By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins have an in-house replacement for almost every single one of their pending free agents.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has been afforded that (invaluable) luxury of not having to overextend yourself for diminishing returns thanks to solid drafting and proper long-term development plans.
But Sweeney does not have a viable in-house candidate at what may be his most important position if the Bruins are to come close to repeating their 2017-18 success next year and that’s behind the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask as the Black and Gold’s backup.
Which is why bringing Anton Khudobin back should be a true no-brainer for everybody involved.
Undoubtedly doing his job as the Boston backup, Khudobin’s 29 starts helped limit the 31-year-old Rask to his lowest games played and minutes since becoming Boston’s full-time starter in 2013, and allowed Khudobin to roll with 16 wins and a .913 save percentage this past season. It was a continuation of his strong finish the season prior, too, which saw him go 6-1-0 with a .922 under then-interim head coach Bruce Cassidy after going 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage under Claude Julien.
“I think it was a better start, and everything overall,” Khudobin said of his 2017-18 season, which came his most wins since recording 19 wins as a semi-starter in Carolina in 2013-14, at B’s break-up day last week. “I think Bruce has believed in me, which has helped me too, and the team believed in me, and I believed in my game.”
“I thought Anton [Khudobin] did a really good job this year,” said Sweeney.
In fact, Khudobin was among the best at his job this past season.
Among the 16 qualifying playoff teams, the B’s 67.2 point percentage in Khudobin decisions ranked as the best among Eastern Conference playoff teams, and the third best in all of the NHL (L.A. backups led the way with an 80.6 point percentage while the Ducks’ backups were behind them at 70.8 percent this season). For proper context of how important this is, the Bruins had a disastrous 15.4 point percentage from their backups at the time of Julien’s firing, 54.8 when Jonas Gustavsson was the B’s backup in 2015-16, and 57.7 during Niklas Svedberg’s one-year run. This stat tends to go hand in hand with how a coach trusts his backup in key spots, by the way, and Cassidy had exactly that with Khudobin.
Would they find that from one of their P-Bruins options? It’s tough to say that Zane McIntyre took a step forward with 26 wins and a .914 save percentage in 47 AHL games this season. Daniel Vladar is not ready, and Sweeney essentially admitted that when he said that Vladar will get a full year of development with the P-Bruins next season. Kyle Keyser is coming right from juniors, so he’s not an NHL option, and U-Maine’s Jeremy Swayman is promising, but is still obviously years away.
Malcolm Subban, the organization’s best bet at a short-term backup option, was lost to waivers before the season started. A 2012 first-round selection of the Bruins, Subban’s currently sitting as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup for the Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals after a regular season with 13 wins and a .910 save percentage in 19 decisions.
The Bruins do not have many available options outside the organization, either; Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, and Ondrej Pavelec are among the better backup options. That’s not saying a ton, especially when talking about unknowns and with The Buffalo Experience likely breaking Johnson’s spirit as a human being and thus not convincing anybody he’d be who he was for the B’s in 2013-14. Players like Carter Hutton, meanwhile, have priced themselves out of Boston’s range.
The good news in all of this, though, is that Khudobin wants to stay in Boston.
“I want to be here. I like here. I’ve been in California, I’ve been in Texas, I’ve been in Carolina, I’ve been in Minnesota. I’ve been in a lot of cities and a lot of states, and Boston is my favorite one,” Khudobin said. “Don [Sweeney] knows that I love it here. I love the city and everybody knows it. How much is it going to be a factor in signing a new contract, I don’t know. I don’t think it will be a factor. I don’t think it matters. It matters what they can offer, and how much I’m willing to take.”
The numbers say that Khudobin has earned a slight raise from his current $1.2 million per year salary.
That’s something that the Bruins should be able to afford, even if the salary cap stays flat with their projected $9.6 million in cap space, as they’re likely going to lose the majority of their free agents to open market deals they will not match.
And it’s not as if a potential Khudobin extension (likely for two years, if everybody’s realistic) would create a logjam preventing the Bruins from taking care of their looming second contracts, either, which will come primarily on the wings (Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen) and on the right side of their defense corps (Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo).
“I would love to stay here. I’m 32 right now, and if I’m going to play until 40, I would love to play another eight years here,” Khudobin continued. “So that’s clear for me, and if we will get a deal, today, or tomorrow, or in free agency, I don’t know.
“But if it will happen in Boston, I will be happy.”
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.