Putting his heart where his mouth is, Tuukka Rask on Tuesday eschewed the chance to pursue big money that he assuredly could have pocketed elsewhere and re-signed with the Bruins, agreeing to a $1 million contract that will pay him only a prorated $545,000 over the next few months.
The deal positioned Rask to suit up Wednesday night with the Canadiens in town, but general manager Don Sweeney confirmed late in the afternoon that Linus Ullmark will start against the Habs.
Rookie Jeremy Swayman, the odd man out in the 24-square-foot netminding equation, will be headed to AHL Providence while Rask and Ullmark mind the NHL store.
How Rask and Ullmark share the workload over the upcoming seven-game homestand, or for the remainder of the season, is unsure. Rask could start Thursday against Philadelphia, but COVID-19 concerns on the Flyers’ side could make that another postponement. Next up: the Predators here for a Saturday matinee. Et tu, Tuukka?
Either way, it’s almost Tuukka time again, exact date and time TBD. He’ll address the media Wednesday morning, prior to his first formal workout in Brighton.
What we do know is that Rask, 34, lived up to his recent word that it was team loyalty and a simple desire to play again, rather than money, money, and more money, that guided his decision to pick up his career where he left off — as the winningest goalie in franchise history.
During his Zoom session last Thursday, Rask said it was “never really in my head” to look anywhere other than Boston.
“It’s a business, like everyone knows,” noted Rask, who became a regular in net here in the 2009-10 season and evolved as one of the game’s dominant No. 1 goaltenders of his era. “But for us players, when it’s a team like the Bruins, a bunch of us growing up together … you don’t want to leave guys on bad terms.”
He is back, looking lean and fit (some things are a given), and playing without pain, his torn hip labrum surgically repaired over the summer. He is now four-plus months into daily training. Had he not intended to play again, Rask said, he wouldn’t have undergone surgery and he certainly wouldn’t have invested the sweat equity of training and on-ice workouts recent weeks.
“So, I wanted to come back and be helpful,” he added, “and maybe finish it up with a bunch of guys I played with my whole career.”
To do that, Rask will be playing basically for entry-level dough, in some cases banking less than 10 percent of that being earned by players on a roster that this season includes six teammates with a cap hit of $5 million or more. Rask last season earned $7 million, his final payout of an eight-year, $56 million pact, the richest for a goalie in team history.
By today’s standards, with money-grabbing central to every facet of the sports industry, with no nickel left in any seat cushion anywhere, it’s all but impossible to believe what Rask has done.
Keep in mind, he’s not reentering the picture as a guy expected to supply capable backup duty. Heck, even those guys in today’s NHL routinely sign for $2 million or $3 million a year, the rate typically scaled around how much the No. 1 guy is banking. Instead, Rask comes aboard as a bona fide No. 1, likely at least to divvy up the chores 50-50 with Ullmark, his fellow Scandinavian.
It’s entirely possible, in fact, that Rask renders Ullmark, he of 133 career games and zero playoff experience, his $5-million-a-year backup/understudy. That’s where we are, back to the future, with Rask banking less than when his rookie contract guaranteed a base of $850,000.
Rask came back for the play and not for the pay. He took one for the team — and barely anything for himself.
From this day forward, he is Cash Back Rask, the $7 million man who came back for a Stanley Cup run and maybe a few Bud Lights.
No longer can we laugh when an athlete muses he’d pay to play the game he loves. Rask has all but done that.
Even his detractors in the fan base, of whom there are many, will have to acknowledge at least the intent of his good deed.
Rask is clearly coming back because: A. He believes this is still a bunch of guys who can win the Cup and B. He thinks he betters the odds of that happening.
What’s not to like about that? Zero. Make that a Frank Brimsek, Mr. Zero.
But Rask detractors wouldn’t be won over if he had paid Sweeney $545,000 to return and also bought three luxury boxes to give away free each night, Celtics games, Lady Gaga concerts, and tractor pulls included,
The haters would be the ones still booing him, even if he were riding in Black and Gold Float No. 1 in a duck boat parade down Tremont Street this summer.
Yep. Death. Taxes. And beat on Tuukka, the guy with the league’s best save percentage (.921) and goals-against average (2.26), 2009-21, for goaltenders to log 500 games or more across those years.
Can we stop all that now? Please?
“He’s ready to go, from a health standpoint, and committed to our team,” said Sweeney, crediting Rask and agent Markus Lehto for getting the deal done. “Credit goes to them, and obviously the organization for providing the opportunity for him to continue his career.”
Astonished, as noted above, I asked Sweeney what he felt would motivate Rask in today’s age to accept the small payday.
“I think in some ways, sometimes Tuukka’s too honest, ya know?” he said. “He’s just a guy who wants to come back and play hockey. He committed to the rehab part of it, and the process, which is not an easy thing. He could have just faded off. He’s had a hell of a career … leads in wins. He has a lot of things on his résumé. But he wanted to play.”
Jan. 11, 2022 , the day I never thought I’d see — the day in Boston sports we learned it isn’t really always about the money.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.