BOSTON — A year after letting 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara leave, the Bruins face another potential departure that looms almost as large.
Goalie Tuukka Rask, the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner and the Original Six franchise’s career leader in games and wins, is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent. The two sides chose not to discuss a new contract during the season, leaving the negotiations for the summer after a disappointing postseason finish when Rask is recovering from an undisclosed injury.
The Bruins also need to make a decision on forward David Krejci, who like Rask is another one of just four players left over from the 2011 Stanley Cup champions. Midseason addition Taylor Hall is also a free agent.
“It’s the same answer as every year: We’re all getting older, and you’re not going to last forever,” Rask said on Wednesday night after the 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 6 of their second-round series ended Boston’s season. “(The window) is definitely closing at some point.”
A 34-year-old Finn who led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and ’19 — he was a backup on the team that won it all — Rask led the league with a 2.12 goals-against average in the NHL bubble last season before opting out of the playoffs to deal with a family emergency.
Rask was 15-5-2 this year with a 2.28 GAA, but he was bothered by what coach Bruce Cassidy said was a “nagging injury” during the playoffs.
“He was healthy enough to play. He just wasn’t 100%,” Cassidy said Wednesday. “He’s our starting goalie and he told us he was ready to go and that’s that. … There may be surgery going forward. That’s his decision.”
Rask confirmed he might need surgery but declined after the game to elaborate on the injury.
“I don’t want to get into that right now,” he said. “I don’t think that needs to be the headline right now.”
But Rask’s play was the focus, especially when he was pulled from Game 5 after allowing four goals in the first two periods. He was back for Game 6, when the Islanders scored four goals against him (and added two into the empty net).
Cassidy said the goaltending “wasn’t good enough to win, but neither were we.”
“This wasn’t on Tuukka,” the coach said. “Of course he could have been better. We mismanaged some pucks that put him in some bad spots as well. This was a team loss, all the way down the line.”
Krejci was fourth on the team in scoring with 44 points (8 goals, 36 assists) this season — trailing only the “Perfection Line” of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Like Rask, the 35-year-old center has played his entire career with Boston.
“There’s something to be said about playing for one organization and right now, that’s what it’s looking like for both Tuukka and David,” Bruins president Cam Neely said in May. “I think they both would probably like to finish their careers as a Boston Bruin, so let’s see what happens this offseason.”
A former No. 1 overall pick who came to Boston in mid-April, Hall was acquired from Buffalo to bolster a team that was expected to contend for the Cup. Since losing to St. Louis in Game 7 of the 2019 final, the Bruins have had back-to-back second-round exits.
“We expect a longer run in this room,” Marchand said. “We thought we had a group that could go really deep this year.”
After saying goodbye to their longtime captain last year and facing further defections this summer, it’s not clear how many more chances they will have.
“That core is getting older from one year to the next,” Bergeron said. “It’s disappointing. You have a good team; you have opportunities. And you know they don’t come that often — especially later in your career. You want to make the most of them.”
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports