By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty had an interesting column last weekend. It was interesting in the sense that I’ve never disagreed with anything so quickly in my entire life. I suppose that that’s the point of a good column. But in Haggerty’s column, he talked about how the addition of Jaroslav Halak could be enough for the Bruins to finally trade Tuukka Rask.
…And then I woke up in the year 2012.
Before we start, let me say that I like Joe. We’ve sat next to each other in the TD Garden press box for two years now, and we’ve argued about Star Wars and various Marvel movies relentlessly over that stretch. As the youngest person on the Bruins beat for years now, having the ability to turn to Joe whenever I had a question has been great, too. He’s a good guy!
I just… hated everything about this idea, and I hate the idea of it gaining traction.
It’s important to first note that the Bruins shouldn’t exactly rush to trade Rask.
After what was a rocky start to his season — one that almost saw Rask lose his starting gig to the then-surging Anton Khudobin in late November — Rask finished his regular season with a 31-6-3 record and .923 save percentage in his final 41 appearances. Those 31 wins were tied with the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck for the most in the NHL. And among goalies with at least 40 appearances over that span, only Marc-Andre Fleury, Pekka Rinne, and John Gibson posted better save percentages than Rask. His 2.19 goals against average over that span was just .01 behind Gibson for the top mark in the entire league, too. And if we’re going to buy into sample sizes, let’s buy into the 41-game one over the horrendous 13-game one that came before.
It also appears that the B’s have finally found the sweet spot of games played for Rask to remain effective down the stretch.
Now, there’s no sense in trying to shy away from the fact that Rask was a complete disaster in Boston’s first-round series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. You could even make the case that he should have been pulled from Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, and it would have been the second guess of the city had the B’s not pulled off another comeback for the ages.
Rask was considerably better in the B’s second-round, five-game series loss to the overpowering Tampa Bay Lightning and gave the B’s a chance to win in all five games, yeah, but it wasn’t close to saving him in the comments section of any post.
But there’s also nothing — and I mean nothing — in recent history to legitimately suggest that Halak would be a capable upgrade. It would be a shock if he were able to even keep pace with what No. 40 has done in Boston in recent seasons.
Over the last four seasons, Rask has posted even-strength save percentages of .930, .924, .919, and .924. Halak, meanwhile, has posted a .922, .919, .916, and .918. Halak’s best season in this regard over the last three seasons matches Rask worst season. Given the way Rask is routinely crucified, it’s impossible to imagine even a top-of-his-game 2018 Halak surviving a week for a Bruins team and fanbase that has legitimate expectations of a deep playoff run — and now.
Getting beyond percentage-boosting saves from 75-feet out, though, and you’ll see that Rask has posted a greater high-danger save percentage than Halak in two straight seasons. What works in Halak’s favor in this regard, however, is the fact that he has been downright pummeled with pucks with the Isles, with three straight seasons in which 20 percent of the even-strength shots thrown his way were of the high-danger variety. Rask’s most dangerous season here came with 19.9 percent in 2017-18.
Still, where’s the upgrade? This is still not a Boston defense that’s strong enough to ‘stick anybody back there’ and hope for the best. And in an Atlantic Division that’s now straight-up loaded with offensive firepower, that philosophy would be death.
It just makes infinitely more sense to compare Halak to the man he’s replacing both in role and dollars: Anton Khudobin.
Over the last two seasons, Khudobin posted a .914 save percentage at even-strength, and chipped in with an .897 save percentage with the Bruins on the penalty kill. Halak counters that with a .917 at evens and an .881 when on the kill.
And if two years of Khudobin — including a fantastic run from Khudobin once Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach — was not enough to bump Rask from his starting gig, there’s absolutely no chance that a 33-year-old Halak can pull it off.
Halak will, again, be closer to Khudobin, as a goaltender capable of going on sugar-high runs where he rattles off three or four wins in five starts. But the days of Halak being your go-to starter — even if you boast a stronger defensive structure and more potent forward group than what Halak played behind for the Islanders — are nearly five years in your rearview mirror now.
When Rask is truly pushed out of a job, it will be by a goalie the Bruins feel they can legitimately plan their future around. Whether that player is in their system right now — be it Jeremy Swayman or Daniel Vladar — remains to be seen. And its timeline is even more of an unknown, too, especially with three more years of Rask at $7 million per season.
So maybe it’s in our best interest to shelve those columns ’til that timeline features a better solution than a 33-year-old Halak.
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.