Insert smack my face emoji here.
When comparing Rask and Vasilevskiy’s contracts, we’re comparing apples and oranges. Rask is 33 years old; Vasilevskiy is just 25.
The Lightning are betting on their young goaltender continuing to thrive behind a highly skilled team, albeit one that may see its skill level diminished because of a salary-cap crunch. Currently the Lightning have around $6 million in cap space (all salary-related numbers here are credited to CapFriendly.com) with restricted free agent center Brayden Point still unsigned. Anthony Cirelli will be in the same position after this season. Good luck to the Lightning trying to keep their core together with the salary-cap ceiling expect to gradually increase again next year after the small bump to $81.5 million for this season.
What Vasilevskiy’s contract proves in relation to the Bruins is not that Rask is a bargain, but that the Bruins have been quicker to adjust to a NHL where two reliable goaltenders will inevitably prove to be better than one.
Rask has never been overpaid, considering he was coming off taking the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final when he signed his eight-year contract with a $7 million cap hit in 2013. At the time he became the second-highest paid goalie behind Pekka Rinne of Nashville. Montreal’s Carey Price was already making $6.5 million and four years later would sign on for $10.5 million per season. Cam Ward was making $6.3 million in Carolina, Ryan Miller was making $6.25 million from Buffalo and even Kari Lehtonen was charging a NHL salary cap $5.9 million. If you were Rask’s representatives, or you were the Bruins hoping to maintain the goaltending consistency that had eluded you for decades, how much would you have settled on for Rask’s next deal?
Of course, goaltending is a volatile business and Rask has had his ups and downs. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2014. He played through injuries and inexplicably was worn down by coach Claude Julien, who played Rask in 70 and then 64 games, respectively, his last two full seasons behind the bench. You may say for $7 million he should thrive regardless of the workload, but that’s not how the NHL works these days. Braden Holtby didn’t lead Washington to the Cup until his starts dropped from the low 60s to the low 50s for 2017-18. It’s a two-goaltender league.
The Bruins recognized this earlier than most teams, but struck out on their acquisitions. The parade of Niklas Svedberg, Chad Johnson and Jonas Gustavsson was hampered by each goalie’s inconsistency and failure to perform, as well as Julien’s lack of trust in them in the face of coaching for his job those last couple years he was with Boston, especially after the general manager change.
Jaroslav Halak arrived last season and the Bruins found a duo that could keep Rask fresh enough to get Boston back to the Cup final. Sure the Bruins are paying $9.75 million (12 percent) of their cap to goaltenders, but they can hardly be matched for the quality of their goaltending. Even if the cap goes up a couple million, the Lightning will be paying goalies at least 11.5 percent of their cap, with Curtis McElhinney (no one’s idea of a Halak substitute) backing up Vasilevskiy at $1.3 million.
The Canadiens are in a similar position, paying Keith Kincaid $1.75 million to back up Price and devoting 15 percent of their cap to goaltending. Ideally you’d like to have a set up like Dallas has, with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin combining for just $7.42 million, but the Stars got Bishop for $4.9 million when he was already 31. He still has four years left on that contract.
Now if Vasilevskiy defies the trend and starts 60 games a year and gets the Lightning three rounds deep (heck, they’d settle for winning one round after last year’s choke) every spring, the Lightning will look like geniuses. However, it’s unlikely that he’ll stay healthy enough and consistently perform at a high level to be able to justify his chunk of the Lightning’s salary cap. More than likely they’re going to want to shave down his appearances even as he gets into his late 20s to keep him playing his best. That's going to be more difficult in part because of his own lofty cap hit.
Now at least the Lightning aren’t the Florida Panthers, who decided to invest $10 million per season for seven years in 30-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky with Samuel Montembeault as a backup at less than $1 million. Wonder how many games Bobrovsky is really going to be able to handle per season in a Panthers sweater and still play like a $10 million goalie.
But the Lightning barely have bragging rights over their in-state rivals as they relate to an effective goaltending tandem. In that department the Bruins have both beat, albeit because of some wiser allocation of cap space, not because Rask is underpaid.
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