Kalman: Svedberg Emerging As Backup That Makes Julien's Choices Difficult
BOSTON (CBS) - In case you were worrying that two weeks and a day off between starts would turn Bruins goaltender Niklas Svedberg into a mound of rust, the Swede quelled your fears in remarkable fashion on Wednesday.
Svedberg, who hadn't played since his Dec. 2 loss on the road to the Los Angeles Kings, made 35 saves on 37 shots in a 3-2 overtime road win against the Minnesota Wild. The Bruins are now 1-0-1 through two games of their three-game road trip, which ends Friday night in Winnipeg.
Svedberg, who lost that game to the Kings 1-0, improved his save percentage on the season to .925 and evened his record at 4-4-0. He got some help from at least three or four shots that rang iron, but that took nothing away from his star turn.
It appears that yet again in the reign of general manager Peter Chiarelli the Bruins are all set in net with two goaltenders they can trust regardless of the situation. But Svedberg's most recent solid outings have come at a time when the Bruins are desperate for help at forward and people that seem to be permanently attached to microphones are spouting off about trading Tuukka Rask. Svedberg's emergence as a legitimate NHL goaltender will only turn up the volume on these speculations that make as much sense as running naked down Causeway Street.
Let's get this out of the way right away. Tuukka Rask is not going anywhere. He's one of a handful of elite goaltenders in the NHL, just two years ago he was two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup and last season he won the Vezina Trophy. Sure he makes $7 million, but that's what it costs a team that wants to be a legitimate contender for the better part of a decade to fill the most important position on the ice. Anyone that thinks trading Rask and going with someone else is wise obviously forgets how many goaltenders the Bruins went through for 39 years between Stanley Cup championships, especially in the latter half of that drought. Regardless of the team in front of the goaltender, a team has a chance to run off 16 playoff victories with an elite goaltender like Rask. A team that trades a goaltender like Rask winds up searching for the next decade for another Rask.
The ridiculous notion of trading Rask aside, Svedberg's emergence raises two questions about the Bruins' goaltending – one in the immediate future and one in the future beyond this season.
First, in the immediate future, coach Claude Julien is going to have a difficult decision picking his starter the next few weeks, or even months, as the Bruins try to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff structure. After a horrible first month of the season, Rask has looked more like himself lately. No one could blame him after he made 38 of 40 saves and was only beat by a Derek Roy trick shot in the shootout in the loss to Nashville on Tuesday. Rask's save percentage (.914) and goals-against average (2.52) are pedestrian, but it's been a long road back from the bad October. And a seven-goal game in San Jose, during which he wasn't even one of the 10 worst Bruins players, did a number on his stats.
Still, points are so important now that the Bruins are digging out of their David Krejci-less hole, and Julien might have to think about playing the hot hand. Rask was solid in Nashville; Svedberg was better in Minnesota. Who should Julien start in Winnipeg?
Julien will tell you it's a great difficult decision to have to make. But obviously there are egos involved and Julien has to take into consideration how the other skaters will react to his choice and which goaltender is less likely to have an off night. The proven commodity is Rask, despite some uncharacteristic tough nights this season. Svedberg, though, is coming around.
The question for the future beyond this season involves both Svedberg and prospect Malcolm Subban. Svedberg is scheduled to be a restricted free agent again this summer. That's great news for the Bruins because Svedberg won't be following the Anton Khudobin-Chad Johnson path out of town to a rich contract elsewhere. It also means that Subban would make delicious trade bait. There's no doubt Subban, who has a .923 save percentage this season with Providence of the AHL, has the skills and athleticism to be a NHL goaltender and there should be teams that view him as a future No. 1.
However, if Svedberg keeps playing this way, the Bruins have to consider how long he'll be content to be the backup to Rask and how much longer he's be willing to make backup money. Subban will be under team control longer and could be valuable leverage when the time comes for the Bruins to let Svedberg walk or trade him before he can go. Unfortunately, Subban is not ready now (he still has problems with focus and rebound control), because Svedberg would probably make a fancy treat for a team looking to part with a high-end winger. In fact, if the Bruins hang on to Subban, Svedberg will be a hot commodity in trade talk in the summer.
As important as it is for a team like the Bruins to have an elite goaltender like Rask, it's nearly as important to have a backup that can both match Rask's statistics and do so with a lot less playing time. This type of player is rare and the Bruins' brass has proven adept at finding goalies that fit the bill. So maybe if they traded Subban and let Svedberg walk down the way they'd have a prospect like Zane McIntyre or a younger journeyman from another organization ready to step in. Jeremy Smith, who's on a two-way contract with Providence, is more than holding his own this season. The 2007 Nashville second-round pick has a .930 save percentage. Maybe he plays his way into the conversation.
The Bruins' goaltending situation for the next six years is dominated by one name: Rask. Beyond him, though, it'll be interesting to see how things play out. Svedberg's hunger for grander things as an individual, and eventually a spot on another NHL roster, should benefit the Bruins at least in the short run.
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