WILMINGTON — Ever since Tuukka Rask touched down in North America in 2007, his employers have preached patience. They didn’t want to rush the young hotshot, not with Tim Thomas in the mix.
Now, with Thomas out of the picture, the Bruins don’t need to be patient with Rask. On Sunday, when Rask officially signs his one-year, $3.5 million contract extension, he will be the No. 1 puck-stopper.
“He wants to prove that he’s the No. 1 goalie for the Bruins for a long time,” general manager Peter Chiarelli said Friday. “This was the easiest way to set the stage for that. Tuukka’s been a really good goalie for us. But for one year, he hasn’t been the No. 1 goalie. The stage is set. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Other goalies with No. 1 pedigree and performance have recently agreed to multiyear contracts. Jonathan Quick, the Avon Old Farms graduate with the Conn Smythe Trophy to his name, will sign a 10-year, $58 million blockbuster with the Kings Sunday. Marblehead’s Cory Schneider, who has been Roberto Luongo’s backup in Vancouver much like Rask has been Thomas’s No. 2, will sign a three-year, $12 million extension.
Provided Rask plays like he and the Bruins expect, that long-term deal won’t be far in the future.
“In an ideal world, this is a contract we’ll look to extend come January,” said Chiarelli.
Rask’s heaviest workload took place in 2009-10, when he replaced Thomas as the starting goalie. During the regular season, Rask was 22-12-5 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. While Rask was solid against Buffalo in the opening round of the playoffs, he suffered physical and mental fatigue during the second round against Philadelphia.
As a 25-year-old with five seasons of pro experience, Rask should be better equipped to handle the workload expected of a No. 1. He is coming off a lower abdomen/groin strain. Two summers ago, Rask required arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
“There’s a lot of banging and crashing,” Chiarelli said of the nature of the position. “You play a large number of games. I think we’ve shown that we can manage the games for our goaltenders. We’ll continue to do that. But as you approach the postseason, you have to be relatively fresh and you have to be relatively strong. You get bounced around in the crease all year and you play a large number of games, you’ve got to have a strong mental and physical makeup. It’s a grind. The pounding can be hard, too. I saw some fatigue in his game a few years ago in the playoffs. I think Tuukka would admit that. That’s experience, conditioning, and maturing.”
Had Rask remained unsigned past Sunday, he could have been subject to an offer sheet from any team. Chiarelli said he would have matched any offer. However, Chiarelli did not receive any hints that an offer sheet was looming.
“I don’t have any reasons to think he’s not going to emerge as the No. 1 for years to come,” Chiarelli said. “I don’t really have any concerns.’’
Khokhlachev to KHL
Alexander Khokhlachev has agreed in principle to a three-year, entry-level contract. He will officially sign Sunday. The skilled winger, the team’s second-round pick in 2011, will report to training camp this fall.
After that, however, Khokhlachev will depart for Spartak of the Kontinental Hockey League, where he will play in 2012-13. Igor Khokhlachev, the forward’s father, is Spartak’s GM.
Had he planned to remain in North America, Khokhlachev would have returned to Windsor, his OHL team for the last two seasons. The 18-year-old is a long shot to make the Bruins in 2012-13.
“What we decided with Koko was that it’s a unique set of circumstances with his dad being the manager there,” Chiarelli said. “It’s saying, ‘Look, it’s one year, then back to North America.’ He felt it was right for him. At the end of the day, we went along with him on this, so we’re going to support him.’’
Khokhlachev’s NHL contract will not kick in until he plays for Boston or Providence. However, the Bruins run the risk of Khokhlachev changing his mind and remaining in the KHL beyond 2012-13.
Khokhlachev is not participating in contact during the team’s development camp. He continues to recover from a lacerated kidney he suffered last season.