One of the most important things for the Boston Bruins this offseason was locking up goalie Tuukka Rask to a long-term deal. In the NHL, having a solid goaltender is one of the biggest keys to success for any team, and Rask is more than just solid. The Bruins knew this, and signed him to a hefty eight-year, $56 million deal.
Now, Boston can take the ice next season knowing full well they have one of the best goalies in the league playing between the pipes for the foreseeable future. However, what exactly is the situation when it comes to their backup options?
Hardly as marquee a roster spot than that of starter, a team’s backup plays quite an important role himself. No goalie, no matter how stellar their play is, can string together 82-straight regular season games. Like any other player, goalies get exhausted and need recovery time to stay on top of their game.
For a long time, the Bruins had quite a solid setup on their hands when it came to goalies. Just a few years ago, it was Rask who was playing the backup role behind two-time Vezina winner Tim Thomas. This scenario played out for three years, until Thomas went on hiatus and unofficially handed Rask the starter spot. Even then, Boston handled themselves pretty well with their minor league standout Anton Khudobin. The Russian youngster did very well in spelling Rask throughout this past season with a save percentage of .920 across 14 games played. At some points during the year, more than a few fans were clamoring that Khudobin should be Boston’s starter.
This, of course, was a wrong opinion. Still, though, when your backup gets this kind of reaction, its a great situation for the team all around.
However, while the Bruins succeeded in re-signing Rask, Khudobin was signed by the Carolina Hurricanes. Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli had made it known that re-signing Khudobin was on his to-do list, but all it took was a one-year, $800,000 contract to send the former backup to Raleigh.
With Khudobin out the door, Rask will have a new backup giving him some time off next year. The question is, though, who will it be?
As it stands, there are three possible options. The first is recently signed free agent Chad Johnson. Of all three options, he has the most NHL experience. Don’t let that stat fool you too much, as he only has 10 games to his name during his time with the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes. He may be on the opening night roster, but I’d be surprised if he was still the backup come mid-to-late season.
Option two is Providence Bruins standout Niklas Svedberg. Though he hasn’t stepped on the ice in the NHL just yet, he more than held is own in the AHL last year. He won 37 of the 48 games he played in, with a respectable 2.17 GAA to go with his .925 save percentage. His play was crucial to the Bruins’ run through the AHL postseason last year.
The final option might be the wild card of the group. It’s lofty, but until we hear otherwise, you can’t count out recent draft pick Malcolm Subban.
Brother of Boston public enemy No. 1, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, talk has run rampant about the young goalie moving up to the pros sometime this year. He’s spent the past few years in the OHL tending net for the Belleville Bulls, and his stats are improving significantly as the years pass. Since the 2010-11 season in Belleville, where he posted an unimpressive GAA of 3.16 and save percentage of .900, he’s moved both of those numbers in the right direction. Last year for the Bulls saw him drop his GAA to 2.14, spiking his save percentage up to .934.
He’s still pretty raw, but this hardly means you can remove his hat from the ring when it comes to joining Boston.
If I had to guess, I’d say Svedberg is the man who gets the most minutes this year as the Bruins backup. He had a great year in Providence, and might have been the biggest reason the team was OK losing Khudobin.
In the end, the Bruins will go with who they feel they can rely on most. If they expect Rask to pull off the same postseason performance as last year, they’ll need to make sure he gets plenty of rest.