For the last 15 years, one position where the Boston Bruins have had stability is with their goaltending. Tim Thomas took over at the beginning of the 2005-06 season and manned the net for seven years, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2009 and 2011. He had a career-year in 2010-11, with 35 regular-season wins and 16 more in the playoffs to lead the black and gold to the Stanley Cup.
Following in Thomas’ footsteps is current goalie Tuukka Rask. With Rask working on the final year of his current contract and at 33 years old, he hinted at the possibility of retirement earlier this year when his contract expires. Whether or not he is serious about stepping away from hockey following the 2020-21 season remains to be seen.
With that said, let’s take a look at the Bruins’ goalie depth chart in the organization, as it could be a hot topic in regards to it being a key year in the development of their prospects.
Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft in June of 2006 by then-interim general manager Jeff Gorton, Rask has been a fixture in net for the Bruins since replacing Thomas on a full-time basis at the beginning of the 2012-13 season.
Rask has been a workhorse for the Bruins. He has won at least 30 games a year in five of the last seven seasons. He has led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, respectively. He has a 291-158-64 career record with a career 2.26 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%). He won the Vezina in 2014 and finished second this season to Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets.
Rask left the Toronto playoff bubble in the middle of the Bruins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Carolina Hurricanes to tend to a family matter. Boston fully expects him to return for the upcoming season, the final in his eight-year, $56 million contract. If he can return to his form of a year ago, the Bruins will be in good shape no matter what the NHL season looks like.
Signed two years ago as a free agent to back up Rask, Halak has turned out to be one of the best backups in the league. He has allowed Rask to remain fresh during the season by cutting his workload down so he would be more rested for the playoffs.
In his first two seasons in Boston, the 14-year veteran has gone 40-17-10 with a 2.36 GAA and a .921 SV%. He went 4-5 in the playoffs after Rask left to return home. At 35 years old, he is not the long-term solution and no longer a regular starter in the NHL, but the Bruins re-signed him in May to a one-year, $2.25 million contract to return as a backup to Rask.
If he can supply Rask with nights off during what looks like a shortened 2020-21 season, then the $2.25 million contract given out by general manager Don Sweeney will look like money well spent.
Drafted 75th overall in the third round of the 2015 Entry Draft, Vladar made his NHL debut in the Toronto playoff bubble in Game 3 of a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He gave up three goals on 15 shots in 29 minutes of action, but the 23-year-old will benefit from as many games as possible this season with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League.
This past season, Vladar had an impressive 1.79 GAA and a .936 SV% with the P-Bruins, and he won 14 of the 24 games he appeared in. He split time with Max Lagace in Providence, but Lagace left the Bruins in October in free agency after signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He still needs more time to develop in the minors, and he should be the No. 1 choice for Providence this season.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the 111th pick in the fourth round of the 2017 Draft, and rightfully so. The Anchorage, Alaska native finished his junior season at the University of Maine, where he won 18 games, had a 2.07 GAA and a .939 SV%. He was named the 2020 Hockey East Player of the Year and was a Hockey East first-team selection.
A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to the top collegiate player, Swayman signed his entry-level contract in March with the Bruins. The 21-year-old seems to be ready to compete in Providence with Vladar for playing time, despite there being a log jam with prospects in the minors. He appears to have the mentality to be a future NHL starting goalie if his development continues in the pros as it did in college.
Keyser went undrafted before signing with the Bruins. His early pro career has been hampered by concussions the last two years, but if playing with Oshawa Generals is any indication, then he will have a say in who the future goalie in Boston is.
Keyser recorded 67 victories over three seasons for the Generals in the Ontario Hockey League, with his best season coming in the 2017-18 season. He went 32-8-3 with a 2.75 GAA and a .915 SV%. One issue that the Bruins and their goaltending prospects might be facing is their ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators, opted out of the 2020-21 season. They are trying to work an agreement with the Jacksonville Icemen, who are the Winnipeg Jets’ ECHL affiliate.
If Keyser needs to get some time in the ECHL and the Bruins can work out an agreement with Jacksonville, the Coral Springs, Florida native could get that time in his home state.
Sweeney added depth between the pipes for the minors when he inked Booth to a one-year, two-way free-agent contract on Oct. 14 that carries a $700,000 NHL cap hit. The 23-year-old was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the fourth round (93rd overall) of the 2015 Entry Draft and has spent most of his professional career in the ECHL.
At 6-foot-4, he has good size that he can use to cut down opponents’ angles. While goalies tend to take more time to develop, Booth will have a chance to showcase his talents this season, most likely in the ECHL, assuming the Bruins can get on board with Jacksonville. Having an ECHL affiliate is key for Boston and the development of their goalies.
Bruins Have Options
Following the 2020-21 season, things get really interesting with the Bruins goaltending situation. Rask will be a free agent, as will Halak. If one or both decide not to return to Boston, the Bruins better hope that one of their goalie prospects plays above all other candidates so they have a plan moving forward for the 2021-22 season. It could be an interesting winter down in Providence and possibly in the ECHL between the pipes.