- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
- 0 Shares
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins have always been impressed with Tuukka Rask on and off the ice, so when it came time to decide whether to give him a long-term contract, his track record helped make it an easy choice for the organization.
"He really showed me patience, perseverance, hard work, work ethic and continued to get better as a goaltender," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said in a conference call Thursday, a day after the team announced it had re-signed the 26-year-old netminder to an eight-year deal worth $56 million. "He's turned into an elite goaltender. We saw that this past spring, and I really like what Tuukka has become as a person and as a goaltender, and as a result we felt we were ready to commit to him to a long-term contract and he was ready to commit to us.
"We're excited and he's still a young player, especially as a goaltender he's still quite young, but he's really starting to reach his prime and only better things will happen for him and the Bruins for years to come."
Since the Bruins acquired his rights via trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006, Rask had been tagged as the goalie of the future in Boston. He began his pro career with the Providence Bruins of the AHL and he always seemed to be in the shadow of fellow Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
Finally this past season, as the No. 1 goalie in Boston, Rask proved he could excel at the NHL level during the regular season and again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. For his efforts, the Bruins rewarded him.
"It's a huge honor to play for the Bruins, and I've had such a great time throughout my years with the Bruins and I'm looking forward to keep that going and hopefully bring the Cup back to Boston where it belongs," Rask said during the conference call.
With this deal, Rask becomes the highest-paid Bruins player and goalie in the NHL.
Rask says the dollar signs won't change him as a person or goalie because the end result of winning another Stanley Cup is more important.
"For me, it doesn't really matter if I'm making $4 million or $7 million or $10 million; you're still trying to be worth your money and try to prove yourself every night, so I don't really look at if I'm making more or less than the guy sitting next to me," Rask said.
"With that said, obviously people are going to expect great things from me, as I do for myself, too, [but] it doesn't really change my mindset or my game at all."
In June 2012, Rask and the Bruins agreed on a one-year deal. When Thomas decided to forgo the final year of his contract to spend more time with his family, Rask knew going into the 2012-2013 season he would be the No. 1 goalie for the Bruins. He had one season to prove his worth and that decision impressed the Bruins.
"I was impressed, obviously," Chiarelli said. "You heard him say about being patient and learning his craft with high expectations. He's been very consistent in his approach to his career and that's impressed me a lot. He's been very confident in what he sets out to do and he's accomplished it."
As Rask and the Bruins continued to play well en route to the Stanley Cup finals, Chiarelli was asked if it would be harder to sign the goaltender, especially after settling on a one-year deal a year earlier.
"I said, 'In fact, it's going to be easier.' I know that sounds weird but to see what he did when he said he was going to do it was impressive, and he's done that all the way along. He deserves this contract. He's a high-character kid and he's only going to get better."
Due to the condensed 48-game regular-season schedule, Rask played 36 games and posted a 19-10-5 record, along with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. The most he has played during a normal 82-game season is 45 games (2009-2010), and moving forward he can expect to log many more minutes between the pipes.
When Thomas was the No. 1, he routinely averaged 50-plus games a season, with 66 being the most during the 2006-2007 season. Rask is ready for that type of workload.
"It's going to be different in some ways," admitted Rask. "You play 48 games but it was still a tight schedule and it kind of feels like you played 82 games even when it's only 48. I don't think my approach changes at all. It's still the same game, same pressure and same expectations. I just want to be ready when the season starts and go from there."
Had the Bruins not mounted a historic come-from-behind win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins likely would have made significant changes to their team. Keeping Rask was already a priority, but would a first-round exit in the playoffs have affected Rask's deal?
"I don't deal in the what-ifs," Chiarelli said. "Obviously a lot of different things would've happened had we lost, so I can't answer that."
When the puck drops on the 2013-2014 training camp, it will be Rask's seventh in the Bruins organization.
"Looking back, it's been a lot of fun for sure, but it hasn't always been easy," Rask said. "I've been really passionate and have set higher, real high goals for myself. Coming in and having really good camps in the first two years and not making the team, and then going back to Providence. Being patient and learning my game in North America hasn't been easy, but then again I've had such great teams every single year I've played in Providence or in Boston and I've made a lot of friends. It's been a lot of fun, and as serious as it is in the NHL, it has to be fun and I've really been happy about being with this organization throughout these years. I've had great experiences, but then again it hasn't always been easy, but who says it should be?"
Since Claude Julien has been the coach in Boston, he has been blessed with solid goaltending. Now that Rask is locked up for the future, that won't change for the coach.
"I'm the coach that gets the gift. I'm happy to have him with us," Julien said.
Tuukka Rask's character and work ethic may be as impressive as his talent.