The Boston Bruins have one of the best goaltending tandems in the entire NHL.
This has been the case ever since the Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak as a free agent in 2018 and it’s played a significant factor in the team’s success over the last two years.
Included in that success was a trip to Game 7 of the Stanely Cup Final last season and a legitimate claim at the No. 1 spot in the NHL standings this season.
In two seasons with the Bruins, Halak has gone 40-17-10 so far and has compiled a very nice .921 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average with Goals-Saved Above Average ratings (GSAA) of 14.37 and 9.02 in 2018-19 and 2019-20 respectively.
More than anything, though, Halak’s impact for the Bruins has come largely from the impact he has on Tuukka Rask.
Because Halak is so reliable in net, he’s allowed Rask to flourish despite a slow start to the 2018-19 season that included a bit of soul-searching away from the team.
With Halak being as good as he was for the Bruins’ in what became a renaissance season for the veteran netminder, Rask was able to sort out of his own troubles and settle into place for the team. This helped as he had a very good second half of the 2018-19 season and also put together a historic performance throughout the 2019 postseason.
Rask hasn’t missed a beat this season either as he’s gone 25-8-6 with a .926 save percentage, 2.18 goals-against average and sparkling 19.50 GSAA.
As mentioned, the Bruins’ ability to roll with two goaltenders and allow Rask to rest more frequently than he has in past seasons has been monumental to their success and it’s made Halak seem irreplaceable in the short-term at times.
Bruins Need to Explore Options With Halak’s Future Uncertain
Without a viable option in Providence who was ready to take the reigns as the Bruins backup goalie and provide the same sort of insurance policy to Rask for the 2019-20 season, moving on from Halak to maximize his value just didn’t make sense.
For a team looking to compete now, the logical decision was for Halak to remain as the Bruins backup goalie regardless of the light cap-savings it would have given them and the value they could have recouped.
With Halak’s contract set to expire on July 1, however, the Bruins will have to start planning ahead.
Assuming the soon-to-be 35-year-old Halak has priced himself out of Boston with his performance over the last two years, there’s a real possibility that the Bruins will once again be in the market for a backup this offseason.
They’ve hit on each of their last two backups for Rask with veterans in Anton Khudobin and Halak stepping in seamlessly and becoming fan-favorites overnight. Their track-record with young, inexperienced goaltenders coming in as backups in recent years hasn’t been as successful though.
Players like Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg have all struggled despite having successful AHL runs. This is why it may seem intimidating to move on from Halak next season, especially if an internal option is set to fill his shoes.
Though there have been multiple examples of good AHL goalies not getting it done in the NHL with the Bruins, the team can’t hide from developing goalies altogether because they’ve missed a few times in recent history.
After all, Rask was once a young goalie without NHL experience, as was the case with every single goaltender who has come into the NHL and eventually hashed out a starting role with their club.
This is where 22-year-old Daniel Vladar comes into the mix.
Vladar Looks Like the Real Deal This Season
Set to be 23 years old by the time the 2020-21 season roles around and having played in parts of four seasons with the Providence Bruins since being drafted 75th overall in 2015, Vladar finally looks like the real deal this season.
Going 13-7-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, Vladar’s performances throughout his career have varied from very okay to spectacular. When he’s off, he’s off. When he’s on, however, it’s like the opposing team is shooting a beach-ball at him rather than a puck and he’s nearly unbeatable.
This season, he’s been far more consistent, however, and his peripherals have reflected that as he’s played phenomenally well and has looked more like the latter than the former, even after missing time with a pretty unfortunate leg injury in October.
It’s been an impressive season for Vladar and the consistency has been the more encouraging part. That’s why some are so ready to go full-throttle with Vladar and anoint him the next backup for Rask.
Small Sample Size of Success for Vladar is Concerning
For some, though, one season of success may not be enough to crown him the next Bruins’ backup before ever even seeing him fight for the spot in training camp next season.
This is a fair way to look at it as the Bruins have been bitten by this sort of thing in the past.
As mentioned, McIntyre came into Providence after three excellent seasons with the University of North Dakota and would have a sub-par first season in net in the AHL. In his second season, however, he looked like he could be the next-big-thing in Boston goaltending when he put up a 21-6-1 record and a 2.03 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in the 2016-17 season.
He’d play in just eight games with the Bruins (his only eight games of playing time in the NHL to date) and would go 0-4-1 with a 3.97 goals-against average and .858 save percentage.
It was a fall from grace for McIntyre who would see a decline in wins, goals-against average and save percentage in each of the next three seasons at the AHL following that year, including two sub-900 save percentage seasons and a goals-against average ranging from 2.52 to 3.16 over those three seasons, the latter of which coming with the Utica Comets, the Vancouver Canucks AHL-affiliate.
This season, McIntyre has played in three games with the Binghamton Devils and he’s been excellent, posting a 3-0-0 record with two shutouts, a 0.33 goals-against average and .990 save percentage. It may be too-little, too-late for McIntyre, but there’s always hope for career-AHL players as Jordan Binnington showed last season.
The Bruins are going to have to hope that Vladar’s breakout campaign this season isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan like McIntyre’s was if they want to have any chance of sustained success as they’ve had recently.
For this reason, Vladar should definitely figure into their plans for the 2020-21 campaign but it shouldn’t come without an eye towards the veteran market as well.
Bruins Should Explore Insurance Options on the Backup Goalie Market
Could the Bruins explore options like Jimmy Howards or Craig Anderson who have been tremendously bad this season but who also play for two of the three worst teams in the NHL?
Are there other options that should be considered as an insurance policy who could compete in training camp?
While Vladar has the highest upside and makes the most sense as a long-term option, the Bruins have to explore all of the options presented to them. There should be no shortage of players on the market who could fit the bill for this team and who should give Vladar more of a safety net than simply being thrown to the wolves.