Over the weekend, the NHL Network continued their #NHLTopPlayers series by looking at the top-10 goaltenders in the game today. To the surprise of no one outside of Boston, but to the shock of many Bruin fans, Tuukka Rask was firmly inside this group. Rask came in at the No. 8 spot, just edging out Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Once again the debate was sparked about Rask’s value as a player and his value to the Boston Bruins.
I was not a Rask guy when he first entered the league. I firmly believed that he would be a solid goaltender when he got started in 2009-10, but I didn’t think he was a better option than Tim Thomas and always thought there were some serious issues in his game. My biggest issue with Rask? His glove hand, which is still his biggest fault to this day in my mind. Bruins fans loved him from the get-go however, and it seemed like Rask could do no wrong no matter what. He became an overrated player very early on in his career.
The Facts of the Matter
Rask posted a .931 save percentage in 2009-10, but I always felt like that number was a bit inflated. The Bruins were one of the best teams in the league that year and were arguably the best team when it came to defense. Rask entered into a great situation and played very well, but he wasn’t the elite goaltending savior that many fans and media members made him out to be. That snap back to reality happened in 2010-11 when Tim Thomas retook the starting job.
That was the spring where the perception of Rask changed in the mind of Bruins fans forever. Tim Thomas battled extremely hard and fought through a ton of adversity to reach the NHL. His performance during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs was one of the greatest of all-time and will live in Bruins lore forever. Thomas posted an amazing .940 save percentage that spring and led Boston to their first title since the 1970s.
Bruins fans, in my opinion, began to expect their goaltender to battle hard like Thomas did and expected their goalie to steal them games regularly. Bottom line is, Thomas’ performance that spring was historic and his style was starting to die out. Look at the league now, the only goalie that plays a remotely close style is Jonathan Quick. While he’s had great success as well, you can argue he’s the only goalie who plays that ‘out of position but battling hard’ style.
Rask took over the job for good in 2012-13 after Thomas’ meltdown ended his tenure with the club. Rask has gone on to post seasons of .929% (2012-13), .930% (2013-14), .922% (2014-15), .915% (2015-16), .915% (2016-17) and .917% (2017-18) in terms of save percentage as Boston’s uncontested No. 1 goaltender. Some people don’t think those numbers have been good enough.
While Rask has seen a dip in production the last three seasons, he’s still been around the NHL’s top-10 in terms of save percentage. Rask finished with above average numbers in 2014-15, finishing just outside the top-10 in terms of save percentage. In fact, he missed 10th by .001%. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, Rask was still slightly above average when it came to starting goalies in the NHL. The team failed to make the playoffs in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but their flaws went far beyond Rask.
Last season, Rask’s .917 save percentage ranked him around average, but those numbers are slightly skewed by a poor first month and a half. After mid-November, Rask was arguably the best goaltender in the NHL and is a huge reason why the Bruins finished where they did in the regular season.
Rask Receives Misplaced Blame
Rask seemingly took the most heat for Boston’s two-year playoff absence. A big reason why ended up being his end of season performance. Many blamed Rask for sitting out the final game of the 2015-16 season, a loss that kept Boston out of the playoffs. In hindsight, it is easy to blame the player, but he was sick at the time and I’m not sure any other player would have caught the heat he did for missing that game.
Bottom line is, the Bruins had serious issues in both of those seasons. Their defense simply wasn’t good enough in either season, and the club was absolutely putrid in the shootout. On top of that, Boston’s offense wasn’t very good in each of those campaigns. The depth and goal-scoring prowess that you see now from players like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak was not even close to the level it is now. The Bruins are a far deeper and more complete team than they were in those two seasons.
I think it is fair to suggest that the Bruins were still recovering from the wounds that former GM Peter Chiarelli caused. Recovering from cap hell and a lack of depth is why Boston went two years without playoff hockey, not Rask’s play in net. Tuukka gained a reputation from those two years, however, one that he has not been able to shake even after a terrific 2017-18 campaign.
Part of that has to do with the media in town. While I’m a fan of the 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. program on 98.5 The Sports Hub, they have routinely blasted and blamed Rask unfairly over the last few seasons. Perception can be seen as reality by some and perception currently shows Tuukka Rask as an overpaid and overrated goaltender.
Final Thoughts on Rask
Without Rask, the Bruins do not get home-ice in the first round of last year’s postseason and do not hit the 100-point mark. Yes, the young core developed nicely and played great but Rask was sensational for the Bruins and deserves a ton of credit. He played like a top-five goalie last year and has almost always played like a top-10 goaltender in the NHL during his career.
No, he hasn’t won a ring as a starter and yes he’s had tough stretches in this league. All that being said he is still a very good goaltender and is going to be a huge key if Boston is to have real success in the postseason moving forward.
Tuukka Rask is, without a shred of doubt in my mind, a top-10 goalie in the NHL. Bruins fans and media can keep undervaluing him and blasting those who disagree, but it won’t make that assertion correct. Boston is set in net for the foreseeable future with No. 40.