Tuukka Rask has been brilliant in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, helping to lead the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup Second Round after defeating the Washington Capitals in five games in the first round.
Yet, the 34-year-old goalie’s future with the only team he has played for in his NHL career is shrouded in a bit of mystery. Rask will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, with the eight-year, $56 million contract (average annual value $7 million) he signed on July 10, 2013, coming to an end.
“Both Tuukka and our camp, we said we’d table everything until after the season to see how things go,” Bruins president Cam Neely said Tuesday, “and get a better sense after the season’s over for how Tuukka’s feeling both mentally and physically and go from there.”
Rask has been noncommittal about his future in Boston and in the NHL.
“I haven’t really thought of that,” Rask said after Game 1. “I just try to go game by game, series by series and then see what the future brings after that. Obviously there’s going to be some decisions to be made. But we’ll do that when the time is right. Right now I’m not thinking that, I’m just thinking game by game and series by series.”
Rask allowed 10 goals on 169 shots for a 1.81 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in the five games against the Capitals. It was a continuation of the way he has played throughout his NHL career in the playoffs, with a 55-43 record, 2.18 GAA, .927 save percentage and seven shutouts in 98 postseason games, including taking the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019. (He also won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011 as the backup goalie but did not play.)
The Bruins will play either the New York Islanders or Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round; The Islanders lead the best-of-7 first round 3-2; Game 6 is Wednesday (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, MSG+, ATTSN-PT).
Last season, Rask opted out of the playoffs, a decision announced on Aug. 16, 2020, less than two hours before the Bruins opened the Eastern Conference First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes, because of a family emergency with one of his daughters.
Asked if he felt physically ready to play beyond this season, Rask said, “I’m not going to answer that right now. I’ll talk to you after the season. You’ll find out.”
The Bruins goaltending picture has gotten simpler and more complicated with the emergence of rookie Jeremy Swayman, who arrived in the NHL ahead of schedule when backup goalie Jaroslav Halak contracted COVID-19 in April with Rask out becuase of an upper-body injury.
Swayman played in 10 games down the stretch in the regular season, going 7-3-0 with a 1.50 GAA, .945 save percentage and two shutouts, and the 22-year-old was named the backup for the playoffs ahead of Halak.
“The way he’s played has given us some thoughts of what direction we may go in compared to where we were maybe two months ago,” Neely said of Swayman on May 12.
And that could impact Rask’s future. It almost certainly will affect Boston’s interest in re-signing Halak, who also becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Rask had an injury-marred 2020-21. He played one period (on March 25) between when he was injured in a game against the New Jersey Devils on March 7 and when he fully returned on April 15. He was 7-1-0 with a 2.07 GAA, .923 save percentage and two shutouts in his last nine starts and finished the regular season 15-5-2 with a 2.28 GAA, .913 save percentage and two shutouts.
That success has continued into the playoffs.
“I think he’s been extremely dialed in this past series,” Neely said. “I thought he played really well. He was very poised. He was very square to the puck in my opinion. I thought he handled rebounds really well and he got out and played some pucks, which certainly helps the defensemen.”
Neely said he had not spoken to Rask about his desire to play in the NHL and for the Bruins beyond this season.
Discussing Rask and center David Krejci, also a pending unrestricted free agent, Neely said, “My guess is that they would (continue to play with Boston). I think they both would probably like to finish their careers as Boston Bruins. So let’s see what happens this offseason. There’s something to be said for playing for one organization, and right now that’s what it’s looking like for both Tuukka and David.”
Rask is atop the Bruins’ all-time list in multiple categories, including playoff wins (55), passing Gerry Cheevers (53) during the first round. He leads Boston with 306 regular-season wins, 54 ahead of second-place Tiny Thompson (252) and has 52 shutouts, second to Thompson’s 74.
“We’ll have to see how we can make things work,” Neely said. “Plus again, we want to get through this season, see how things play out and we’ll go from there. The way that Tuukka has played throughout his career here has been pretty impressive. Now he’s the leader in not only regular-season wins but playoff wins.”