When an NHL team throws a monster contract out to a player, it often gives fans a little anxiety. Its a lot of money, often for a lot of years. If the player falters, its still a huge cap hit for the team, thus making him difficult to trade.
An example of this is former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro. Formerly regarded as one of the best goalies in the league, the Islanders signed him to a 15 year contract in 2006. Almost immediately after the ink dried, DiPietro suffered a string of injuries and hardly ever lived up to his deal. The Islanders finally bought him out this past summer, thus ending one of the most ill-advised contracts in league history.
It was something like this that made some Boston Bruins fans a little nervous about the eight year, $56 million contract the team gave to franchise goalie Tuukka Rask this summer. Would this come back to bite the Bruins? Would Rask’s level of play decrease now that he was no longer fighting to earn big money?
He’s played just eight games so far this year, but he sure does look like a man who wants to earn every dollar of his new contract.
Just look at Rask’s stats so far this year. In his eight starts, he’s allowed just ten goals overall. His GAA is a paltry 1.26, his save percentage an astounding .957. He has one shutout already, and for the majority of his starts he’s only allowed one goal.
His biggest moment of the year came last night during the Bruins stunning last second win against the San Jose Sharks, who were previously unbeaten in regulation. David Krejci deflected a puck past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi with 0.8 seconds left in the game to give Boston a 2-1 victory. It was a huge win for the team, but everyone realizes they wouldn’t have even been in a position to win the game if it wasn’t for Rask playing out of his mind.
The Sharks came out and blitzed Boston, out-shooting them in the first period 16-3. The nonstop attack had the Bruins on their heels for most of the frame, but Rask saved every puck that came his way. He gave up a game-tying goal to Patrick Marleau right as the third period began, but shut the door from there on out. Rask ended the night with 38 saves, helping Boston nab their most significant victory of the year so far.
Give GM Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins front office credit for how they handled Rask’s contracts so far. After Tim Thomas took a year off hockey at the end of the 2012 season, Rask was resigned to a one year deal to see if he could indeed be the starter they hoped he was. He more than held up his end of the bargain, and was one of the biggest reasons the Bruins made it all the way to the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals before falling short to the Chicago Blackhawks. Midway through their playoff run, it became obvious; Rask was about to get paid.
There’s still a lot more he has to prove, though. As mentioned, he’s just eight starts into his new deal. He also has yet to play a full season as Boston’s starter. He’ll likely play in more games this year than last year’s season and playoffs combined. A big test for him will be whether or not he can handle a full campaign and still be ready to hold down the fort come postseason.
However, while pivotal question marks still remain, it was important for Rask to get off to a great start just to reassure fans and front office alike that he was worth the money. Its safe to say he’s done just that and more so far.