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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bruins Make Tuukka Rask The Highest Paid Goaltender In The NHL

Ever since the Bruins' 2013 season ended a few weeks ago with a loss in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, it's been assumed that Boston would load up the brinks truck and deliver it to Tuukka Rask's door. Today, he got paid in a major way to the tune of an eight-year contract worth $56 million. That annual cap hit of $7 million ties him with Nashville's Pekka Rinne as the highest paid goaltender in the NHL.

Handing out any monster deal, especially to a goaltender, is a scary proposition but I think Rask is as close to a sure thing as you'll find at hockey's most important position. He's young (turned 26 in March) so he's just starting to enter his prime and he doesn't have many miles on his body so far in the NHL plus he's very fundamentally sound (unlike Tim Thomas) and he's skinny to begin with so I don't think you have to worry about him getting fat and out of shape. The great unknown is if getting set for life like this will make him complacent and lose some of his edge. I hope that is not the case since he has only been the starter for two seasons in the NHL and he finally got to show everyone what he was all about in 2013.

The B's smartly let last season play out to see if they should hitch their wagons to Rask or perhaps move in another direction since he became a free agent last week. I don't think you could have reasonably expected a better performance from him: 19-10-5 in the regular season with 2.00 goals against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts. I'd argue (and most would agree) that he stepped it up even more in the postseason: 14-8, 1.88 goals against average, .940 save percentage and three shutouts. If Boston was going to upset Chicago and win the Cup, they needed him to play great and for the most part he did. Nobody expected Corey Crawford to match him but don't get that twisted, the Bruins didn't lose because Rask fell short. The Blackhawks simply were a better team from top to bottom so there's no shame in losing to a juggernaut like that.

Moving forward, the pressure from this contract is another factor on Rask that we'll have to watch out for the next few seasons. When you get paid like this, you are fair game for much more criticism by fans, media, coaches and teammates. Also, Rask will become the face of the franchise with Zdeno Chara being much older than him and not at the absolute peak of his career anymore. Scoring is so low in the NHL which in some ways means that you can stick any schmoe in there and be OK for a while (James Reimer anybody?). However, one of the reasons that Rask was rewarded like this is because he can be one of the top goaltenders (if not the best) in the league and that still counts for something. He showed the ability last season and now he'll be expected to be that guy for the duration of this contract (fair or not).

The Bruins are in great shape for the next decade, starting with the fact that they have Rask locked up for the near future. This is a great day for Rask and Bruins fans, next up will be a long-term extension for Patrice Bergeron-another huge part of the franchise. They need to decide on a suitable backup for Rask in 2013-14 as well because Anton Khudobin is now on the Hurricanes.

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