Chiarelli: 'Stage is set' for Rask to earn Bruins starting job

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Chiarelli: 'Stage is set' for Rask to earn Bruins starting job

WILMINGTON, Mass. It can be rare that a player and professional hockey organization are 100-percent on the same page when it comes to contract time, but thats where the Bruins and Tuukka Rask find themselves.

Rask has agreed in principle on a one-year deal with the Bruins worth 3.5 million that gives the 25-year-old goaltender his big chance to prove that hes a starting NHL goaltender capable of surpassing 50 games played while remaining healthy and productive.

Rask has never played more than 45 games in a year, and he tired noticeably at the tail end of the playoffs in 2009-10, so the one-year deal was pursued by both the player and the Bruins. But that season Rask also led the NHL with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, and has shown glimpses of what can do when handed the starting gig.

Bs general manager Peter Chiarelli said that longer-term deals were never really discussed, and instead Rask wants to prove he can be the man before he gets paid like the man.

Look, 3.5 million isnt exactly chump change, but weve all seen the goaltending carousel of contracts thats been going on lately, said Chiarelli. He wants to prove that hes the No. 1 goalie for the Bruins for a long time. This was the easiest way to set the stage for that.

Hes been a really good goalie for us, but for one year he hasnt been the No. 1 goalie. The stage is set for him and well see where it takes us.

Instead Rask will prove to himself and the Bruins that his conditioning and health can stay intact with a full starters workload at the NHL level, and Chiarelli said that its the Bruins intention to extend Rask further when theyre allowed to on January 1. Theres always the Rask risk on a one-year deal that the CBA climate while change and he could go from RFA to UFA when the one-year deal expires after next season.

But Chiarelli said hes operating under a philosophy of keeping a Stanley Cup-winning team together rather than anticipating whats coming down the pipe when the next labor deal is settled. That also comes into play given the notion that Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Rask are all up for contracts after the 2012-13 season.

But the Bruins GM made no bones about his No. 1 priority with the Bruins: keeping his hockey club intact.

I think its a risk both sides are willing to take. In an ideal world this is a deal that we look to extend come January, said Chiarelli. There are seven or eight players up for contracts every year and I think thats a healthy cycle to go through. Believe it or not, Im trying to be cautious and Im trying to keep the team together.

I dont mind having a cluster of players that we need to make decisions on. We have a bunch of RFAs and well deal with them appropriately. It will be nice to see how the new CBA will work, and well know before we sign the restricted free agents.

The Bruins will officially announce the Rask signing on July 1, and Rask should officially be made available to describe his burning desire to prove he can be the man behind the mask in Boston.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.