MIDDLETON — It was not an easy season to be Tuukka Rask. He played 70 games last year, a consequence both of the Bruins’ inability to rely on backup Niklas Svedberg and their desperation to win games.
Rask played behind a defense that was far from the best the Bruins have thrown on the ice. The question is: Will next season be any better?
There remain concerns about a defense that lost Dougie Hamilton — the team’s second-best blue liner last season. There remain concerns about a backup goaltender who will be chosen from a group of Zane McIntyre, Malcolm Subban, and Jeremy Smith.
But at least on Monday, at former teammate Shawn Thornton’s Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament, Rask didn’t appear stressed about the future.
“I’m sure things are going to sort out,” Rask said. “There’s good young guys wanting to battle for a spot on the roster and whatever, whoever it’s going to be, I’m sure is going to be very capable of playing games. We’ll see how it plays out, but I’m sure there’s no reason to worry.”
Or is there?
Rask played 70 of 82 regular-season games last season, the most for a Bruins goalie since 1963-64, when Eddie Johnston played all 70 games. Rask finished 34-21-13 with a 2.30 goals-against average, and a .922 save percentage.
At the end of the season, Rask acknowledged that the workload and the mental strain had worn on him. When asked then if it had been too much, Rask said, “I don’t think the amount of games, but when you’re struggling with your team game and you know that you have to be on top of your game every night and you play 70 of those games, it’s tough. It’s too much for anybody because it’s like a playoff game every night out there.”
The goaltender said Monday it took no longer for him to recover from the season than it had in any other year, using the words “mentally draining.”
Asked if there was a limit for him in terms of games, Rask said, “No, not really. I don’t think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are, how many games you play in a row, stuff like that.’’
“Last year happened to be 70. If it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be like that again. We’ll play it by ear.”
Even without Hamilton, new general manager Don Sweeney has been vocal about the fact that there will be defensive changes. He has talked about the need for the defensemen to be more active, a factor that might put more strain on Rask.
“Obviously the league and the game is changing and there’s always trends and I guess you’re trying to go with it and then set your own standards, too,” Rask said. “That was something we felt like we need to improve on, and when it comes to goaltending, I might have to play the puck a little more, move the puck up ice and stuff like that.
“But I mean, my job never changes. I just try to stop the puck and stay out of the tactical stuff more than that. But it’ll be interesting to see because obviously it’s going to be different.”
Rask, 28, has watched the Bruins go through many changes this offseason. He can understand why the Bruins might be viewed differently this year.
“I think we’ve been through so many different scenarios these past years that people put us up on a pedestal and pick us as the favorites, and then maybe now it’s not necessarily the case,” Rask said.
“We know where we stand, and when we talk as a team and we practice and play as a team, we just try to focus on our own thing and not try to worry about what people on the outside say.
“I think our approach has always been that we’re doing our thing and we’ll do it as good as we can and see where it leads us.”
Man of mystery
There is still a significant amount of confusion regarding Hamilton’s decision to force a trade, with the Bruins shipping him to Calgary at the draft. And that confusion doesn’t just apply to the media and fans — it applies to his former teammates, as well.
Hamilton has declined to discuss anything related to his negotiations with the Bruins, but Sweeney has said that he didn’t believe that Hamilton would be comfortable signing long-term in Boston.
“Obviously I was surprised,” Rask said. “I think everybody was surprised. There’s always the truth somewhere. I haven’t heard what happened, but if he felt like he had to move on, he had to move on.”
Asked if he had gotten any sense that Hamilton was uncomfortable in Boston, Rask said, “No, no, no. I thought he felt comfortable with everybody. But I guess what you feel deep inside is a different thing.”
Rask wasn’t the only one who didn’t see the situation coming.
“Listen, I’m a little surprised,” said Thornton, who played seven seasons in Boston before signing with the Florida Panthers last summer. “I love Boston, obviously. For somebody to want to get out of it, I don’t get it, especially in the first few years.
“But I mean, it’s his world. He had decisions to make and that’s the one he made. Hey, hopefully he’s happy in Calgary.”
The drafting of 18-year-old Jake DeBrusk by the Bruins is making some people feel their years. Not only did Claude Julien coach DeBrusk’s father, Louie DeBrusk, in 2001-02 in the AHL, but Thornton roomed with Louie in the AHL . . . Thornton said he was happy with the turnout for his golf tournament, even a year removed from his tenure with the Bruins. Rask, Torey Krug, and Jimmy Hayes attended, along with Hayes’s brother Kevin. Bobby Orr also was in attendance.