Tuukka Rask’s Pending Free-Agent Status Shouldn’t Leave Bruins Fans Fearing for His Future in Boston


January 6, 2012

Tuukka Rask's Pending Free-Agent Status Shouldn't Leave Bruins Fans Fearing for His Future in BostonBOSTON — Tuukka Rask has now allowed just a single goal in his last 276 minutes, 8 seconds of play.

He’s posted shutouts in three of his last four starts and leads the NHL with a microscopic 1.49 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage.

And yet there are some Bruins fans who still can find the negative in the fact that the club has arguably the top two netminders in the world on its roster with Rask and reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas.

Some are so fretful over the future, they can’t fully enjoy the amazing present the Bruins have with their unique goaltending tandem.

The handwringing can be traced to Rask’s contract status. He’s on the final year of two-year, $2.5 million deal signed during the 2009-10 season. That $1.25 million cap hit is looking like quite the bargain now, but what will it cost the Bruins to ink the 24-year-old netminder to another deal, and can they afford it with one more year at a $5 million cap hit already committed to Thomas?

It’s understandable to be concerned about the situation, but it shouldn’t produce the dread some have shown. The Bruins have a strong track record of locking up their key pieces, most well before they even reach free agency. That was true of Rask the first time he approached free agency, when he signed his current contract in November of the final season on his entry-level deal.

And Rask has stated repeatedly his desire to remain in Boston long-term. He and Thomas have forged a close relationship on and off the ice. They enjoy working together and they certainly enjoy winning the way the Bruins have in recent seasons. While like any professional athlete, Rask is competitive and would like to play as much as possible, there is no tension between the pair when it comes to how the workload has been divided.

Rask is certainly in line for a raise with his strong play this season, but there are limits in place to keep it from becoming too great a burden on Boston’s cap. First of all, he will be a restricted free agent, which gives the Bruins the right to match any offers he may receive from other teams. And as good as he is, it’s unlikely there will be any such overtures made, as the offer sheet is one weapon very rarely unholstered in the NHL.

Rask is also arbitration eligible, which could give both him and the Bruins a way to bridge Thomas’ final year. They could let Rask get a decent raise through arbitration on a short-term deal, then reassess the netminding situation in its entirety and perhaps redistribute the money allocated to the position more equitably with both goalies up for contracts then.

In the meantime, there’s still more than half a season left to marvel at what could be one of the greatest seasons a goalie tandem has ever put together. While Rask tops the league, Thomas, who on Thursday was announced as a starter for the All-Star Game later this month in Ottawa, isn’t far behind with a 1.90 GAA and a .940 to go with a 17-6-0 record while making the bulk of the starts. And the best may be still ahead.

After Thursday’s 9-0 rout of Calgary, Rask was asked if he felt his recent stretch was as good as he has played in the NHL.

“I can’t [say], I mean that’s a tough question to ask,” Rask said. “I felt good last year, I felt good two years ago. I just haven’t let in any goals in lately and that’s probably how people feel when asking that question but it’s a tough question, I always feel pretty good.”

And the Bruins feel pretty good about their goaltending situation, knowing that they can rely equally on both Thomas and Rask.

“All the things we’re doing with regards to our goaltending decisions are all positive for the individuals and the team,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “It’s a non-issue. I think they enjoy playing with each other and they’re very supportive of each other. It’s a great situation for the Boston Bruins.”

And it’s not a situation that has to end any time soon, even with Rask’s potential free-agent status. So enjoy it Bruins fans, there are 29 other teams in the NHL that would love to be in such a predictament.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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