One of the things in the past six years that the Boston Bruins have not had to worry about, is the quality of it's goaltending. In the last six years the Bruins have had 3 of the Vezina Trophies awarded. Two went to Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask won the 2014 Vezina Trophy. IMHO, Tuukka should have and probably could have won 2013's Vezina. That being moot, one goaltender in the NHL has been not only consistent, but has been far and away the best two year combined statistics of all goal tenders by a wide margin. That goalie is Tuukka Rask and no other team can with certainty, expect it's goaltenders to carry their team more than the Bruins can. Tuukka has made it easy for Bruins fans to accept the moving on of Tim Thomas and perhaps marvel at his ability to instill even more confidence that Timmy-T did during his stint as the Bruins number one net minder. Last year Tuukka had 58 appearances and a record of 36-15-6 and seven shutouts. His GAA was 2.04 and SV% .930. In 2013, Tuukka in 38 appearances was 19-10-5 with 5 shutouts and a GAA of 2.00 and SV% of .929. He also led the Bruins in 2013 to the Stanley Cup Finals where the whole team came up short as injuries finally took it's toll. Although the Bruins were eliminated in 2014 in the second round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadians, Tuukka had played well through five of the seven games. I felt the Bruins inability to score was more the reason that they lost to Montreal and not having Dennis Seidenberg available, rather than Tuukka's play. However I did feel that Tuukka might have played somewhat or slightly better had he and his girlfriend not given birth to their first child during this series. Being the father of three daughters myself, I feel that the week before and after the birth of a child can be exhausting and all consuming. Hopefully the Bruins and especially Tuukka have learned that it's probably best in these days of planned parenthood, not to have a new child expected during a playoff run in coming seasons.
So looking ahead to 2014-15 season, we have Tuukka Rask as our number one and this is perhaps the strength of the team. I give Tuukka a strong A as a report card grade. Getting back to the finals or winning the cup would have made him an A+. At 27, Tuukka is entering his prime years as a goaltender and is signed for another six years. I expect the consistency of the last two years to continue for the next 3-4 years and for him to be the goaltender to beat in consideration of the Vezina Trophy during that time. The only exception being that injuries could quickly change the current strength for the Bruins.
In the last two years and now again heading into the new season; the strength in goal has been balanced by the uncertainty of whom the back-up goaltender would be and how well they would perform and could they be relied on if Tuukka subcummed to injury. Last year, Chad Johnson was brought in to fill the back-up void and a lively pre-season competition with Niklas Svedberg ensued. Johnson was the mixed feeling winner to start the season and came in as fairly inexperienced stop gap. As Anton Khudobin did in 2013, Johnson performed exceptionally in 2013-14. He got off to a shaky start, but had come around by mid December and was able to spell Rask as needed often and with confidence from that point on. Johnson's totals were 27 appearances and a record of 17-4-3 with 2 shutouts. His GAA was 2.10 and SV% .925. I personally thought Johnson played well enough to earn being re-signed for two more years as a back-up to Rask. But, the Salary Cap crunch effected the Bruins ability to sign him as a luxury and the development of Niklas Svedberg down in providence provided the Bruins with a cheaper solution from within it's own prospect system. I wish Chad Johnson well as he has signed on with the Islanders, except when we play them during the new season. Chad earns a solid A for 2013-14.
Heading into this years camp, the Bruins have signed Niklas Svedberg to a one year, one way contract and I expect him to be this seasons back-up. At 26, he is perhaps overdue for arrival in the NHL and has put up two solid seasons in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. While I believe he is ready and a tremendous talent, I think he will be held back from earning a number one spot playing behind Rask. My objection to the Bruins decision here comes with the Salary Cap, as I feel he could be a number one goalie on perhaps as many as 10 NHL teams and might have provided the Bruins with a blue chip piece for a trade come the trade deadline in 2015 in March. By letting Johnson move on, we must take Svedberg off the trade board in case of injury to Rask and because Malcolm Subban is not ready or mature enough at this point to back up Rask and needs mentoring and plenty of minutes down in Providence to develop. As good as Svedberg is, Subban is the goalie of the future because of his age and Rask's performance and contract. This could lead to Svedberg moving on at the end of next season and the Bruins again starting next season with an unknown quality back-up behind Rask.
As a result of this the Bruins signed Jeremy Smith to a one year two way contract from the Nashville system as a depth goaltender. Smith is very much like and what Svedberg has been the last two years. A very talented goaltender stuck at a bad age behind two many quality prospects in Nashville. He signed with the Bruins with the hope that he shall have a fair chance to push and compete with Svedberg for the back-up job. Unless Svedberg goes flat or gets injured in pre-season, he will back-up Subban down in Providence and be available to move up in case Rask or Svedberg are injured during the season. This will allow Subban to stay in Providence to continue his development and maturing regardless of what happens on the Bruins.
Malcolm Subban is the Bruins future, featured goaltender and is 3-4 years away from coming up to the NHL and is the new heir apparent as Tuukka's contract will come to a close. Should Tuukka be Lindquist or Brodeur like over the course of the next six seasons and earn a next contract, Subban will take over gradually and take the team forward as he reaches his prime at 24-25 years of age. Right now before the season starts, the Bruins look strong and mighty in goal. But so did the Kings prior to last season and injuries to Jonathon Quick and 4 other goaltenders before the playoffs, almost kept the Kings from getting to the playoffs. The difference here is the Bruins seem more willing to seed for the future and it has played out well for them to this point. I hope it continues.
Next Time the Defense!