Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
A goaltender reaching 500 career NHL games is equivalent to a position player making it to his 1,000th.
It’s quite an accomplishment.
On Tuesday, Tuukka Rask is set to reach that milestone against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that traded him to the Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006.
In the more than 13 years that Rask has been with the Bruins, he has won a Stanley Cup as a No. 2 behind Tim Thomas in 2011; won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie in 2014; and as a No. 1, reached the finals twice only to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and the St. Louis Blues last season.
“What he’s done is amazing,” said Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, who was running the Bruins as their interim GM at the time of the Rask deal. “He’s been a really good goalie for a long time.”
To mark the occasion, we gathered the principals in the trade — Gorton, then-Leafs GM John Ferguson (who’s now an assistant GM in Boston), Rask and Raycroft — to examine the deal and its impact.
The NHL’s 2004-05 season was wiped away by a lockout that finally ended on July 22, 2005. With no standings from the previous season on which to base the order for the annual NHL draft, the league and players association agreed to a weighted lottery for all teams. Pittsburgh won the No. 1 pick — and the right to select Sidney Crosby — while Toronto slotted in at pick No. 21, one spot ahead of the Bruins.
The Maple Leafs used their first-round pick on Rask. The Bruins then picked defenseman Matt Lashoff.
Gorton: We were going to take Rask, but Toronto took him one pick ahead of us.
The post-lockout period was a low point for the Bruins. They had won their division in the season before the work stoppage, when Raycroft won the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year and Patrice Bergeron debuted, but they couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. When play resumed, the Bruins began a two-year run in which they were one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Two months into the season, the Bruins traded captain Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks, just three months after signing him to a long-term deal. Reality set in: If the Bruins weren’t in a state of turmoil, they were certainly in a period of transition.
Gorton: There were a lot of players frustrated with how things went down coming out of that lockout and obviously our team wasn’t good that year for a lot of different reasons. The Joe trade eventually happened and a lot of guys were close to him, including Raycroft and (Nick) Boynton. We basically made the decision to turn the team over in a different way and go with some different young players and get some new blood in.
The Bruins finished last in the Northeast Division that season. General manager Mike O’Connell lost his job in March, and head coach Mike Sullivan would lose his after the season concluded. Peter Chiarelli was hired to run the Bruins, but couldn’t begin until mid-July under terms of the deal to hire him away from the Ottawa Senators. So Gorton was calling shots for the Bruins as the 2006 draft approached.
The Leafs, after six straight seasons of frustrating playoff exits, had relied on 38-year-old Ed Belfour as their lead goalie in the 2005-06 campaign. They were looking to get younger and more stable at the position. They liked Rask, but he was 19 and not yet ready to play in the NHL.
Ferguson: First and foremost, we would not have drafted a goaltender in the first round without believing he was going to be a No. 1. We certainly weren’t wrong in that assessment (with Rask). The timeline of when that might occur, in our estimation at the time, we were trying to move it along quicker.
Gorton: They became a team that needed a goalie.
Talks between the Bruins and Leafs were ongoing heading into the June 24 NHL draft.
Gorton: As much as we liked Andrew Raycroft, we knew he needed a fresh start somewhere. At that draft, we started shopping Andrew and Nick Boynton. Toronto right away had a lot of interest and they had two young goalies at the time that they were really high on and essentially gave us a choice of one of them for Raycroft.
Justin Pogge was the other goaltending prospect in the Leafs system.
Goaltending had become a position of surplus talent for the Bruins. Tim Thomas was emerging as an option. Hannu Toivonen was in the pipeline. Raycroft, who was among the group left unhappy by the deal that sent Thornton to San Jose, was expendable, just one season removed from his Calder Trophy.
Gorton: We had other goalies at the time that had moved ahead of Andrew and he needed a fresh start, so it was kind of a perfect storm.
Ferguson: We reached out for a goaltender (in Raycroft) who was 26 at the time and had been the Rookie of the Year and came in that year (2006-07) and won 37 games. Those were the ingredients for the deal … there’s been a fairly active marketplace and prices for goalies that the acquiring teams think have the potential to be No. 1s and that was the price at that time.
Raycroft: The Bruins weren’t very good for a couple of years when I first got dealt. That was (coach) Dave Lewis’ (lone season) and there was a lot going on there. So for me to have dealt with that one year after the lockout, if I had to deal with that for another year, or year and a half, it wouldn’t have been too good for my career. To be able to go to Toronto, play a lot and get wins was beneficial.
The Bruins were essentially able to re-do that 2005 draft and acquire the player they wanted all along in Rask.
Gorton: It was a chance to reset while we had other goalies around. It was a risk worth taking for us and it’s obviously paid off well for the Bruins.
The trade was executed on the first day of the draft. Raycroft was in Rome when he got the news.
Raycroft: I knew something was going to go down. Everything had blown up (in Boston) so I was expecting something, and then I got the call to go to Toronto. That was exciting for me. The reality was I didn’t even ask who I got traded for. International calls were a little difficult back then and I might’ve had a BlackBerry. But I got the call and got back here in two days and flew right to Toronto.
Rask, then 19, remained in Finland that season, played 49 games for Ilves Tampere and competed in the World Junior Championship for Finland.
Rask: I didn’t think about it. I had no idea what kind of organization the Bruins were, or the Maple Leafs for that matter because I was never there. Whatever team it was, I knew I would come in here and just try to prove myself and make the team. Over the years you learn more and more about the history of the organization and you’re happy you have that shot here versus somewhere else.
A native of Belleville, Ontario, Raycroft was re-energized to play for his hometown Maple Leafs.
Raycroft: It was real exciting. It was a big deal for me, my buddies and everybody involved to go to Toronto, which is the largest market in hockey without a question, and at that time Boston wasn’t. It was a huge market, an Original Six, but it was much different than it is now. It was pre-Stanley Cup and it was the (2004-05) lockout, so it was different. It was a real big deal for me.
The Bruins didn’t rush Rask when they acquired him. After staying in Finland for a year, he spent several years in Providence being groomed. Scott Gordon, a former NHL goaltender, was the coach when Rask first arrived there. Gordon had already worked with Raycroft, Thomas and Toivonen during their respective stints in Providence, and recognized Rask’s potential. But his battle-and-compete level needed to improve. He also had maturity issues to work out, as the night he was ejected after pulling a nutty to complain about a call illustrated.
Gorton: I remember all those years ago after we traded for him, going to see him in Finland and meeting with him for the first time. He’s an impressive kid and really determined. You think back to his career in Providence and his frustrations early on and some of the temper tantrums and all that stuff, he’s smoothed it out pretty good.
Ferguson: Give him credit for doing what he’s needed to do to go through the development process in Providence, and in Finland prior to that, and becoming a reliable No. 2 and continuing to work on his craft to eventually take over the No. 1 job and continuing to do that at a high level.
The careers of Rask and Raycroft went in different directions after the trade. Raycroft spent two seasons in Toronto before bouncing around Colorado, Vancouver and Dallas for a few years. Rask moved up to Boston by 2009 as the second-string goalie behind Thomas and was the backup on the 2011 Cup champion team. By the time Rask became the No. 1 goalie in 2013, Raycroft had played his final game.
Raycroft: I played 72 games and 37 wins and tied a record (in Toronto), and even though I had won the Rookie of the Year (in Boston) by the time I finished in Toronto a whole lot more people knew me and what I did than when I left Boston.
Since the trade, the Maple Leafs haven’t had a No. 1 goalie who’s offered the kind of success and longevity that Rask has provided Boston. Does Ferguson ever imagine Rask having come up in a blue and white uniform?
Ferguson: Obviously, it’s all speculative. (Rask) benefitted from an organization that was committed to developing him the right way and he bought into that. It’s too speculative to wonder what might have been in that regard.
Finding Rask was a key moment in building the foundation for the Bruins’ success in the 2010s. Bergeron came first, then David Krejci, then Rask and Brad Marchand. Chara joined in free agency the same summer that Rask was acquired. The Bruins sank to the depths of the NHL in 2006, but they smartly planned their way out.
Gorton: All of us that had a hand in some of the turning around of the Bruins, a lot of guys have moved on and (are) still in hockey, but we all feel pretty good about how we left the organization. There were a lot of different moves that paid off for them. Personally, I feel good about some of the moves we were able to make and where it’s led the Bruins to now. I follow guys’ careers and how they’re doing. I get to see them in the rinks when (Rangers) play them and it’s always interesting. Our group did pretty good things to set it on a good path and I’m happy for those guys.
Rask will become the first goalie ever to play 500 games in a Bruins sweater. Only 27 goalies have done that for one team in NHL history.
Rask: I would’ve never thought I’d stay in the same place for that long and reach that kind of a milestone. I think it’s awesome.
Raycroft: It’s a great accomplishment. It means you’re good if you can be around that long and play that many games. It’s a lot of games.
He was in the minors. He was the starter (for the Bruins) and then he was the backup and the starter again. He’s gone through coaches and different GMs, and it’s a testament to who he is and how talented he is.
Ferguson: When you take a goaltender in the first round that’s what you’re hoping for, but I can’t say it’s a legitimate expectation for everyone.
Gorton: What he’s done is amazing. He’s been a really good goalie for a long time. Not only the 500 games, but you look at his consistency over the years and it’s been pretty impressive. He’s knocking on the door all the time in the playoffs and getting things done. If you track his career path it’s been nothing but impressive. I’m certainly impressed with how he’s handled it too. He’s a first-class kid.
tThat “knocking on the door all the time in the playoffs”: Rask has just one thing missing from his resume — hoisting the Stanley Cup as the No. 1 goalie. He’s won it as a backup. He’s won the Vezina Trophy. He’s been to the Final twice as the starter, but both times came away disappointed, most recently this June after losing in Game 7 at home to the Blues.
Rask: I was happy with the way I played. I was preparing myself as good as I could’ve and played solid hockey. We played as a team. We played great hockey and fell one short. Personally, I’ve been there before, when we lost Game 6 (to Chicago in 2013), so it’s nothing new for me. Every year is a new year. New doubters come in and the outside noise doesn’t matter to us. We just try to play as a team and win as a team.
At 32, Rask isn’t willing to look too far down the road at how much longer he’ll play. His current contract at $7 million per season runs through 2021. He’s always been healthy and is showing zero signs of slowing down, so it’s likely the Bruins would want to re-sign him.
Rask: It’s tough to say. The day you start thinking ‘What am I doing here? I should be doing something else,’ that’s the time you check yourself and see how long you want to play. So far, I’m having fun and staying in shape. (Being) healthy is a big part of that. If you’re lucky enough to retire on your own terms, you’ve won the battle because you see so many guys not being able to do that because they’re either hurt or forced out of the league. I haven’t really thought about that, but goalies tend to play longer than the players, so we’ll see.
Ironically, Raycroft has had an up-close view of Rask’s career for several years now, since he is an analyst for NESN (and even mobilized to be the Bruins emergency goalie at one point last season) Rask and Raycroft have talked, but the trade has never been part of the discussions.
Rask: I haven’t talked to him about it; maybe at some point. He’s retired now, living and working here. It was a business thing. It doesn’t really matter when you look back and try to recreate what didn’t happen.