(Editor’s note- Dominic Tiano returns with his view on the B’s and the situation between the pipes. Enjoy!- KL)
It’s obvious, and General Manager Don Sweeney has stated as much, that one area of concern the Boston Bruins should look to address during the offseason is the goaltending situation. There is no questioning that Tuukka Rask is the de facto number one. Barring a major trade, that position is set in stone. Although it’s been said that the Bruins were in discussions at the 2015 draft in a possible Rask deal, there will be no such discussion this summer.
The real undertaking will come in the form of the back-up goaltender. The Bruins are in need of a player who could spell Rask of some 25-30 games next season and provide reasonable success, unlike the debacle that played out this season until Anton Khudobin found his stride very late into the campaign. If the Bruins are to make the playoffs comfortably and not wait until the last week of the season to qualify, then this is quite possibly the single biggest issue Sweeney and the front office need to address.
The Bruins signed Khudobin to a two year $2.4 million deal last summer believing he was the best option and to a lesser extent, meet expansion draft exposure requirements. To quote Rocky Balboa in Rocky VI, which applies to most of Khudobin’s season, “the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
No Bruins’ fan needs reminding how much the situation was affecting the Bruins’ playoff hopes. That is, until coach Claude Julien was replaced by Bruce “Butch” Cassidy. Once Sweeney pulled the plug on the Julien era and Cassidy grabbed the reins, Khudobin found his game and did his job better than most expected, doing his part to help propel the Bruins into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
You would have to come up with a pretty convincing argument to have anyone believe the Las Vegas Golden Knights will select Khudobin in the expansion draft, and even then, I’m not buying it, not with the likes of Jimmy Howard, James Reimer, Matt Murray, Cam Ward, and Semyon Varlamov (among others) currently available. Short of a trade then, Khudobin will likely be back. The question is, will it be Boston or Providence?
Along with Khudobin behind Rask are three youngsters: Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban and Daniel Vladar.
Vladar (pronounced VLA-dash) will require more seasoning and is destined for time in Providence. The 75th overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft has plenty of tools but is a project and the Bruins need to be patient with his development. His time will come, likely as an NHL backup and not a starter, but it won’t be the 2017-2018 season. In fact, he’s several seasons away.
Subban was the 24th overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and many, many fans have now written him off. I however, have not, as of yet. I know the fire that burns within him all too well. During the 2015-2016 season, he was well on his way until he took a puck to the throat and suffered a fractured larynx in February of 2016 and just seemed to never bounce back fully from the injury. The question that needs to be answered here is will he ever bounce back?
Subban is a restricted free agent and will be exposed to the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. However, if the Bruins do not extend him a qualifying offer prior to the expansion draft, and the Knights are unable to come to terms with him on a contract, he would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 – if they choose to select him. Justifying using one of their picks on a goaltender that could walk in a few days appears futile. On the other hand, if the Bruins do not qualify him and the Golden Knights do not select him, the Bruins could lose him to unrestricted free agency.
McIntyre is the guy who could (and will) give Khudobin a run for his money and possibly take the backup role. McIntyre had an unbelievable season in Providence and is following that up with an even better playoff run in which he stole the fifth and deciding game in the opening-round series against the Bruins’ nemesis Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins with his 50 save performance.
McIntyre was drafted 165th overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and like Vladar, was drafted with an eye to the future as a prospect, although with potential, that was going to need some major seasoning. Many believe McIntyre has surpassed Subban on the depth chart, and rightfully so. This is not a knock-on McIntyre, but he is 16 months older and has been playing the position longer.
Like Subban, McIntyre is a restricted free agent but he is also arbitration eligible. There is no doubt the Bruins will ink him to a new deal sooner rather than later. He’s knocking at the NHL door, all he has to do is step through it.
I will add this: with smaller goaltending equipment coming – and it is coming – my belief is Subban will be the least effected by the reduction in size – but that’s a debate for another day.
Should the Bruins decide McIntyre is not ready and feel they can not rely on Khudobin, the Bruins could look at the trade market, especially with teams looking to move a goalie because of the expansion draft. But it’s not a very likely scenario as the Bruins would then absorb the risk in losing that goaltender in the draft, unless they move yet another asset so that the Golden Knights don’t select him. It looks to be cost prohibitive.
They could also look at free agency after July 1. There is an impressive list of high priced unrestricted free agent goaltenders that are well out of the Bruins price range. There is also some average talent and then those looking at one year deals to “prove themselves”. The list includes
: Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Ondrej Pavelec, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Curtis McElhinney, Jhonas Enroth and more.
Whatever Sweeney decides, there is a risk of sorts for the Bruins. Should they decide to go with Khudobin or McIntyre and things are looking more like the 2016-2017 season, then finding a capable backup during the season will prove to not only be difficult, but costlier.
Should they bring in a capable backup, then they’ve created an even larger logjam in Providence with Khudobin joining the 3 youngsters. The Atlanta Gladiators, the Bruins ECHL affiliate, is an option for two of them, but it appears more likely that one of them would be dealt. The return would be minimal at best, and I for one am not ready to give up on the three youngsters. Sweeney could (we’ll discuss this in a future article) draft a goalie on day 2 of the NHL Draft, which will make parting with one an easier pill to swallow.
The problem facing Sweeney is that it is the offseason. There is no opportunity for anyone to make a case for themselves. So, whatever move, if any, he makes becomes a guessing game and one that won’t come into focus for another several months.
If only being an NHL GM were as easy as being an Armchair GM.