Tuukka Rask's Vezina Victory Should Hone His Appetite for More Hardware

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Tuukka Rask's Vezina Victory Should Hone His Appetite for More Hardware
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

By securing the 2014 Vezina Trophy, Tuukka Rask has penned one checkmark in meeting the Boston Bruins’ modern goaltending precedent.

Between himself and former colleague Tim Thomas, the franchise has three NHL netminder laurels in the last six years.

Naturally, there is another hunk of hardware Rask needs if he is to achieve universal parallels to Thomas. While the 27-year-old Finn does own a Stanley Cup ring from 2011, it came on the heels of watching every minute of the playoffs from the bench.

As the moths multiply on that banner, the Bruins face a 2014-15 outlook with as yet low visibility. Salary cap constraints could complicate the construction of their roster as they have $3,770,357 with which to fill roughly five spots, per CapGeek.

Regardless of what moves they manage within the limits, the Bruins will be hard-pressed to meet their desired quality. As multiple pundits have speculated, seasoned defenseman Johnny Boychuk could constitute at least one sacrifice from the payroll.

Homegrown youth and cost-effective imports figure to plug most of the voids. Any decrease in experience and/or proven quality on defense means the team will collectively need to do more with less.

That entails elevating the importance of Boston’s incumbent stars, particularly their highest-paid employee who works in the cage. Rask needs to be as sharp in 2014-15 as he was in 2013-14, if not sharper.

There is no cause to assume he cannot be. While he eclipsed all 3,000-minute goaltenders with a 2.04 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, he was no lock for this year’s Vezina.

Consider fellow finalist Semyon Varlamov, who led the league with 41 wins and faced generally more potent strike forces in the Western Conference. Add the fact that Rask’s teammate, Patrice Bergeron, snagged his second Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward Tuesday night.

The only Boston-based nominee who fell short of a defensive accolade was aging blueliner Zdeno Chara. In what could be his last crack at the Norris Trophy, the 37-year-old captain placed a distant second behind Duncan Keith.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The very top of Boston’s blue-line brigade is getting old while another half of it is still considerably young.

Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller all made strides this past year. But they will enter 2014-15 with no more than 125 regular-season and playoff games of NHL experience apiece.

That is where Rask will need to come in for roughly 75 percent of the regular season and all of the postseason.

Chara is going to wear down at times while the youth will continue to brook its share of growing pains. Those who supplement the defense (Dennis Seidenberg, etc.) will show their share of human error at times as well.

The masked man is equally human and will thus brook a few blemishes on his 2014-15 game log like he did in 2013-14. That notwithstanding, Rask has no excuses to retract from the realm of reliability he has reached.

With his age and resume, he is at an ideal medium between Chara’s past-peak status and other defensemen’s modicum of ripeness. Furthermore, his latest season and a few preceding developments verify that he is not prone to complacency.

As quoted by The Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin, Rask, himself, offered the following assessment of his 2013-14 season prior to Tuesday’s ceremony:

There’s more work. I think the goals against necessarily didn’t go down that much but I think the shots against probably went up, the chances against went up. In that case, yeah, it’s harder, but I’m always prepared for the worst because I’m a goalie. I don’t really see it as if it’s hard or not because I always expect it to be hard.

He has had and will continue to have no other choice. That comes with the compensation and coronation he has garnered.

Rask entered the 2013-14 campaign with a new eight-year, $56 million contract for a $7 million cap hit. He came off a short summer and a draining five-month run of 58 appearances in the regular season and four playoff rounds.

Besides it being his first full-length season as a clear-cut NHL starter, he had international obligations in between. While scraping Boston’s blue paint 58 times in the 2013-14 regular season, he ventured overseas to represent Finland at the Olympics.

None of that taxed him enough to mar his overall performance. None of that was enough to trap him in a protracted slump. None of that barred him from burgeoning into a 2014 Vezina finalist, let alone winner.

Rask was neither too tired nor too comfortable with his job security or compensation. In turn, he need not be inclined to let his status as the new Vezina holder go to his head.

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

If anything, the fact that the Bruins sputtered with a second-round Game 7 loss to Montreal should reignite Rask on multiple fronts. He will enter the next season with an extra month-plus of rest and a share of a team-wide thirst for reconstruction.

His share of that craving ought to hold more volume than that of other core cast members.

As Matt Kalman of CBS Boston opined Tuesday night:

It has to irk Rask more than anyone that he’s now missing the most important trophy in the entire sport from his resume…The majority of current Bruins players have proven their championship caliber. Rask is in the minority among his teammates.

Depending on who remains with the team, Boston could have as many as 11 holdovers from 2011 by the 2015 playoffs. Those still under contract are Bergeron, Boychuk, Gregory Campbell, Chara, Chris Kelly, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille and Seidenberg.

They all saw substantial action, supporting and supplementing Thomas as he corralled the Conn Smythe and they collected the Cup.

Given that the Bruins are going on four years since reaching that summit, a roster of virtually half holdovers may not be the ideal arrangement.

In his unique position, even if it does not translate to a title in the coming year, Rask can influence necessary change.

To be sure, a smattering of proven winners is an indispensable commodity, especially for a franchise with relatively recent glory. But that importance is going to gradually give way to a need for fresher and hungrier specimens of talent.

Appropriately enough, by supplanting Thomas, Rask has helped that transition begin from the goal outward. Provided he avoids a downturn in his own game, he should be rewarded in one of two scenarios.

The first, and less likely, scenario is immediate gratification in the form of a return to the Conference, let alone Stanley Cup final a la 2013. The second would involve general manager Peter Chiarelli seeing a clearer need to shake up the depth chart.

Rask can be better and more impactful, particularly in the postseason. But with the 2014 Vezina in his possession, he has a tangible testament to how his club leans on him.

Not that he needed that. But it does make a harmless one-two punch with the contract Chiarelli bestowed upon him 12 months ago.

Between the accolades, the lessons, the pact and the shortage of springtime fulfillment, Boston’s last line of defense should have a healthy balance of assurance and aspiration in hand.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com.

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