With goaltender Tuukka Rask signing a giant $7 million/8 year contact with the Boston Bruins, this is Rask’s city for years to come. Along with that large contract though comes less salary cap space for the backup goalie slot. Gone are the days of having two bonafied NHL starters on the team, where both Rask and Tim Thomas stood guard of the goal for the black and gold.
The loss of Thomas was not an issue during last year’s shortened season as Anton Khudobin spot started in 14 games accruing 9 wins, 0.920 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average. His hybrid style and aggressive competitive nature served him well for a majority of the season and would have continued to be so had he decided to resign with Boston.
When Khudobin signed with the Hurricanes, it left General Manager Peter Chiarelli with a variety of options. Signing a veteran NHL backup would likely be too costly and move the B’s far too close to cap leaving very little flexibility throughout the year for additional roster moves. 2012 draft pick and potential NHL star Malcolm Subban will likely be developed carefully in the minors, so the Bruins would be wise not to rush him to the NHL for the next couple seasons.
Promoting last year’s Providence Bruins starting goaltender Niklas Svedberg was another option. He certainly deserved at least a glance following two consecutive stellar seasons, with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League in 2012 winning the championship and with Providence in 2013 making the all star team and being named the American Hockey League’s best goaltender.
Svedberg highlights with the Providence Bruins:
Svedberg improved his already technically sound butterfly style throughout his first year in North America, particularly on his ability to keep his shoulders high when dropping to the butterfly position taking up even more of the net. Following the regular season, Svedberg’s playoff performance was not very strong as he made multiple mental mistakes handling the puck outside of the crease, gave up major rebounds, and on a few occasions got beat cleanly on clear shots. His GAA ballooned to 3.29 and his save percentage dropped to 0.889 respectively.
To be fair, part of these numbers can also be contributed to the call ups of defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug to Boston, along with the season ending concussion to Zach Trotman leaving the P-Bruins with a depleted defense core.
In the end, Chiarelli seemingly decided to give Svedberg another year of development in Providence with the signing of AHL veteran Chad Johnson (let the Ochocinco jokes begin) to the backup position with a one way contract. Svedberg has only played 60 games in North American professional hockey so far and prior to his 48 regular season appearances last year in Providence, he’s only had one other season since turning professional in 2007 where he played more than 30 games. His drop in performance in last year’s AHL playoffs was partially a product of fatigue. More AHL seasoning will be beneficial for both him and the organization so he will be more prepared for his eventual shot in the NHL.
The signing of Johnson gives the Bruins a back up goalie with far more AHL experience and some limited NHL experience for only $600,000 next season, less than the $1 million NHL salary Svedberg would receive. This Chad Johnson might sound familiar to Providence Bruins fans as he played against them in some heated divisional rivalry games with the Hartford Wolf Pack and Portland Pirates the last couple of seasons.
AHL highlights of Chad Johnson:
Highlight reel save against none other than Rich Peverley:
Johnson is similar to Svedberg in that he generally utilizes a very strict butterfly style, but he’s had more consistent issues with rebound control in comparison to Svedberg. He’s been called up to the NHL a few times over the years with both the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes with mixed results. His most recent stint with the defensively oriented Coyotes was his most successful by debuting with a shut out against the Nashville Predators and accruing an overall 1.21 GAA and a 0.954 save percentage through the 4 games.
This signing is a bit of a risk for the Bruins as Johnson is unproven at playing at the NHL level for 20 to 30 games in a single season. He’s certainly earned this shot though as he has paid his dues playing in 173 AHL games since 2009. Even if he proves himself in the backup role, can anyone feel 100% comfortable with the Bruins short term goaltending depth? Heck, some weren’t even comfortable with the Thomas- Rask pairing until winning the cup in 2011.
The worst case scenario is if Rask goes down with an injury, whether it be catastrophic long term injury or even short term at a key part of the season where points are at a premium. The B’s would likely struggle for consistency with Johnson and Svedberg trading off starts. Obviously the Bruins chances of winning the cup plummets if Rask ends up on the IR. It is a great luxury to have two proven goalies, similar to what the Chicago Blackhawks had recently in Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
With 2013-2014 being Tuukka Rask’s first 82 game season as the Boston Bruins starter, the B’s brass and fans will have to hope Chad Johnson, or if need be Niklas Svedberg, can rise to the challenge by starting in 20 to 30 games so Rask can remain fresh and healthy for the playoffs. If not, the lack of short term goaltending depth could rear it’s ugly head.