Tuukka Rask Remains the Future in Net for Bruins, But Could Soon Take Reins From Tim ThomasEditor's Note: The Bruins are facing a longer offseason than they had hoped after their title defense was ended early with a first-round loss to Washington. The extra time could come in handy though, as the Bruins have plenty of decisions to make this summer. At the top of that list is what they will do with the many pending free agents on their roster. Each day over the past two weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn has looked at one of the club's veteran free agents. The series concludes with netminder Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins have been fortunate to have some pretty outstanding goaltending over the last few years. They actually featured the league leader in both goals-against average and save percentage in three straight seasons before this past year. Tim Thomas won a pair of Vezinas while leading the league in those categories in two of those seasons, but Tuukka Rask also topped the NHL in both after supplanting Thomas as Boston's starter in 2009-10.

Rask put up better numbers than Thomas again last year, but remained an understudy and then had his season cut short with a groin/abdominal strain suffered in early March.

Rask is now in need of a new deal, while Thomas enters the final year of his contract. Thomas' no-trade clause expires on July 1, which could open the door for Rask to assume the starting role again, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli stated after the season that he didn't plan on dealing Thomas. Rask also said he was willing to wait and work with Thomas for another season, but the Bruins could still push up that timetable and turn the reins over to Rask sooner.

If things go according to plan, Rask will definitely become the Bruins starter eventually, and he is confident he'll be ready to do the job when the time comes.

"I think there's only one answer to that," Rask said when asked if he was ready to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. "Even if I wasn't I would say yes, but I feel good about that. I'm not looking forward to that because I like working with Timmy, but if that would be the case, then yes, I'm ready."

2011-12 stats
23 games, 11-8-3, 2.05 GAA, .929 save percentage, 3 shutouts

2011-12 cap hit
$1.25 million according to CapGeek.com

2012-13 status
Restricted free agent

Age
25

Season in review
Rask got off to a bit of a slow start, playing sparingly with just three appearances in the first 12 games. He finally got to start his first back-to-back games early in November and responded with his first two wins of the season against the Islanders and Oilers. That started a stretch where he went 11-1-2 through Jan. 21, never allowing more than three goals in any of those 14 appearances.

From Dec. 10 through Jan. 5, he made four starts and one relief appearance, earning the win in all five games while surrendering just a single goal in that entire span.

While Thomas continued to get the bulk of the starts, Rask was outperforming him for much of the season before being injured on March 3 against the Islanders. Rask did not play again, but did return in the postseason, dressing as Thomas' backup in Games 6 and 7 against Washington. He declared himself "100 percent" after that series and stated he did not expect any further issues from the injury going forward.

Should Rask be re-signed?
While there's a little less pressure to get a deal done right away because Rask is a restricted free agent, there's no doubt that he is the most important of the club's 10 veteran free agents to re-sign. He remains the franchise's future at the most important position on the ice, and could very well be their present between the pipes as soon as this upcoming season as well.

Will Rask be re-signed?
There's no reason to think Rask won't come to terms on another deal with the Bruins. He clearly enjoys playing in this city and for this organization and he's expressed a willingness to continue to work with Thomas and bide his time for his turn to be the club's No. 1 netminder. He will be due for a substantial raise from his last deal. The issue will be how much of a raise, and how long it takes to reach an agreement. A deal should be hammered out eventually, but don't be shocked if it takes a while, similar to how long it took to finalize a deal with restricted free agent Brad Marchand last summer.

In Rask's own words
"I think there's a clear plan," Rask said at the club's breakup day. "I think everybody's been talking about it for a long time now. It's not about the money, it's more about what's good for everybody. I've always said I like it here, and I think we have a great group of guys and the organization is great, so I don't see why anybody wouldn't want to be here. In my case it's the same thing, I love it here and now we've just got to make things work."

Monday, May 21: Chris Kelly

Tuesday, May 22: Gregory Campbell

Wednesday, May 23: Daniel Paille

Thursday, May 24: Brian Rolston

Friday, May 25: Greg Zanon

Monday, May 28: Mike Mottau

Tuesday, May 29: Joe Covo

Wednesday, May 30: Marty Turco

Thursday, May 31: Benoit Pouliot

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.