Bruins Roundtable: Who Should Be Boston’s Backup?

There’s no question who owns the crease at the TD Garden. Tuukka Rask has rightfully earned the spot as Boston’s number one netminder, and has been one of the NHL’s most effective goaltenders night in and night out since earning that role. However, there is a bit of uncertainty regarding who will fill the pipes for the Bruins when Rask needs a night off.

Last season, the Bruins brought back an old friend in Anton Khudobin, who served as their backup for the 2012-13 season after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild the year prior (he played one game for the Bruins in 2011-12 too).

Khudobin got off to a rough start last season, dropping five of his first six games while allowing fewer than four goals in just two of them. But, he bounced back nicely and found his game in the latter half of the season, winning six of his last seven starts while allowing two or fewer goals in five of those games.

Will Anton Khudobin begin the season as Boston’s backup? Or, better yet, will he finish the season in that role? (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Meanwhile, Zane McIntyre, the 24-year-old netminder who signed with the Bruins out of college back in 2015, dominated for Providence of the AHL. In just his second professional season, McIntyre posted a 21-6-1 record, accompanied by a very strong .930 save percentage and 2.03 goals against average.

Despite his stellar performance at the AHL level, McIntyre struggled in a limited NHL opportunity. He made eight appearances with Boston’s varsity club last season, posting a less-than-ideal .858 save percentage and 3.96 goals against average.

So, should the Bruins give Khudobin another shot? Should they call up Zane McIntyre to start the season? Or, should they look elsewhere for their backup goaltending needs? The Hockey Writers’ Bruins team is here to give their take!

Cam Hasbrouck

If you had told me last December that Khudobin would continue as Rask’s backup headed into the 2017-18 season, I would’ve beaten my head against a wall. But, eight months later, you have me on the record saying that Khudobin should start the season as the Bruins’ backup.

Let’s not sugarcoat it – Khudobin was bad at the start of last season. The Bruins weren’t winning games with him in net, and he was a major factor in that. But, the extent to which he bounced back in the latter half of the season restored some confidence in his play, and the Bruins quite frankly don’t have a better option to start the season.

To me, Zane McIntyre is the goalie of the future for Boston, at least in the backup role. McIntyre’s dominance with Providence last season was not a fluke, and his struggles with the NHL club were not unusual for a goaltender of his age. That being said, he isn’t ready to start the season in the NHL, and forcing him to do that could be detrimental. There are very few things worse for a rookie than rushing him to the big time and breaking his confidence early on, especially for a goaltender.

At the same time, with McIntyre approaching the NHL, and a backup goaltender already on the roster, it wouldn’t make sense to trade for or sign another backup keeper. So, if you’re asking me, I say Khudobin starts the season as Boston’s backup. But, keep an eye on McIntyre to close in on the role later on in the season.

The Bruins need a reliable netminder to step in behind Tuukka Rask. For much of last season, they didn’t have that. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Anthony Pagliarulo

Last season, the Boston Bruins had noticeable problems with their backup goaltenders. For much of the season, if Tuukka Rask was not starting the Bruins did not have a good chance to win games. Last season’s problem leaves us wondering how Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy will approach the backup position heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

In 2016-17, Zane McIntyre was on fire with the Providence Bruins (posting a 21-6-2 record to go along with a .930 save percentage and GAA of 2.03 as mentioned above). However, in eight games with the big club, he did not record a win and registered a 3.96 GAA with a .858 save percentage. Anton Khudobin had his fair share of struggles before closing the season out strong. In my opinion, Khudobin should get the first crack at backing up Rask this season.

Late in the season, the veteran proved he can still be a serviceable second string goaltender, so hopefully, he can ride that momentum into the start of this season. With Khudobin as the backup, McIntyre can play more games in the AHL and work on improving his game even more since he is still young. McIntyre should be viewed as the goalie of the future, but he still needs time to prove he can be effective at the NHL level.

Although Khudobin should start the season with the Bruins, he should be on a short leash because the Bruins cannot afford to have the same problems in net they did last year. If he struggles early, Sweeney should look to place him on waivers and bring McIntyre up. On top of this, Sweeney should not actively attempt to trade for a backup goaltender right away, but he may want to keep his eyes on the trade market if the situation in net becomes a major problem.

The Bruins have had issues with overworking Tuukka Rask in the past, making the backup role that much more important for the B’s. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Gere

Khudobin has shown himself to be an adequate, and even good, backup. However, his inconsistency has left the coaching staff with little confidence that the team can win without Rask in net. At this point in his career, Rask needs a steady backup netminder, and Khudobin isn’t the answer.

Though he will likely begin the season in the AHL, the ideal scenario would be for McIntyre to steal that role. McIntyre’s success in the AHL hasn’t yet translated to the NHL, but he hasn’t had consistent opportunities to prove himself. Given the chance, he should be the player the Bruins are looking for.

If he’s unable to find his footing, however, the Bruins have the assets at their disposal to address their need in the trade market.

Joe Ochs

Based on his excellent finish to the 2016-17 season, Khudobin should have the inside track on the backup gig. He posted a 6-1 record and a .922 save percentage following the mid season coaching change.

However, this is ultimately a position battle. McIntyre was phenomenal in Providence last season but looked gassed when the Baby B’s were ousted in the playoffs. Should he come out of the gate red-hot in conjunction with another slow start from Khudobin, the B’s should not (and will not) hesitate to jostle the depth chart.

Zane McIntyre
Zane McIntyre could get the call from the Bruins at any point this season. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

We’ve seen the level at which Rask is capable of playing on sufficient rest behind anything more than a patchwork blue line, and the results have always been excellent. The hot hand, regardless of contract or waivers status, should get the nod in backing-up the former Vezina winner.

Drew Johnson

While Khudobin impressed during the latter half of last season, his overall record of 7-6-1 doesn’t cut it. I would expect to see him start as the Bruins’ backup goaltender, but if he has similar numbers come December, a change will be needed.

That’s where McIntyre comes in. Out of all of Boston’s prospects in the crease, McIntyre is the best right now. While Daniel Vladar has a shot down the line, McIntyre will have his best shot to break into the NHL lineup these next two seasons.

Malcolm Subban is just about done in Boston. If Sweeney can get something for him, he should. It’s going to take some sort of miracle to turn him into the starter he was expected to be.

With that said, there is always free agency and trade to turn to. However, the Bruins may need to wait until David Pastrnak signs to make any transactions that sway their cap hit.