Let’s be honest. It wouldn’t be a hockey season in New England without the constant “Tuukka Rask Sucks” hit pieces. I think this is due to a few different factors. For one, Boston, and, by extension, the New England region, is a spoiled sports fanbase. The Patriots have been the most successful NFL franchise in the history of the league. The Celtics have long been the envy of the NBA. And after the Curse of the Bambino was struck in 2004, the Red Sox have found their way to three World Series titles, and are gunning for a fourth this October. Mixed into all of that craziness is the Bruins, who had a run in the early 1970s, made the finals twice in 3 years at the end of the Oilers/Islanders decade of dominance, and added another Stanley Cup in 2011. But there has been plenty of futility mixed in.
The other reasons stem from this initial one. When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, they did so with a historically atrocious powerplay and dominated teams with a combination of intimidating the opposition into submission and one of the greatest displays of goaltending in the history of the National Hockey League from Tim Thomas. So this new-fangled, high-octane offense is troubling to some in the area. It is why there is an uproar when a below-replacement-level, bruising depth defenseman making far too much money is traded.
It’s why there is a constant need to call players “soft.” We see it with David Krejci, who hadn’t actually missed a considerable amount of time in his career due to injury until last year, and who has missed less time than Patrice Bergeron in his career, or David Backes, who has struggled to stay healthy in his Boston tenure. But Bergeron is a god amongst men (deservedly so), and Backes is given praise for his play because he hits hard and is willing to drop the gloves. I will skip the innate yet subtle xenophobic undertones that are present in this scenario. But Rask is not Tim Thomas.
Might I remind everyone that while no goaltender is perfect, Tim Thomas did not have the superstar career we like to think he did in Boston? He LOST his starting job to Rask the year after the Cup victory, and his “throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks” style of goaltending led to plenty of unnecessary and bone-crushing goals. He also literally quit the team, forcing them to trade him away for pennies on the dollar. Rask has already lead the team to a President’s Trophy (Thomas never did that) and a Cup Final.
Speaking of that Cup Final, that is the other issue people have with Tuukka. “He can’t win the big games” is the favorite line of anyone trying to explain away his regular season success. But the breakdown in the final minute and a half in 2013 was not on Tuukka. A complete defensive implosion isn’t something that a goaltender can possibly be responsible for. Yet they like to berate him whenever they get the chance to.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Tuukka is not the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey. He has his moments of terror-inducing screw-ups. So does every goaltender. The facts don’t lie though. Rask has been a Top 5 goaltender in the league in the past half-decade. He has seen a slow decline over that timeframe, but it seems tied to the fact that he has been asked to start upwards of 65 games in recent years. That will wear down most goaltenders. So having a guy in Jaroslav Halak to eat 20-25 starts effectively and keep Rask fresh for the postseason is a positive. But that does not mean that Jaroslav Halak is better than Tuukka Rask. So, let’s take a deep breath, and calm the heck down. Please. Thank you.