Tuukka Rask is the Boston Bruins biggest question in 2013
Rejoice ye’ puck fanatics and repent the evil that was the NHL lockout! On Saturday, a little over three months since the NHL season was supposed to start, the Boston Bruins will begin their campaign for the Stanley Cup on Saturday evening in Boston where they take on the New York Rangers. While Tuesday’s “loss” to the Providence Bruins in the intrasquad scrimmage may have worried some Boston Bruins fans about some of their bigger questions, ultimately the Boston Bruins return mostly the same core that was the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference a year ago and won the Stanley Cup two seasons ago. While this means that the Bruins have less questions to answer then a lot of other teams in the league – including their opponent on Saturday – there are still some things for them to figure out. Let’s take a look at some of those questions?
1. What kind of season can the Boston Bruins expect from Tuukka Rask?
For the first time since the very beginning of the 2010-2011 campaign, the Boston Bruins are turning the reigns in the net over to Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask. Acquired in a trade from the Leafs back in 2005, Rask has long been deemed the Boston Bruins goalie of the future. In 2010, injuries to goalie Tim Thomas forced the Bruins to utilize Tuukka Rask and he took full advantage of his opportunity. He led the then struggling Bruins to the playoffs, starting in 45 games, posting a .931 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average, both leading the league. His play in the first round against Buffalo was a huge part of their upset of that team, but his play in the second round was a big part about why this happened to the Boston Bruins.
*Yes, despite the fact that the Boston Bruins won the cup the next season, I still don’t talk about that. A lot of bad memories and alcohol… err… if I was legal to drink alcohol at that time.
Still, he was expected to be the team’s starting goaltender in 2010-2011 and started the first game in their European tour. He lost that game, Tim Thomas played great in the second game, then in the third game, and then in a game I distinctly remember attending, the play of Tim Thomas made the team one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference. They won that cup that season and since that start, Tuukka has been the back-up, making starts here and there to keep Tim Thomas fresh. He was good in those starts, but he wasn’t the starting goalie for the Bruins, although it could ultimately be argued his injury last year was a huge part about why Tim Thomas fell apart in the 2012 playoffs.
Finally, with Thomas’ Denver bunker sabbatical in full effect, it is time for Tuukka Rask to be the starting goalie for the Boston Bruins. He signed a brilliant one-year deal in the off-season – brilliant because of the benefits it could reap if he plays well this season – and has no major competition preventing him from being the starter for the entire season. All Bruins’ fans want to see is some major skill for them to gain confidence in him.
After giving up 7 goals against the Providence Bruins on Tuesday night, the fears in most of the Bruins’ faithful have skyrocketed. Forget for a second that Providence has been playing all season and that Rask only played 8 games during his stint in Europe due to injury and the entire Bruins line-up was a little rusty, Rask gave up 7 goals to the Bruins minor league team. The Bruins fans have every right to be nervous about Rask again because the last time he was the full time starter of the team it has to mentioned (again) that this happened.
What is there to be expected from Rask in 2013? I do believe a shortened season will help him. Last year in 29 games, Rask had a 2.05 goals-against average and a .929 save-percentage and those numbers would have likely to have continued had he not been hurt over the final month or so of the season. Being the back-up is a different animal then being the starter. As the back-up, Rask has less pressure, simply spot-starts to help keep the aging starter fresh for the playoff run followed by wearing a fancy little baseball hat in his corner of the bench for the rest of the post-season. The pressure is heightened as the starter, but the 48 game schedule should help him. Again, as starter Rask started 45 games in 2010 and had phenomenal stats. He won’t start that many games this year due to the number of back-to-backs the Bruins have this season and that bodes well for him posting similar stats this season. As long as Rask finds a groove early, he should be good enough for the Bruins to win the Northeast Division and it always is too early to predict the playoffs.
2.) Will prized rookie Dougie Hamilton perform in his first season in the NHL?
The ninth overall pick and the Boston Bruins first selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft Dougie Hamilton is already receiving high-praise from literally the largest Boston Bruin. After the first day of training camp, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of Dougie Hamilton “He’s way better than I was at his age.” Considering that is coming from the best defensive player in hockey and perhaps one of the greatest blue-line players of all time, that is pretty high praise.
Praise is warranted for young Dougie as he is one the leaders of a top-group of incoming defensive prospects. In three and a half-seasons with Niagara in the OHL Dougie Hamilton posted 187 points and a +/- of 87. With high assist numbers showcasing his great passing ability, Hamilton may finally be the mythical “puck-moving defenseman” that the Boston Bruins have long coveted. Pairing him with Dennis Seidenberg will also help in his development. Dougie will make mistakes in his first season in the NHL, that is almost assured, but having a talented and experienced pair on the blue line with him well help to alleviate some of his mistakes.
Also in his favor? Perhaps a lack of a rookie wall for all rookies this season. Grantland’s Katie Baker brought this idea up in her season preview
One of the benefits of this shortened season is that we may not have to hear the words “rookie wall.” (I realize that writing that is like mentioning a shutout mid-game.) And while it’s not clear which teams will opt to burn a year of their relatively inexpensive entry-level contracts with rookie players for a 48-game season, there will be plenty of new faces who will get a shot. Most young prospects have been invited to camp while in the swing of their seasons, whether they’ve been playing in the CHL, AHL, or overseas.
This could mean that any production that Hamilton provides should hold steady as the year progresses. Like Tyler Seguin before him, expect the Bruins to develop him slowly and bring him into the swing of things and unleash him when the time is right.
3.) Whose seat is hotter? Milan Lucic or David Krejci?
Any time that another star in the league goes onto the trade-block, the Boston radio and social media platforms explode with people looking to give up anything and anyone to get some of these players. The two biggest pieces that Bruins fans want to give up are the two stars of the second-line, David Krejci and Milan Lucic.
The case for David Krejci is pretty obvious. Despite the fact that plenty of Bruins’ fans (myself included) believe he is done getting better and Krejci is who he is at this point, there is plenty of talk around the league that Krejci is still getting better. Bruins fans see Krejci’s numerous no-shows in the playoffs, highlighted by his 3 point poo-poo playoff last year, as reason to send away Krejci for whatever star scorer that the Bruins can get back. In reality, when he does show up, Krejci could be the best player on the Bruins. In 2011, he led the team in scoring and goals as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Granted, he had one less point in that playoff then he had in four other playoff runs, but he was a huge part of the reason that team won the Stanley Cup.
Want to find someone who consistently no-shows a playoff? Take a look at Milan Lucic. I am one of the biggest Lucic defenders as he is the textbook definition of what a team is looking for in a “power-forward”. Just run down the checklist:
A big powerful body with enough skill and balance to know how to use it? (Yup)
A powerful shot that he can get off quickly and with a fair amount of accuracy? (He has that too)
A toughness and mean streak that allows him to work in the corner and win his position in front of the net? (Yes)
So what happens come playoff time? Nobody knows. There is talk that he is hurt and suffering from ailments, but ever hockey player is come April. In his favor, he is only 24 and if he puts it all together this season, this becomes a non-issue. The issue is that the Bruins inked Lucic to a three-year $18 million extension this off-season even though it was a perfect time for the Bruins to issue a “show-me” season to Lucic.
Despite the fact that Lucic has the better case for being on the hot-seat, the answer is David Krejci. The Boston Bruins have showed less faith in him and more in Lucic. I’m not going to sit here and say the Bruins are actively trading David Krejci, but it wouldn’t shock me in the next off-season if the right deal came-up and the Bruins pulled the trigger.
4.) Where will the Bruins finish in 2013?
What is exciting about the 2013 season is that in two weeks, hockey will be right in the heat of the playoff race. It’s scary too because one big injury and a good team could be screwed. In the Bruins favor, they return the same core that has been so good for them over the years. This team should win the Northeast Division, they are the best team in it. As the NHL playoffs show us every year, however, it is impossible to predict what happens when the weather gets warmer and so does the hockey. The Bruins are a team that should at least make it to the second round of the playoffs, but anything can happen and one poor match-up and every thing can change in a heart beat.