Martin Jones, was a Bruin for all of four days before being traded away for a 1st round pick. One can not help but wonder what this team would look like with Jones between the pipes and the haul that GM Don Sweeney may have been able to get for Rask at last years draft.
This is not a knock on Rask by any means; he’s a decent player in a tough situation, but it is apparent the Bruins need help in other areas and could certainly use his money elsewhere. $7 million is too much for average and Rask needs to live up to his contract or face more and more scrutiny.