The Bruins have gone in on a youth movement everywhere but in net.
With Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask putting up Jennings-winning numbers, that’s to be expected. But with Rask (and now Halak) out of action, the Bruins have been forced to look at what their future options in net can do at the NHL level.
And in the case of Daniel Vladar, it’s opened the door to one interesting-as-hell case moving forward.
Through four starts in 2021, Vladar has done everything the Bruins could ask of him. Even in defeat. Perhaps his best example of that came with a set of back-to-back 10-bell saves with the Bruins down a man in the second period. It was just one of several sequences where Vladar saved the B’s from themselves in the defensive zone, and Vladar pulled some more tricks of his bag before Travis Sanheim scored the game-winning overtime goal following a Patrice Bergeron stumble.
“They’re big-time saves,” Cassidy said of Vladar’s back-to-back saves in Monday’s second period. “You know, you need those type of saves that give you some juice, especially after a penalty kill. So good for him. I think Vlady will do that. He’ll make some of those acrobatic saves and certainly did there.”
This has been a theme of Vladar’s 2021 start. Even when he’s suffered a setback, he’s shined as the Bruins’ top player that night. When the Penguins hung three on him last Thursday, largely thanks to turnovers and inexcusable beats, Vladar responded by saying that he should’ve shut the Penguins out. This was after Vladar’s night included stopping numerous breakaway opportunities and with the Bruins providing him with just a single goal of support.
“I’m just living my dream, so I’m enjoying every second,” said Vladar. “I’m trying my best. I just want to stop everything.”
“He’s a very athletic guy, never quits on a puck,” Cassidy offered. “That’s what everyone loves about him. He’s going to have to work on his technique like every other young goalie; puck play, little details. But he’s a battler in there. It’s great for us.”
Battler may be selling it short.
Watching Vladar is a bit like watching Anton Khudobin or Tim Thomas if they were eight inches taller. At 6-foot-6, Vladar’s aggressiveness is noticeable. He’s not afraid to step up and challenge shooters (even if it opens up a canyon for a secondary option), and his willingness to fight through pile-ups in his crease is just plain absurd. It’s led to a .922 save percentage through his first four career starts, and with an all-situation high-danger save percentage of .805, despite facing over 10 high-danger shots per 60 minutes of action. It’s a mighty strong sample, and against some strong competition, with two games against the surging Penguins and another against a desperate Flyer squad.
And here’s where things get interesting for Vladar and the Bruins.
Signed through the 2022-23 season at an affordable $750,000 cap hit, Vladar will be the netminder protected by the Bruins in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft later this year. (Both Halak and Rask are pending unrestricted free agents, and barring an in-season extension for either goaltender, which makes even less sense now given Vladar’s recent emergence, the Bruins do not need to protect them.)
With the flat cap likely here to stay beyond this season, too, getting a .922 (or close to it) for just $750,000 should be of tremendous appeal to a Bruins team looking to squeeze wherever they can to get more out of their core. If you could save $2 million by going from Halak to Vladar without suffering a massive drop off in terms of stability and production, you almost have to do that. The Bruins need another impact forward and capable defenseman too much to not consider those savings.
Rask’s uncertain future plays a part in all of this, too, and his current back injury is certainly worrisome. But the 34-year-old Rask has made it clear that he wants to stay here and play for at least a few more years and the feeling appears mutual.
But given the Bruins’ commitment to getting close to a 50-50 percent split in net to have a fresh and healthy Rask in the postseason, they’d need more to see a lot more of Vladar before making that kind of decision. That means extended looks at Vladar are now something that may be accomplished by design more than necessity. And Vladar’s ready for that chance.
“It doesn’t matter in which league you’re playing if you play a lot, it’s better,” Vladar, who has bounced between Boston and Providence (and Pardubice before that) this season, admitted. “I really appreciate appreciate that the coaches are giving me a chance. And obviously that helps my game, too, because I feel more comfortable every minute that goes on.”