Taking a look at Tuukka Rask’s unclear future with the Boston Bruins

Going into the 2010-11 season, it seemed like the Boston Bruins’ starting job was Tuukka Rask’s to lose. Of course, Tim Thomas started his record-breaking Vezina Trophy-winning campaign with a shutout and really never looked back from there, earning just about every honor (aside from a Hart Trophy) that a goalie can imagine in the process.

In an interesting way, it was the flip side of Rask’s 2009-10 upheaval. The eventual backups weren’t as bad as some believed (Thomas had a respectable .915 save percentage in 09-10 while Rask had a solid .918 mark in 10-11); instead, the No. 1 goalie was just standing on his head.

Of course, in a salary cap world, Thomas and Rask aren’t truly equals even if they’re both very skilled. Thomas’ contract boasts a $5 million annual salary cap hit that won’t run out until after the 2012-13 season while Rask’s contract ($1.25 million cap hit) runs out after this season. There’s also the issue of the two goalies’ ages; Thomas is getting up there in the years at 37 while Rask is entering his prime at 24.

The easiest thing to do would be to keep both of them around, but again, cap constraints and Rask’s urge to be a No. 1 starter – or at least a 1a or 1b goalie – might force the issue. ESPN Boston’s James Murphy addressed Rask’s situation in his mailbag today.

Q: Great coverage this past season, guys — looking forward to watching the B’s defend the title. What do you think about Tuukka? My view is that too much was asked too soon, given Thomas’ injury, and Rask’s struggles in the playoffs stayed in his head this past season. How do you see him getting his legs back underneath him to be the future for this team? Or, do you see him getting traded to make a ‘fresh start’ somewhere else? Thanks! — Joe (Hummelstown, Pa.)

A: Besides Brad Marchand’s contract status this has been one of the most commonly asked questions to me throughout the summer and as I’ve said before, I truly believe Tuukka Rask is still the future between the pipes for the Bruins and he will see more playing time this season. The only trade scenario I see involving Rask would be a knock your socks off type deal that the Bruins couldn’t refuse. Those types of deals usually happen in the offseason, which is essentially over, so I don’t see any chance of that until at least next summer. Thomas was amazing this season, but he is getting older and as you point out, Rask needs game action to stay sharp. I know from talking to Tuukka a lot during the season, his confidence improved drastically towards the end of the season and he didn’t mind riding the pine to get a Stanley Cup ring either. I wouldn’t worry about him just yet.

While losing the starting job had to be disappointing for the Finnish goalie, he played in 29 games in 2010-11, so it’s not like he dealt with the kind of inactivity one might face while backing up a perennial 70+ starts guy like Miikka Kiprusoff. Having a strong backup – particularly one who might have a bright future as a starter – is a rare luxury for an NHL team. Like Murphy said, the Bruins should do their best to keep Rask in the fold, then.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins