Even if he leaves too soon, Tuukka Rask is a Hall of Famer

We should have seen this news arrive last summer. The Boston Bruins obviously did.

Was impending hip surgery about to end Tuukka Rask’s career? Not necessarily. Supposedly, he would be ready by the winter of 2022 and have every chance to return to his role as the franchise’s longtime No. 1 goaltender. But the four-year, $20 million contract Boston handed Linus Ullmark on Day 1 of 2021 without restrictions suggested a lack of confidence in Rask’s ability to recover. The Bruins were to roll with a tandem of Ullmark and up-and-coming Jeremy Swayman, and the experiment worked out well in about half a season. The two combined for a .913 save percentage, a particularly respectable number in 2021-22, with league-wide goals per game at their highest since 2005-06 and save percentage of .909, the second-lowest rate in the NHL in the last 13 seasons.

Since rookie Swayman was waived, the Bruins still had the luxury of returning the net to Rask on a one-year deal once he recovered from the surgery, but backstop Ullmark was there for a reason. Rask had just four starts, posting an .844 save percentage, and came out of the all-star break unable to play or practice. He suffered some kind of setback related to his hip and, on Tuesday night, Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa reported that “the Bruins do not expect Tuukka Rask to pursue his return, according to two sources close to the situation” and that “he could finalize his retirement decision in the coming days”.

So Rask, 34, appears to have come to an end at an age when many keepers still have several good seasons left. He will no doubt be remembered as one of the greatest goaltenders in Bruins history and considered the best by many. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in games, wins, saves and above-average goals.

He was easily on a Hall of Fame career trajectory and would have achieved induction with a few more seasons played. But would a disappointing premature retirement cast doubt on Rask’s Hall’s appeal?

Critics might point to the fact that Rask hasn’t actually won a Stanley Cup in his career. He was a Bruin when they won in 2010-11, but he was on the bench while Tim Thomas delivered one of the best end-to-end seasons by a goaltender in hockey history, winning the trophy Vézina and the Conn Smythe Trophy. Rask supported Boston in the Finals in 2012-13 and 2018-19 and was excellent in both runs, but found himself on the losing side both times. He has a Vezina Trophy, a first-team all-star selection and a second-team nod.

But the argument of anti-Rask thinkers probably ends there. Closer examination suggests he is one of the greatest keepers of his generation. His career SP of .9210 ranks him fourth all-time, just inches behind Dominik Hasek (.9223), Johnny Bower (.9219) and Ken Dryden (.9215). If Rask had played at his normal level this season, he would have had a shot at finishing first all-time. His playoff SP of .9252 ranks him ninth all-time, but first among goaltenders with 100 or more playoff appearances. His 308 regular season wins put him at a modest 33rd of all time, but he would easily crack the top 20 if he played a few more seasons.

Rask stands out the most when juxtaposed against his peers. If we track the 12-season stretch from becoming an NHL regular in 2009-10 through the end of 2020-21, he had the league’s best SP among the 49 goaltenders who started at least 200 NHL games in that span. No one has stopped pucks faster than Rask in his career. And what stat matters more than that for a goalkeeper? He also recorded the third-most shutouts and the sixth-most wins during that span.

One unofficial way I like to define a Hall-worthy player is this: were they in the top five players in their position for at least five years at their peak? The answer is unequivocally yes for Rask, who has never posted an SP below .912. The man’s worse the season was still quite good.

Rask deserves to be mentioned along with Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Marc-André Fleury and Carey Price as the best puck blockers of this generation. Even with a career that seems to be over too soon, Rask once earned a Hall call.