If there are any lingering hard feelings from Tuukka Rask leaving the playoff bubble, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t sharing them publicly. Instead, Cassidy insisted that it’s “full-steam ahead” for Rask and the Bruins, as far as the 2020-21 NHL season is concerned.
“I think everything that happened in the bubble has been addressed, dealt with,” Cassidy said Wednesday, via NHL.com. “We’re moving on, getting ready to win next year. That includes our goaltender.”
Cassidy believes Rask would say “I’m good, family’s good” and that he’s ready to play hockey.
But how should Bruins fans feel about the past and the future, with and without Rask?
Bruins’ playoff disappointments weren’t merely about Rask
If you’re among the subsection of Bruins fans who have a beef with Rask, then it’s easy to cherry-pick different stats and try to scapegoat the veteran goalie.
One might look at Rask’s outstanding 2019-20 season (26-8-6, .929 save percentage), and then bluster about a lack of clutchness. Or say something about how Rask’s should have “sucked it up,” even amid a family emergency.
But, frankly, it seems like things just weren’t quite right for the Bruins during bubble time.
For one thing, Rask didn’t seem totally healthy, and his play didn’t indicate that he was in his Vezina form. In four playoff games, Rask managed a .904 save percentage, far off his incredible career playoff save percentage of .926.
With that in mind, some Bruins fans were quick to take a “We don’t need Rask” tone … except normally-great backup Jaroslav Halak also struggled.
It didn’t merely come down to goaltending, either. When you consider that Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak both are recovering from offseason surgeries, it’s clear that Boston wasn’t at full-strength.
Honestly, though? The reigning Stanley Cup champion Lightning were so good, they might have rolled through everyone during that odd postseason. Overreacting to playoff disappointments can be a great way to downgrade yourself to settling for regular season disappointments.
Needed more than ever
Truly, even if Cassidy & Co. are quietly smoldering about Rask’s highly justifiable departure, they’re wise to hide such feelings.
That’s because the Bruins flat-out need Rask to be “full steam ahead” for 2020-21.
To start, Pastrnak and Marchand could both miss time, even if the campaign begins closer to February than the more optimistic targets of January. As great as “The Perfection Line” is offensively, it’s their hogging of the puck that makes them transcendent. That group makes Rask’s life easier merely by minimizing how much defense the Bruins need to play when they’re on the ice.
So, possibly without two-thirds of that line, the Bruins already seem likely to deal with smaller margins of error.
Then you factor in the offseason.
Yes, adding Craig Smith was extremely savvy, and sometimes you need to let aging free agents walk. But the Bruins are liable to really miss Torey Krug, especially in the early goings, when they’re adjusting to life without him.
(For those who wonder if Krug is a little overrated … well, the Bruins sure hope so now.)
While Zdeno Chara‘s finally starting to look like a 43-year-old (at least kind of how Chris Chelios eventually sort of started to age), he also could be missed. The one-two punch of losing Krug and Chara could really put a dent in the left side of the Bruins’ defense, and add a lot of pressure for someone like Matt Grzelcyk.
Pondering the Bruins’ future in net
While cycling through conversations he’s had with Bruins fans seemingly countless times, NBC Sports Boston’s D.J. Bean also speculated about how Boston’s goaltending future may look, with or without Tuukka Rask. It’s a fun read first and foremost in capturing how some Bruins fans take Rask for granted, but also shows how cloudy the future may be.
After all, Rask is 33 and Halak is 35, and both goalies are only under contract through 2020-21.
It does bring up a wild “What if?” scenario.
If the Bruins really slide in a big way, and decide they want to do sort of a mini-reboot, would there be some wisdom to moving Rask? Again, my instinct is to blurt out “No.” But it’s interesting to ponder.
Do note that Rask shared contemplations about possibly retiring soon, even though we’ve seen goalies thrive well at older ages than most skaters. (Rask turns 34 on March 10.)
Beyond the (probably silly) thought of there actually being some bitterness about Rask bolting the bubble, one interesting caveat is that, after years of having a modified no-trade clause, it doesn’t look like Rask has one for 2020-21.
In the event that the Bruins suffer a poor season due to losses and lingering injuries, would it make sense for them to retain some of Rask’s salary and land some futures? Especially if Rask’s next contract would fall in that $7 million range once more?
Now, those discussions have some merit, and could get interesting.
Either way, Rask’s future with the Bruins figures to be fascinating to watch. And it may even inspire some B’s fans to come to some hair metal ballad-style realizations about how great Rask has been.