The 2013-14 campaign could be the most significant of Tuukka Rask’s career.
Does that sounds weird? Probably, considering he’s coming off a season in which he backstopped the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final and netted an eight-year, $56 million deal.
So let’s do some explaining.
Rask’s challenge isn’t to become one of the best young goalies in the league — now, it’s about being one of the best goalies in the league, regardless of age.
Perhaps the best.
“He’s a high-character kid and he’s only going to get better,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said in June. “He matured as a professional hockey player.
“He’s turned into an elite goaltender.”
Various circumstances have put Rask in the “elite” discussion.
Contractually, he’s one of the NHL’s highest-paid netminders. His $7 million cap hit ties him with Pekka Rinne for largest in the league, while his total salary puts him third behind Roberto Luongo ($64 million) and Jonathan Quick ($58 million).
His numbers in 2013 were outstanding: 2.00 GAA, .929 save percentage and sharing the NHL lead (five) in shutouts — earning him top-five finish in Vezina voting. His playoff numbers (14-8, 1.88 GAA, .940 save percentage, three shutouts) were even better.
Then, there’s the Olympic angle.
Rask will be in a heated battle for Finland’s No. 1 gig in Sochi, along with Rinne, Antti Niemi (a ’13 Vezina nominee), Niklas Backstrom and Kari Lehtonen.
Assuming Rask gets the nod, it’ll be yet another opportunity to measure himself against the elite.
Olympic tournaments are tailor-made for goalies to steal the spotlight — Ryan Miller did it for the U.S. in 2010, Dominik Hasek did it for the Czechs in 1998 and, in a performance that Rask will surely hear about, Antero Niittymaki stole the show in 2006, earning top goalie and MVP honors en route to Finland’s silver medal finish.
In short, this season presents Rask with an opportunity to solidify himself among the league’s elite, become the backbone of the Bruins and represent his country on the biggest international stage.
Not that he’s going to worry about any of it.
“I was reading in the Finnish papers about how things are going to be looked at differently now because I’m making a lot of money, but it won’t be any different from my end,” Rask told CSNNE.com . “I’m still working hard on going out every game trying to prove that I’m the best.
“That would be the same whether I’m making $1 million, $4 million, $7 million or $10 million a year.”