WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins' evolving goaltender situation took its next step forward Friday.
A month after it was revealed that two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas was planning on sitting out the 2012-13 season, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli moved to lock up Thomas' heir apparent before the start of free agency.
The Bruins and Tuukka Rask, who was scheduled to be a restricted free agent July 1, agreed to a deal in principle for one year at $3.5 million. Because of reasons pertaining to the collective bargaining agreement, the deal cannot be filed officially until Sunday.
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Ever since he was acquired in a draft-night trade with Toronto in 2006, Rask has been groomed for what now seemingly is his to lose -- the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender position.
"It's a testament to Tuukka that he's willing to do this for one year," Chiarelli said while his organization's prospects skated during development camp at Ristuccia Arena. "He's a calm, poised goaltender, who you see little bits of the fiery temper here and there, and I don't mind that. But generally speaking he's a goalie who's composed, technically very good and athletic at the same time -- and I don't have any reasons to think that he's not going to emerge as the No. 1 for years to come. I don't really have any concerns about it."
The Bruins have been patient with Rask throughout the goaltender's development. Rask, now 25, came to North America from his native Finland for the 2007-08 season. After two seasons as the starting goaltender with Providence of the American Hockey League, Rask began to challenge Thomas, who had won his first Vezina in 2008-09.
By the end of 2009-10, Rask was the Bruins' go-to netminder because of his performance and an injury that was slowing down Thomas. Rask led the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage and was outshined among rookie goaltenders only by Detroit's Jimmy Howard in terms of postseason accolades.
Unfortunately, Rask's rookie season ended with a historic collapse in the second round of the playoffs. Boston squandered a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia and failed to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Chiarelli acknowledged Friday there was a little fatigue in Rask's game (he posted a 2.61 GAA and .912 save percentage in the postseason). The GM believes the experience and maturation of the last couple of seasons should help Rask avoid a similar fate in the future.
Thomas' assault on the record books during the regular season preceding the Bruins' run to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship relegated Rask to backup status. While struggling to adjust to his limited role, Rask posted just a 2.67 GAA and .918 save percentage in 29 games.
Last season, Rask again started to show the form that made him a first-round pick by Toronto in 2005. In 23 games, Rask posted an 11-8-3 record with a 2.05 GAA and .929 save percentage. Rask might've challenged Thomas for playing time down the stretch and into the postseason, but he didn't play again after suffering a serious abdominal and groin injury March 3.
Durability is one of several things Rask will now have to show over the course of the season's grind.
Tuukka Rask - 2011-12 season
Goalie - BOS
GAA: 2.05 | SVP: 0.929
"Obviously his performance, his durability -- I've seen snippets of it," Chiarelli said. "We saw it for a large portion of [2009-10]. He's coming back earlier to train. I guess the proof is in the pudding at the end of the day, but $3.5 million isn't chump change. He's shown to me that he's ready to take that next step."
The Bruins now have retained most of their potential free agents, including would-be unrestricted free agents Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, since the end of the season. During the regular season, Chiarelli re-signed David Krejci, Rich Peverley, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton. Even in the face of an uncertain future in terms of the CBA, Chiarelli is anteing up in order to bring back most of a team that won a title in 2011 but lost in the first round of the playoffs this past spring.
That leaves little room for a big splash when the free-agent market opens Sunday.
"My gut is telling me that we'll be quiet," Chiarelli said. "Now if you look as to how we've built the team over the years, but for my first year [when the Bruins signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard], we really -- maybe when we signed [Michael] Ryder [in 2008] -- we really haven't gone out and hit a couple home runs on July 1. Maybe I look at the trade market after July 1. But my guess is I'll probably be quiet."
There aren't many job openings for the Bruins to fill anyway -- and now with Rask officially in the fold, goaltending will be the least of Boston's concerns.