By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Since the President Trophy winning Bruins spit the bit in the second round of the playoffs in the spring of 2014 against the Canadiens, a familiar question has arisen in the subsequent five falls that have followed. The bitterly disappointing end to the season for a club that many thought should have been a favorite to claim the Stanley Cup that June raised many questions about the team that then B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli overpaid for.
Perhaps the biggest question that continues to go unanswered still remains the $7 million dollar a year elephant in the room. Can Tuukka Rask be the elite goaltender that can carry his team to a championship like he is being paid to do?
The answer you get depends on who you ask.
In the eyes of the B’s beat writers, the no longer fabulous Finn can do no wrong. They will point to his career save percentage (.9218) which is good for third best in NHL history, trailing only Dominic Hasek (.9223), Johnny Bower (.9219) and is just a fraction of a percentage point higher than Ken Dryden (.9215); all three of which are in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, not to mention each has their name engraved on the Stanley Cup multiple times as a starting goalie.
Meanwhile, Rask has the NHL’s Drew Bledsoe equivalent of a championship ring.
And while Rask is keeping company with some of the best to stand between the pipes, no one in their right mind would suggest that to this point in his career he is likely to enter the Hall any differently than you and I – by buying a ticket.
And yet, in the eyes of many he remains beyond reproach, that is until he has faced competition for playing time that he hasn’t had since Tim Thomas packed up his family and a trailer load of MRE’s and headed for a bunker somewhere in the Dakotas following the 2011-12 season.
While some will say that he was pushed by Anton Khudobin – who has never made more than 36 starts in a season during his 10-year career – last season, nobody – including Tuukka – considered that anything more than silly talk meant to light a fire under the underperforming netminder’s undercarriage.
However, that all changed when Bruins GM Don Sweeney signed Jaroslav Halak this past summer.
As Fluto Shinzawa points out in a piece that ran on The Athletic on Friday, the performances of Rask and Halak have not led to a goalie controversy. In fact, it has led to a displacement of the B’s number one netminder, who has seemingly been resting on his laurels for far too long.
As Shinzawa writes, “ Rask’s history does not include an extended segment of trouble. His resume, however, indicates a drop in play from his peak of his smashing 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. From 2014-15 until now, Rask has an all-situations save percentage of .917 in 259 games, 13th-highest among goalies with 150 or more appearances.
“In other words, average.”
Average, indeed. And for a team that fancies itself as a contender to come out of the Eastern Conference and compete for the Stanley Cup next spring, average just won’t cut it.
The fact is, Bruins fans – and the adoring Boston beat writers – have to accept what Rask has become. While he may blossom during stretches of the season – sending his sycophants into “What do you have to say now?” frenzy – Tuukka no longer is Jack Edwards catchphrase “Two U’s, two K’s, two points.”. He has become too average for too long, and can no longer be looked upon as the upper-echelon goalie he was going on five years ago.
Often times those closest to a situation are the last to recognize it for what it is. And unfortunately for the Rask Rooters that make a good deal of Bruins Nation, the reality is that their hero has become a JAG over the last five seasons.
A JAG that is a $7 million drag on the team that calls TD Garden home.