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Bruins must pay Tuukka Rask

Posted by Adam Kaufman  May 10, 2013 09:12 AM

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If all goes well, another Duck Boat parade will line the streets of Boston in about seven weeks.

It’s also possible, however unlikely, that the Bruins’ season will be over in just a few days.

Regardless of the when and how, B’s goalie Tuukka Rask is playing with house money at this point and once the offseason hits he’s going to get paid.

A lot.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction to what’s been a strong first-round series for the goalie. The newly 26-year-old recently finished off yet another tremendous regular season, his fourth full campaign in the NHL and his first as an undisputed starter, with a 19-10-5 record, 2.00 goals-against average, .929 save percentage, and he matched a career-high with five shutouts. In 36 games, it would have been easy to slot him in as a Vezina Trophy finalist, but he wasn’t named among the chosen three, a snub similar to when he was eluded consideration for the Calder trophy as a rookie in 2009-10.

No matter, Rask received that news prior to Wednesday’s Game 4 against Toronto – the organization that drafted him in 2005 – and he responded with a playoff career-best 45 saves for the second straight outing, this one a thriller in overtime to give the Bruins a 3-1 series lead and push the Leafs to the brink of elimination.

“Tuukka’s calm,” coach Claude Julien said on Thursday. “He’s in a zone. He’s not getting too high, not getting too low. All he wants to do is stop the puck.”

That couldn’t be truer. Rask oozes confidence. He’s the type of guy who’s actually surprised when a shot goes in, not unlike his predecessor, Tim Thomas. If a shot can be saved, it will be, and that’s just that.

It was Rask’s mental toughness and physical athleticism that were chiefly on display for two nights in Toronto this week, and he routinely demonstrated with dramatic flair that he can make the big save when necessary. Just ask Joffrey Lupul.

Now, though, Rask’s 1-year, $3.5 million contract is winding down and, for the second straight summer, it will be time for his agent, Bill Zito, and general manager Peter Chiarelli to talk shop, something they really didn’t do during the lockout-shortened season. For Rask, it’s a no-lose situation.

The goaltender still has one year left of restricted free agency worth a minimum of another $3.5 million, and there’s positively no way the Bruins won’t qualify him. Rask will be back in Boston next season. The questions are for how long, and how much.

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That’s where market value and comparables come into play. Fellow Finish star Pekka Rinne of the Predators is the game’s highest paid goalie with an annual cap hit of $7 million. The first of that seven-year deal just ended with Rinne undergoing hip surgery, the same procedure Thomas rebounded from to win his second Vezina.

After Rinne, four other goalies have cap hits of at least $6.25 million next season, including reigning Vezina winner and current finalist Henrik Lundqvist ($6.875M) of the Rangers, the Canadiens’ Carey Price ($6.5M), Cam Ward ($6.3M) of the Hurricanes, and the Sabres’ Ryan Miller ($6.25M).

A dozen goalies already check in with cap hits of $5 million or greater in 2013-14. That list doesn’t include Rask, who will find himself in the upper echelon if he gets a long-term deal.

The two most significant statistics to measure a goaltender’s worth are save percentage and goals-against average. Since Rask entered the NHL in 2007-08, not a single goalie with at least 100 games played ranks higher than the thin Fin in either category. No matter what the Eye Test says, he’s been the best in the entire league.

Rask’s career save percentage is .927, while he has a 2.15 GAA. He has a record of 66-45-16 with 16 shutouts in 138 games.

For point of reference, the 30-year-old Rinne – he of huge wallet fame – became a full-timer in 2008-09 and he’s appeared in 293 career games with a 153-88-34 record and 30 whitewashes. However, his save percentage is .920 and he sports a 2.36 GAA.

Advantage, Rask. Twice.

Look at any other goalie in the league at a comparable age and service time who’s already cashed in and you’ll find Rask’s numbers are superior.

Price? The 25-year-old just finished the first of a 6-year, $39 million deal. His numbers? A .915 save percentage and 2.56 GAA.

Kari Lehtonen of the Stars? He’s 29 and his 5-year, $29.5 million contract begins next season with a respectable but inferior .914 save percentage and 2.71 GAA.

Reigning Stanley Cup champ and 27-year old Jonathan Quick? The Kings stud and UMass Amherst alumnus inked a 10-year deal worth $58 million. His digits? A .915 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

How about 29-year-old Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings? That’s another deal that begins next season, good for six years and $31.75 million. He’s got a career .918 save percentage and 2.36 GAA.

Other players who received big deals a few years ago at age 26 include Lunqvist and Ward, but the man in black and gold makes their numbers look black and blue.

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Worth mentioning, and certainly a financial anomaly, is Cory Schneider of Marblehead, Mass. The 27-year-old Boston College product just enjoyed his first year as a starter with the Canucks after supplanting Roberto Luongo following two great seasons as his backup. Schneider’s appeared in 98 games with a .927 save percentage – the same as Rask – and 2.20 GAA. However, he signed his 3-year, $12 million contract that began this season just prior to hitting restricted free agency and while still sharing a roster with a guy with a hefty, three-year-old, 12-year, $64 million embarrassment of riches.

Look back at all those numbers again and you’d think Rask deserves his own office in the dressing room.

The man known for his great positioning has put himself in a very advantageous seat with his stellar play. The Bruins do have some depth in their system with AHL Goalie of the Year Niklas Svedberg and OHL All-Star Malcolm Subban, but neither has a second of NHL experience and you can be sure the team’s not interested in bridging any gap until those kids are ready, especially when it already possesses one of the league’s elite.

Rask is young, proven, wants to be here and, though he hasn’t said a word publicly, you know he’s eager to cash in. The idea of him reaching unrestricted free agency should paralyze B’s management with fear, and that scenario could quite possibly price them out for his services. In short, it’ll never happen. Even with a shrinking salary cap, NHL teams know they need superb goaltending to win in the postseason, and they’ll pay to get it.

Skeptics will still claim Rask hasn’t earned the money because his regular season stardom has not yet translated to playoff success. His one opportunity in the postseason prior to now was the infamous 2010 season, which will forever be remembered as the year the B’s surrendered a 3-0 series lead and 3-0 Game 7 advantage against the Flyers. To put that solely on Rask, however, would be irresponsible, and it would also completely ignore David Krejci’s wrist injury in Game 3 of that series that ended his season. Where would the 2013 postseason Bruins be without Krejci? And, if you’re waiting for him to be the Tim Thomas of 2011, try to also remember that a .940 save percentage and 1.98 GAA over 25 playoff games is otherworldly.

Bottom line: Rask’s numbers justify the deal, and his play has warranted it as well. Though Rask’s camp could justify asking for Rinne money (he’s never made it out of the second round either), I’ll make a prediction: Six years, $40 million, and one heck of a party back in Finland.

But, first on the agenda, a win tonight and another trip to the second round.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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