The Boston Bruins have one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL right now and have for several years in the veteran duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. The defending Jennings Trophy winners have shown no signs of slowing down either; Rask finished second in Vezina Trophy voting last season while leading the league in goals against average and Halak currently has a sub-2.40 GAA of his own for his third straight season in Boston. Yet, when the 2020-21 season comes to a close, the Bruins will no longer have either under contract as the tandem are slated for unrestricted free agency. That is unless they re-sign one or both during the season. Appearing on NBC Sports, Bob McKenzie reported that the Bruins are open to extending both Rask and Halak and would considering doing so in-season as well, “if they get the sense from the goaltenders that’s what they want to do.”
Breaking down McKenzie’s report into two pieces, it certainly makes sense that the Bruins would entertain re-signing Rask and/or Halak. Rask, 33, is the player McKenzie acknowledges as the “key” to the future in net in Boston. The Bruins starter is quietly on his way to a Hall of Fame career with a top-five all-time mark in save percentage and the leading save percentage and GAA among all active goalies. Yet, even more important to this conversation is that he is still among the best in the game. While Rask has received criticism throughout his career, he remains one of the more difficult goalies in the NHL to replace. Even with names like Jordan Binnington, Frederik Andersen, and Petr Mrazek potentially available on the open market this off-season, there is no sure thing that the Bruins could confidently replace the play of Rask. Fortunately, Rask is not much of a threat to follow the money to another club. Well-compensated throughout his career and having previously stated that he does not want to play anywhere but Boston, it seems that if Rask wants to keep playing the Bruins will re-sign him.
As for Halak, 35, he may be more valuable to Boston than any other team in the NHL. There is a strong correlation between proper rest and elite performance in Rask’s career and having a dependable backup behind him in Halak these past few years has been an incredible asset for the Bruins. The team’s trust in the aging but productive net minder may just lead to another contract. With plenty of cap space, Boston can afford to pay for a top-dollar backup for another year or two. Of course, the counter-argument to a Halak return is that it would be easier for the Bruins to find another reliable backup in free agency than and they could potentially save money in looking elsewhere. Bringing back such a proven commodity in Halak will also once again block top goalie prospects Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman, who each rank in the top ten in the AHL in save percentage so far this season. As the Bruins continue to inject youth into their lineup, the question becomes whether they can give opportunity to the prospects and still provide sound play from the backup position or if the safer route is to simply stick with the tandem that has worked so well.
As for McKenzie’s statement that the Bruins could re-sign Rask or Halak during the season, there is more reason to be more skeptical of that assertion. With Rask and Halak both on expiring contracts, there is no need to protect either in the impending NHL Expansion Draft. Especially given the number of attractive options on the Boston roster available to the Seattle Kraken, the team would not select a UFA goalie. In their current contract state, the Bruins can instead protect Vladar from Seattle while exposing impending RFA fifth-string Callum Booth. Vladar, 23, would otherwise become a potential selection risk if Rask or Halak are re-signed and thus require protection. The young goaltender is enjoying another elite season in the AHL and could very well be the Bruins’ goalie of the future if he can outplay Swayman. Why would the Bruins leave Vladar exposed when they don’t need to?
Well, as McKenzie points out, if there is pressure from Rask or Halak to sign a new deal before the end of the season then that could change the status quo. Additionally, Vladar will drop his waiver exemption next season, meaning that the Bruins could lose him anyway if he is not ready for the NHL. (This is exactly what happened with Malcolm Subban and the Vegas Golden Knights following the last Expansion Draft.) The Bruins may also look at Vladar as worthwhile bait for Seattle to take over one of their many established roster players at forward and defense who will also be exposed. In that case, there is no reason to hold off on an extension for Rask or Halak if the plan would be to protect them as a UFA anyhow in order to expose Vladar.
It remains to be seen what exactly will happen to Boston’s situation in goal, but timing aside it is a safe bet that Rask will be back between the pipes for the Bruins next season and beyond and Halak could be right there with him. If one or both don’t return, it will make for an intriguing off-season in Boston.