Shortly after Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask shocked the hockey world by announcing he was leaving the NHL bubble and the playoffs to be with his family, GM Don Sweeney pointed out that the team was not taken by surprise by the decision and that there was not a specific matter to which Rask had to attend. Rask simply missed his family and that had been having an effect on his mental state.
And at this time of year, you can’t even have a fourth-liner, forget about a No. 1 goaltender, whose mind and heart are somewhere else. So good on Rask for being honest with his employer and choosing to be with his family, which consists of two young girls and a newborn daughter, Livia, who is three months old. “Fortunately, his family is safe and healthy,” Sweeney said. “But with a newborn and two other young girls, it’s been challenging, and for Tuukka as well. They’re going to have their Dad back to be around on a regular basis is exactly what Tuukka needs at this point in time.”
So a Vezina Trophy finalist has clearly put his family ahead of his organization and its bid to win the Stanley Cup after being the best team in the regular season. Most people will applaud that move, while some will have a difficult time understanding that. Even though players technically aren’t paid during the playoffs, the Bruins are paying Rask $7 million a year to backstop them in the playoffs, too. And this playoff season, Rask basically gave them two meaningful games. Rask could have opted out of the playoffs before they even began, but chose to give it a try. That’s commendable of him, but leaving in the middle of a playoff series is not ideal for the Bruins, who will now pivot to Jaroslav Halak in the No. 1 role, with either Daniel Vladar or Maxime Legace serving as the backup. (It should also be noted that there are provisions for families to come into the bubble once the conference finals begin in Edmonton.)
And while the NHL did set a deadline for players to opt out of these playoffs after a memorandum of understanding was reached between the league and the NHL Players’ Association on return-to-play protocols and an extended collective bargaining agreement, it’s believed that there is an agreement that allows players to opt out at any time, provided he has the permission of his team, which Rask clearly has. “We understand completely where Tuukka is coming from,” Sweeney said. “We’re privy to information before the rest of the public is and this has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”
As Sweeney said, the Bruins weren’t terribly surprised by Rask’s decision, so you know there had to be talks ongoing since the Bruins entered the bubble in Toronto. And it was pretty clear Rask wasn’t fully dialed in after the Bruins’ Game 2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes when he talked about the atmosphere during the games. “To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there when there’s no fans,” he said after allowing three goals on 26 shots. “So it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game.”
This will undoubtedly be a polarizing issue, at least with Bruins fans. But in the end, you have to ask yourself this question. Would you rather have a Vezina Trophy candidate, one of the best goalies in the league, in your net at the most crucial time of the year when his head is clearly not focussed on the task at hand, or would you rather go with his veteran backup, who has experience in the playoffs and has proved he can go long stretches of time as a quality starter? It’s an easy decision. If Rask could not or did not want to be away from his family, the Bruins had no other choice but to allow him to leave. It’s up to them to now put it behind them, not use it as an excuse and try to win a Stanley Cup with players who are fully dialled into the effort.
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