Tuukka Rask took a gamble last season by taking a one-year deal. Now the Bruins are the ones taking a gamble, but the stakes are much higher.
Rask is a great goalie. At age 26, he’s one of the best in the game. He’s a netminder who isn’t a headcase. He’s probably in that “if you had to start a team with one player” category.
But damn, if that contract doesn’t make you think twice.
When Rask was playing the best four-game stretch for a Bruins goalie maybe ever in allowing just two goals to the high-powered Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals, everybody figured the B’s were going to give the restricted free agent huge money in the offseason, and that he would deserve it.
This week, the Bruins did just that and the numbers are staggering: eight years – the longest term possible under the new collective bargaining agreement – at $7 million a year – which makes him the highest-paid player on the team. Rask will have a no-movement clause in the first four years of the deal.
Rask is great and great players deserve great contracts. I’m suggesting nothing to the contrary, but this is a contract that would raise eyebrows if it were given to a 26-year-old Martin Brodeur, and it was given to a goalie who has never started for the entirety of an 82-game season or been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
This is the type of contract that will be questioned every time Rask has a bad month, and it will be the type fans will agonize over if he ever has a bad season. This is a risk, a leap of faith or whatever you want to call it on the Bruins’ part. His one-year, $3.5 million deal last season was an opportunity for him to prove he was worth big money, but now his days of proving his worth have just begun.
"Whether you're making $4 million, $7 million or $8 million,” Rask said Thursday, “you should try to be worth your money, and try to prove yourself every night."
Of course, the Bruins had no other choice than to pay Rask handsomely. He used that one-year deal to boost his stock tremendously with a postseason performance that would have earned him the Conn Smythe had the B’s won it all. As a restricted free agent, he could have either gotten what he wanted from the Bruins, signed an offer sheet with another team or taken the B’s to arbitration, which would make him an unrestricted free agent after the one-or-two year deal awarded expired.
There is no hometown discount here. It is the type of deal reserved for the elite, and no matter how well Rask plays over the course of it, this contract will never appear to be a bargain. At best, he regularly finishes in the Vezina conversation, wins it a couple times and is considered worth every penny he’s paid. At worst, this could be a contract that weighs the B’s down. There won’t be amnesty buyouts after next summer, so if Rask ends up having performance or injury issues, it won’t be a deal the B’s will easily be able to move on from.
The term is what really makes the contract a toughie. The Bruins have seen steady improvement from Rask over the years, but who knows where he’ll fit among the league’s best goalies in three years, let alone eight?
Because of the eight-year max on contracts, you won’t see any Rick DiPietro (15-year) or Roberto Luongo (12-year) deals. His cap hit doesn’t touch those of Alexander Ovechin ($9.53 million) or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 million apiece), but Rask’s deal is as big and fat as it gets for goalies until Henrik Lundqvist ($6.87 million) signs his next deal). This is the biggest risk the B’s could have taken.
While we’ll analyze this deal over the length of it, the good news is that Rask won’t. As stated above, he isn’t your average goalie from a mental standpoint. He doesn’t overthink things and he doesn’t believe in pressure. It’s one of his many great qualities as a netminder.
The Bruins will need to see the rest of those qualities on display for the vast majority of the next decade. Between the regular season, playoffs and 17 games in the Czech Extraliga during the lockout, Rask played 75 games this season, which was easiest the busiest of his career, so though he has not been a starting goalie for a whole regular season and a long playoff run, he did show that he can stay healthy for a full year at this level after suffering an abdomen/groin injury the previous year.
The Bruins know what their core is, and once Patrice Bergeron’s next deal is signed, CapGeek will be able to highlight their core easily – it’s Chara, Bergeron and Rask. The Finnish netminder waited a long time behind Tim Thomas for it to be Tuukka Time, and now it will be for a long time.