By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If you’re a human with even a touch of basic empathy for your fellow humans and not just a take-spewing garbage monster, understanding Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask’s decision to leave the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs really isn’t that hard.
Then again, this is the Tuukka Rask Argument we’re (once again) talking about. The dumbest, most warped-beyond-all-realms-representing-reality discussion imaginable. Perhaps in the history of Boston sports. Both sides have been far too dug in for far too long. We’re dug in so hard I’m considered a “captain” of a crew I’ve never met. It’s a completely irrational argument.
But this? This shouldn’t even be up for debate.
If we’re to believe Rask and the Bruins, Boston’s No. 1 goaltender is leaving the bubble to be with his family. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said that Rask’s family is “safe and healthy,” but that being a father is what he needs to be right now. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, along with every other Bruin who spoke after Saturday’s win, said that they supported Rask’s decision and understood Rask’s feelings, as well as the importance of family.
The comments from management and the players speak to the idea that this is something real that’s going on with the Rasks, and that something has been going for a little while now. Sweeney lauded Rask for trying to play through these issues.
And you have no real reason to believe that Rask and the Bruins, as an organization, are lying and using ‘family’ as a pawn to let Rask off the hook for being physically or mentally unprepared for the postseason. They haven’t hid from throwing him under the bus before. In this instance, exaggerating family issues in a global pandemic is not only straight-up gross, but something that’s almost impossible to see the parties speaking on the issue signing off on to save No. 40 from scrutiny. And I gotta be honest, you come across as mentally deranged if you actively choose to believe that a person is outright lying about this. You’re essentially going ‘NUH-UH, CAN’T BE TRUE, YOU’RE MAKING THIS UP’ to the very idea that a father of three young children, including a newborn, could admit he’s having a tough time being holed up in a complex and away from his family for an undetermined amount of time.
Would you do this with any other person? Unless you’re a hobgoblin who terrorizes the people in your life for fun, no, no you would not.
Having issues with that aspect of it all doesn’t mean that you automatically think Rask should be let off the hook. He shouldn’t.
Could Rask have done some things better? Yes, absolutely. Bruce Cassidy found out about Rask’s decision from Sweeney. Cassidy didn’t seem to take that personally, but that’s a conversation that most definitely should’ve included Cassidy. Rask also could’ve been more upfront about his obvious struggles getting his mind focused. That way the Bruins could have managed de facto starter Jaro Halak’s workload a bit better in the round-robin for seeding and into the postseason. Game 3 didn’t feature much rust from Halak, who stopped 29-of-30 for the victory, but Cassidy started Halak on 13 days rest. That probably wouldn’t have been the play had Rask properly communicated his issues to the coaching staff, and not with postgame comments to the media after Boston’s Game 2 loss. This part of it could’ve stayed in-house.
“I know he had his third daughter this spring. It was on his mind leaving here and he wanted to get some things settled at home, but after that it’s his business and I don’t get into unless you want to discuss it with me, which I think every player is a little bit different that way,” Cassidy said of Rask’s approach. “So I’ve certainly talked with Tuukka through training camp, but he made the decision to come [to Toronto], so I assumed everything was good at home.”
And is this another happening (or non-happening, really) that will be held against Rask? You better believe it. This joins an already-too-long list featuring such hits as 2010 against Philadelphia, 2013 against the Blackhawks, the 2014 Olympics, 2016’s season finale, and last year’s Game 7. Like it or not, fair or unfair, it will be used against him, and already has. How this latest ‘strike’ against the franchise’s winningest goaltender plays into his Boston future remains to be seen. (Sweeney, for what it’s worth, already said that Rask will be back next season.)
But as strange as it sounds, it feels pretty irrelevant this time around, as it glosses over an undeniable truth: This is the best decision Rask could have made. Because you clearly didn’t want to see what’d happen if he stuck around.
If Rask was determined to physically be in Toronto, but play with a mind still stuck in Boston, the Black and Gold’s Stanley Cup hopes were already doomed to a new ‘Gloria’ hell. It’s the single most important position in the game this time of year, and what you got out of Rask in the first two games was a goaltender who looked to be operating at half-speed. He was tracking pucks fine, but nothing in his game inspired much confidence that this was the guy for a four-round run.
(The difference in going from Rask in Game 2 to Halak in Game 3 felt across-the-board noticeable.)
There also wasn’t a better time to opt out of the 2020 playoffs than today. The Bruins began the day tied 1-1 with the Hurricanes, and having punted on the three-game tourney for seeding, found themselves seven real periods and change into what they hope will be a long postseason run. There was no positive momentum at risk here. And after five months off, everybody is still looking to hit their stride. The first week of playoff action has confirmed that nobody’s there just yet.
And now, not before the team charter departed for Toronto, was the time to make the call.
Nothing about about the B’s current situation would’ve changed had Rask followed Steve Kampfer’s lead and opted out before Phase 3. Not a damn thing. Halak (likely with more miles on the tires) would still be your starting netminder moving forward and Daniel Vladar would still be your backup. They weren’t adding a veteran off the street. Oh, and unless the Bruins somehow score more than four goals in three round-robin games as a result of Halak-Vladar being in net instead of Rask, the Bruins would’ve still dropped from the No. 1 to No. 4 seed. (Rask has zero career goals, so I mean.)
Instead, Rask used his restart, and his two real playoff games, to try and snap himself into playoff mode. He couldn’t, realized his mind was too cloudy to get back into Vezina form, and opted out.
Rask, who will be called a ‘quitter’ all the same, did this without torpedoing the B’s championship aspirations, and without actually alienating his teammates with an approach that was never going to pass the smell test.
The Bruins were simply not going to get the best — or even enough — out of Tuukka Rask in a 2020 summer restart.
And with family on the mind, heavily enough to push Rask back to Boston, that isn’t hard to understand.
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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.