This was a great deal for the Bruins, but there was another trade with Toronto just a few years prior that will have a larger impact on the team's success now and into the future.
In 2006, Boston traded former Calder Trophy-winning goaltender Andrew Raycroft to the Leafs in exchange for a 19-year-old player named Tuukka Rask.
The Leafs continue to search for a legitimate No. 1 goaltender to this day, while the Bruins are set up to be contenders in the Eastern Conference for the next decade because of this trade.
Rask got his opportunity to shine as a starter in the NHL during the 2009-10 season when he led the Bruins to the second round of the playoffs after taking over the No. 1 job while veteran Tim Thomas was battling a hip injury.
The next season, Rask lost his job after the season opener as Thomas embarked on one of the greatest seasons ever by a goaltender that resulted in the team's first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years.
At the conclusion of last season, Thomas decided to take a year off from the NHL, which gave Rask another opportunity to become the team's starting goaltender.
Starting with an opening-day victory over the New York Rangers, Rask has silenced all of his critics by giving the Bruins a chance to win every night with his impressive performances on a consistent basis.
Rask has all the talent needed to be a successful starting goaltender for a very long time in the NHL. He has tremendous athleticism, a strong glove hand, great rebound control, solid technique, impressive size (6'3") and improving durability. One of the few things he does not do well is handle the puck, but that's a common problem for many netminders.
Another one of Rask's best qualities is his competitive fire, and he displays it on the ice every game. He plays with a lot of passion and he's not afraid to show his emotion after a good play, or after a terrible goal that he would want to have back.
Nobody on the Bruins came into this season under more pressure to succeed than Rask, who still hadn't won over some fans after a good-but-not-great 2011-12 season that included some injury problems.
To his credit, Rask has stayed healthy in 2013, and as the chart below shows, he hasn't failed to impress this season.
|Career (Prior to 2013)||GP||W/L/OT||SV%||GAA||SO|
One of the hallmarks of all championship teams is strong special teams, and even though the Bruins have a deep blue line and several good defensive forwards, a goaltender needs to raise his game when the team is killing penalties. Rask has done this every game for the Bruins, evidenced by the fact that Boston ranks No. 1 in penalty killing percentage (95.1).
"Your best penalty killer has to be your goalie," said Bruins forward Chris Kelly after Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders. "Tuukka’s [Rask] been outstanding for us, making those big saves when maybe there’s a breakdown..."
As of Wednesday, the Bruins are 12-2-2 and Rask has helped his team take at least a point from 11 of the 12 games he's started. Rask is also helping the Bruins become a dominant road team with a 6-0-1 record and a 1.57 GAA in seven starts away from TD Garden.
His performance in a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 6 might have been the best of his career.
Rask made a number of key saves in the first period to prevent the Canadiens from opening up a three or four-goal lead after 20 minutes. It was a performance that helped Bruins fans take a breath and realize that Rask is ready to take control of this team.
The next day, the Bruins traded Thomas to the New York Islanders in a move that officially made Rask the goalie of the present and future in Boston.
Right now, his only focus is on helping the Bruins get back to the Stanley Cup Final, which is a very realistic goal for this team. There's absolutely no question that his teammates believe in him.
Bruins winger Shawn Thornton, in an interview with Sean Leahy of Yahoo! Sports' Puck Daddy blog on February 7, said:
We've had confidence in him since that year he ended up starting for us (2009-10).
We knew that he could play then. We were not concerned with him taking over the role. I bust his chops all the time, 'I like backup Tuukka better; he's easier to deal with.' But he's the consummate teammate. The guys love him and love playing in front of him. I wouldn't say he's been a pleasant surprise, he's been a treat. I'm glad he's having success so far.
As for Rask's future beyond this season, he will be a restricted free agent in July if the Bruins do not sign him to an extension before the start of free agency. Don't expect the Bruins and Rask to get to that point, however, especially given Rask's importance to the future success of the franchise.
When teams find young goaltenders who have immense talent, potential and a prior history of success at the NHL level, they usually sign these players to long-term contracts and not let them hit the free-agent market.
"If you’re asking me will we do an extension on Tuukka during the season, I don’t comment on that stuff," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli on a conference call in early February. "But we’ve extended guys before during the season, I’ll leave that at that."
Chiarelli also said, "We will bring up talks with Tuukka at some point in this season, in hoping to extend him."
Boston is very fortunate to have a talented young goaltender to build its team around for another 10-plus seasons. Stability at the goaltender position is how teams stay competitive for a long time. just look at the New Jersey Devils' success with Martin Brodeur since 1993.
The Bruins are a team that has historically built championship squads from the back end with strong goaltending and a deep blue line. If Rask can stay healthy, the Bruins will have one of the league's best goaltenders anchoring the team's defense for a long time.
That's an exciting thought for hockey fans around New England who have waited a long time for a prolonged period of Bruins success.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has also covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season. All quotes obtained first hand or through the Bruins media website unless otherwise noted.