By now, everybody has heard about the news that Tuukka Rask has decided to opt-out of the 2020 NHL Playoffs to return home to his family. This was fairly ground-shaking news in the hockey world as the reigning President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins were losing their Vezina Trophy-candidate just a few games into the postseason.
For some, this news was blasphemous and grounds to call Rask out for being a selfish player who was putting himself ahead of the team. For the sensible crowd, however, Rask’s decision to be there for his family during a global pandemic was seen as the right call if it’s what he felt was best for his situation.
As Dale Arnold mentioned Sunday morning on WEEI, Rask had texted him and mentioned that there was a family emergency he had to tend to.
“He texted me back and I asked specifically if I could share this part of what he said to me and he said you can,” said Arnold. “The fact of the matter is he said to me there was a family emergency,” Arnold said. “He went on to say everything is fine now, but there was a family emergency and he felt he needed to be back with his family.”
Arnold would also mention that he got a text message form a former teammate of Rask’s and they had the following to say:
“He just called me. I would have left too if it was me.”
NHL Players are Human Beings First
It may be hard to look at this situation from the outside and see athletes making millions of dollars to play a sport as anything less than pawns used solely for entertainment. The reality, though, is that these players are human beings with more going on in their life than their careers.
The exposure that the casual fan has to an athlete is simply what they see on television, on the internet and in media of all sorts. They don’t get to experience the athletes as people in the majority of situations and this causes a disconnect between how these players are perceived.
It can’t be easy to have every single decision made both on and off the ice/field/court micro-managed and analyzed by fans. For Rask, the decision to join his team for the postseason, give it a legitimate effort and then eventually come to the conclusion that he needed to be with his wife and three daughters, including a four-month-old child, can’t have been an easy one.
In general, players were essentially going into this playoff situation blind. While they were told details beforehand, nothing could truly prepare a person when the situation at hand includes leaving their family for potentially months on-end in a time of global panic. Once in the bubble, that reality became clear and for some, it may have been an eye-opening experience.
There are a select few who seem to think that, had Rask opted out of the playoffs before they began rather than during the first round, he would have been absolved of any blame.
That’s a foolish thing to claim considering fans and media would have immediately called for Rask’s head for putting himself ahead of his teammates without even giving it a legitimate effort. The dialogue would have been slightly altered, but the narrative would have remained the same.
In a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario, there really is no winning.
Rask Could Have Informed His Coach
If there was one area where fans do have the opportunity to be somewhat critical of Rask’s decision, it would come only in the fact that he told Don Sweeney and Cam Neely of his decision but forced his head coach Bruce Cassidy to hear the news from someone other than himself.
It’s fair to say that Rask should have told Cassidy himself. He should have informed the person at the helm who’s with the team day-in and day-out, on the ice making the decisions for the team.
At the same time, everybody handles situations differently. If Rask could do it again, perhaps he would have informed Cassidy. Maybe he’d handle it the exact same way. Hypothetical situations can be fun but they can also be dangerous. In this setting, Rask didn’t tell his coach but did give his best effort in training camp, during the Round-Robin and in the postseason.
It should also be noted that Cassidy himself has still expressed his support for Rask and this little blip hasn’t seemed to change anything.
The results may not have always been there, but Rask clearly had other things on his mind. Everybody has had days at work where they’ve been distracted and haven’t performed as well as they’d like. That’s the reality of this situation; Rask was doing his job and likely felt he wasn’t capable of doing it to the best of his efforts with so much more going on behind the scenes.
The fact that Rask’s decision to be there for his family is in question is perplexing, but it’s unfortunately just another chapter in Rask’s unfortunate battle with fans and media consistently backing him despite what he’s given the franchise throughout his career.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for seven years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.