I feel like I’ve written this lede roughly a thousand times, but here it goes again: When Don Sweeney took over as Bruins GM, he didn’t reinvent the salary cap. He got rid of some good players, which is essentially the only thing a GM can do when trying to create cap relief.
At least immediately, losing Dougie Hamilton, Milan Lucic and, to a degree, Reilly Smith, did not not make the Bruins better. The goal is to have as many good players as you can afford.
Which somehow [and I’d use the F-word here if I could] brings us to Tuukka Rask, the most polarizing
athlete person in Boston world history.
On one hand, you have people saying he makes more money than he’s worth. On the other hand, you have people saying he makes more money than he’s worth. It’s what else the respective sides say that divides them into camps of rational and foolish.
The foolish side: They’re not contenders with him, therefore they’re not contenders because of him.
The rational side: While not blameless, he has seen his numbers decrease as the roster in front of him has. You don’t want to keep getting rid of good players [there's a "horses vs. ponies" thing that people like to reference]. A young defense might want to have a good goaltender.
First, the degree to which he’s overpaid: It’s up to $1 million. As previously noted, he was one of 14 goalies with a cap hit between $5.5 million and $7.5 million this season. In a season far from his best, Rask ranked eighth in save percentage among them. So is $7 million a high cap hit? Yes. Is it problematic for a team that is seemingly interested in getting good goaltending? No.
Then there’s the question of how the Bruins could replace him if they dealt the 2014 Vezina winner. Presumably, they would be getting something in exchange for the player, which would cost cap space. From there, they would likely have to turn to free agency, which would give them options like Ben Bishop, Scott Darling, Jonathan Bernier or Brian Elliott.
Bishop and Elliott were both worse than Rask last season -- which, again, we’ve all noted was a down year for him -- and Bernier, who has been worse throughout their careers, had similar numbers in 38 games to Rask's 65. Darling has had a higher save percentage (.919 to .915) than Rask over the past two seasons while playing less than half the games as Rask and doing so behind a vastly superior defense.
Because the Bruins did not advance to the second round of the playoffs, my always-entertaining co-worker Mike Felger suggested Tuesday that the Bruins should replace Rask with another goalie who would not singlehandedly be able to make up for for injuries to three of the team’s top four defensemen.
“Why pay someone seven when you can pay someone three to do the exact same thing?” Felger asked on Early Edition.
Well that’s dumb. It’s a results-oriented business, but stealing two games while keeping the other ones close is not the same as getting swept. The team would be better with him than with a $3 million guy they’d sign.
Also, if “did you win a playoff round” is the barometer of a good goaltender, what the hell will the Canadiens do with Carey Price? Is Cory Schneider bad? The Devils didn’t even make the playoffs.
Speaking of making up for the back end, the Bruins have encouraging pieces on defense. They’re also not paying much money there as they transition. The Bruins are one of just seven teams that only has one defenseman making more than $4 million against the cap next season, and Boston’s highest-paid defender (Torey Krug) only commands $5.25 million.
Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are on entry-level deals. Zdeno Chara has a very team-friendly $4 million cap hit. The Bruins don’t need to spend a lot on this defense as its young players grow; paying a little extra to make sure those guys are in a more stable situation with regard to their goaltender is certainly a manageable endeavor.
This isn’t to say that Rask shouldn’t be criticized. Go for it. Yet, it’s perplexing as to why one of the team’s good players is identified as a problem when there are far greater ones on the roster.
The Bruins have a number of other players -- David Backes, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes among them -- who also make at least $1 million more than they probably should, and Rask is better at his job than they are at theirs.
That’s the logical way to look at it, anyway. The Rask talk won’t stop. It might not get smarter, but it definitely won’t stop.