Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Anderson: Tuukka Rask should have made NHL Network's list of Top 10 goaltenders

Ty Anderson
August 07, 2017 - 9:00 pm

It’s tougher to find a more polarizing Bruin than goaltender Tuukka Rask.

But unless they’re blind to the numbers in front of their face, even the most vocal, card-carrying member of the Anti-Rask Club can’t deny his value as an NHL goaltender.

In a season that lacked any trust in a backup goaltender until Claude Julien was fired (something I still wish I had a possible explanation for, but obviously do not), the 30-year-old Rask finished last season with the fifth-most wins in the NHL (37), the eighth-most minutes played (3,679:30), and the ninth-best save percentage among goalies with at least 60 games played (.915 save percentage), while his 2.23 goals against average was tied with Montreal’s Carey Price as the league’s fourth-best mark.

Still, an NHL Network countdown focusing on the NHL’s Top 10 goaltenders released on Sunday somehow came and went without a mention of Rask.

What?

Let’s keep this simple: Forget contracts (which is an important thing to note and consider here, as they're not considered in this list). Can you name 10 goaltenders you’d prefer to have over Rask as of right now? I’ll try it: Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, aaaaaand that’s probably about it.

Looking at this through the scope of what these goaltenders have accomplished over the life of their NHL careers, it’s impossible to insinuate that Rask is not a Top 10 goaltender in 2017.

Rask is not in the group that I just mentioned. Those guys are the elite of the elite, and while Rask was once there, I think he's still a little bit behind those players in the present. Rask is, however, in the next that tier of guys knocking at the door. That’s where you’ll find a Rask, Cory Schneider, Corey Crawford, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ben Bishop, and even players such as Craig Anderson and Martin Jones. I ordered that list responsibly, too, meaning that I believe Rask, Schneider, and Crawford often border on ‘elite’ status; Rask has won a Vezina and damn near carried the Bruins to the 2013 Stanley Cup (his rounds against the Rangers and Penguins were something else and even rival Tim Thomas circa 2011, and you’re only living in bias if you try to deny it). Crawford is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, and has posted at least a .924 save percentage in three of his last five seasons, while Schneider has been respectable behind a complete and utter mess of a franchise in New Jersey.

It’s also worth noting that even after back-to-back .915 seasons, Rask still has the best save percentage in NHL history, at .923, which is .001 better than Dominik Hasek. Look it up!

So, whatever, the NHL Network can be wrong. But who made the list over Rask?

Price is their No. 1 overall. You can deal with that. That guy’s a freak. Holtby is at No. 2. OK, that checks out. Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina winner, is at No. 3, and I can live with that. A healthy Bob is as effective as anybody in this league. Matt Murray, who has helped backstop the Penguins to back-to-back championships, is at No. 4. And while I think the sample size is a little small to put him that high, results are results and Murray outworked Fleury to get to where he is today. At No. 5, it’s Devan Dubnyk. The 6-foot-6 Dubnyk has been a story and a half with Minnesota, turning his career around and recording 99 wins in 171 games since joining the Wild in 2015. Dubnyk had a career-high 40 wins and 2.25 goals against average last season. Again, facts are facts.

But then the list gets cuckoo.

The NHL Network put the Kings’ Jonathan Quick at No. 6. Yes, the same Quick that played in just 17 games last year (with injuries becoming a theme of his career), and the same Quick that was a total bust for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (Quick’s .863 ranked 14th out of 15 goalies). People will often use Rask’s past performance against him, saying that it’s the only reason why people hold him in such a high regard. And if you feel that way, sorry to spoil your fun, but you absolutely must also feel that way about Quick. Quick has also struggled to post ‘excellent’ splits over the last five seasons, too, without a single season with a .920 save percentage or higher, which is typically considered the starting point for a truly top-tier goaltender. His best statistical mark over that span were his .918 save percentages in both 2015 and 2016. So if Rask’s still living off a two-season run from 2013 to 2014, don’t tell me that Quick’s not doing the same for 2012 and 2014.

At No. 7? Cam Talbot, proving that one good season in a Canadian city gets you a lot of unwarranted cache. But hey, he’s a workhorse and we have to give credit for that, even when it’s not really a good thing for the club. The facts: Talbot’s 42 wins ranked as the most in the NHL. Same for his 73 appearances in the Edmonton crease. Here’s another fun fact about Talbot the Restless: Talbot allowed at least four goals in 14 of his 73 games (19 percent of the time) for the Oilers. Rask did that in 11 of his 64 starts (17 percent of the time). With the Connor McDavid Effort in full force, the Oilers won three of those 14 games for Talbot, while the habitually-punchless B's were winless in Rask's 11 duds. Had Talbot not posted seven shutouts, his numbers could have been straight-up average. Oh, by the way, Rask finished his season with eight shutouts, so he beats him there, too. These guys are a push, if anything. The only and perhaps biggest difference, of course, is that Rask has been better for a lot longer than Talbot. That could flip should Talbot get some more rest and continue to shine as a full-time starter, but in the now, doesn't history give this edge to Rask?

At No. 8? Lundqvist. Why the hell is Lundqvist so low? Did you guys see the defense he played behind last season? I’m actually mad for Lundqvist, to be honest. Fortunately, his life rules way beyond lists for him to even get a little bit mad about this.

Martin Jones cracks this list at No. 9. One of the reasons why? His road record, which led the Sharks to an NHL- and franchise-best 28 road wins a season ago. OK, so it’s road record we want to focus on? Neat. Since the start of the 2015 season, Jones has capture 81 of a possible 126 road points. That’s a 64.3 point percentage, while Rask has collected 75 of a possible 118 points, good for a 63.6 point percentage. While Jones just barely beats Rask in this stat, Rask beats Jones in save percentage (.919 save percentage over .917 save percentage) and goals against average (2.39 goals against average over a 2.42 goals against average). Oh, it may also be worth noting that Jones has played against an utterly stacked defense in San Jose while Rask has been forced to carry a B’s defense that’s shifted to an almost insane degree over the last two years.

Rounding out the list is Pekka Rinne, and oh boy is this loaded with some recency bias. Rinne was fantastic in Nashville’s unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t deny that. But goodness has this dude been just OK -- and behind a stellar defense, too. Over the last three seasons, Rinne ranks ahead of Rask in wins, with 106 compared to Rask’s 102. But Rask has a slightly better save percentage, with a .918 over Rinne’s .916. And much like Jones, it seems only fair to weigh Rinne’s defense in this discussion, with a Shea Weber-Roman Josi headlining combo against an aging Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg/Zach Trotman/Kevan Miller/Adam McQuaid/Brandon Carlo pairing.

As the first two months of last season told us, Rask is still an elite goaltender when managed properly. This is something that the B's have acknowledged, too, citing that they simply need one of their backup goaltenders to emerge as a body capable of allowing Rask, who does not have the physical build to be a 65-game goalie, to rest for about 20-25 nights next season. If he gets that, which is something that many of these goaltenders have gotten from their partner in the crease, you're going to see him return to what he 'once was,' meaning that he'd become a lock for next year's Top 10 list, even more so than he should have been when it came to this one.

Of course, this list accomplished its goal in the sense that it has me talking about the NHL in August.

But not for the right reasons, which should become more apparent if the B’s defense shapes up the way the Bruins expect it to in front of Rask next season.

Comments ()