David Krejci is out with another injury. This time it appears to be his back. Tuukka Rask is in the middle of his fourth down trending season in a row. Krejci is 31 and has as storied an injury history as he has a playoff pedigree. Rask has suffered abdominal and hip injuries and then this year a concussion. Additionally Rask has suffered “illnesses” in remarkable proximity to big games for the last several years.

So which of them is more important?

Ordinarily this isn’t a question. The goalie is about 40% of any teams success. A number one goalie is a huge part of the fortunes of team. The counter argument to the value of a goalie is that a top center is a makes a goalie better by helping keep the puck out of the defensive zone and limiting the shots on net by creating offense. A number one center can create a lot of offense, and a lot of sustained puck possession.

Here’s the problems. Yes, plural. Rask is no longer a legitimate number one goaltender. Krejci is not a number one center. While Krejci has gone from leading the NHL in playoff scoring two out of three seasons, Rask was once upon a time a Vezina winner.

Today, Tuukka Rask has turned in two league average at best seasons. David Krejci has been pretty consistent in his scoring over the years. The drop last year was both remarkable, and worrisome. But it brought Krejci from above average to about average for a #2 center in the NHL. There is no way to damn the decline of Rask with faint praise. While Krejci was elite six to ten weeks a spring a few years ago, at about the same time Rask was a Vezina quality goaltender in about the same span.

The drop off is more extreme in Rask’s case than anything seen in Boston in a very, very long time from any position. Rask is currently displaying numbers that wouldn’t have kept a goalie in the NHL fifteen years ago.  With an .899sv% Rask is 42nd in the NHL among all goalies with 7 or more games played. That’s in the bottom 20% of the NHL. Of the 74 goaltenders to start games in the NHL so far this year, Rask ranks 62nd. That QS% is .308. That’s a 7 million dollar a year giving you worse play than career AHL guys getting called up because the first two goalies are unavailable.

Replacing Krejci’s numbers isn’t as easy being 98th out of the 194 centers to play seven games might suggest. With the number of games he’s missed Krejci’s standings in points per game are much more relevant. Among those same 194 centers he is 31st in PPG, which puts him slightly ahead of Bergeron.

The production isn’t the only factor to consider. Whatever other issues he may have had, there’s never been an issue with David Krejci scapegoating team mates. No one has ever questioned Krejci’s willingness to play through injuries. Krejci has played with a remarkable, and not always talented assortment of wingers and been able to concoct points both on the powerplay, and at even strength. He’s even been strong penalty killer when called upon.

Right now, today, barring further serious injury to David Krejci, even as he sits on the shelf nursing his ailing back, he’s the more valuable of the two players.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Teams:

  • that the Vegas Golden Knights would lead their division with games in hand after Thanksgiving…
  • the Detroit Red Wings would hold a playoff spot and the Montreal Canadien’s who won the division last year would not…
  • at the quarter pole the best record in the NHL would belong to a healthy Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the NHL in points, wins, home wins, and goal differential…
  • the Pittsburgh Penguins would have the fifth lowest goals per game in the NHL..
  • the New York Islander’s would have the 2nd highest goals for per game and be barely 8th in the overall NHL standings after all their off season forward turnover.
  • the Saint Louis Blues would have lost the third most man games to injury and still be the best team in the west after Thanksgiving
  • after going to the second round in the spring the Edmonton Oilers would be back to their seemingly traditional position in the bottom five in the NHL.

Players:

  • the goalie controversy in Boston wouldn’t be who was going to be backing up Tuukka Rask this year, but when he would be allowed to take the net again
  • we would have two players over 1.5 goals per game (Steven Stamkos & Nikita Kucherov) who are not named Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, or even McDavid.
  • none of the last five Norris Trophy awardees (Brent Burns, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban) would be in the top 3 in scoring among defensemen.
  • that Mike Green who has only passed the 40 point mark once since the 2009-10  season would be among the top 10 defensemen in scoring.
  • the NHL’s highest scoring rookie would be Brock Boeser of Vancouver Canucks and he’d have a line of 11-10-21 through 19 games with three game winning goals
  • at the quarter point of the season 553 players would have scored at least one goal versus 774 total last year to do the same

Tuukka Rask is awful this year. There’s no denying it. He has zero shutouts. He’s got no really good stretches of hockey to show for himself. He’s allowed three or more goals in 9 of his 12 starts. That’s not a winning formula. There are a couple questions that have to be asked, in context.

Since Rask arrived in a Boston uniform he has routinely thrown young players and particularly defensemen under the bus. He’s called out Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid, and others as well. These are only the cases we’ve noted. Given the 2/3rds of a goal disparity between his and Khudobin’s GAA, question number one has to be; Has he alienated enough other players in the lockerroom both by direct action and his reputation that they just don’t want to play in front of him? If the team were older and more mature, this wouldn’t be a question. But let’s look at the players in question, Pastrnak, DeBrusk, Heinen, Cehlárik, McAvoy, and Carlo are all 22 and under. Postma, O’Gara, Vatrano, Kuraly, Swarz, Vatrano, and Agastino have all seen very limited action in the NHL either with Boston or previous teams. That is a very high percentage of the locker room. That is a huge number of minutes a night. Hockey players talk to each other. Many of these guys have played in college against each other, or in Providence together and it’s not possible that any two have had or heard of similar negative experiences with Rask would not have talked about it. I’d bet good money that they talked about it in front of at least one other player who has yet to earn Tuukka Rask’s ire.

The other half of the question is how likely is Rask to recover from this utterly ignoble start? October is normally a mixed bag for him. That’s fine, he’s seen a lot of turnover in front of him in his career and communication is important. For his career he has a .914% in October, this year he was at .896%. For those who came out of time machine and looked at that save percentage no it isn’t 1986, hop back in your hot tub and accept the fact that the .896% that would have been reasonable to good in 1991 is shameful today. November is the month Rask has racked up the most wins in his career. In 68 games he’s a 41-20-7 with a .926%. Putting up those numbers over the course of whole season year in and year out would make someone a first ballot hall of famer. December is also a strong month. January and February, well, not so much. With all the historical data that says he start the year off well, and then dips noticeably what does the season hold for Rask and the Boston Bruins?

Also to be asked about Tuukka Rask is how much of his difficulty playing at a professional level this season is physical, and how much is mental? His win percentage and save percentage are both better after the All Star break each season, a time when the bulk of the games and long distance travel is done. Is he just unable to play eight of ten games in a three week period because he’s not durable? Is he failing to stay hydrated and rested when in the air? Does he over think plays when he’s got time off? If it’s mental did he perhaps come into the season knowing he had no challenger for the number one slot and under prepare? With the season Subban, McIntyre, and Khudobin had int he NHL that wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

If you’ve ruled out his contract going from full no-movement to an 8 team can be traded list, you may want to rethink that. We all saw the chaos of the final years of Schneider and Luongo in Vancouver, Rask even got to watch the whole playoff run (and several weeks before) from the bench. He has to know as bad as he’s played, as steadily as his numbers have declined year after year that any general manager would be a fool not part with him and his enormous salary at the earliest opportunity. Of the 53 goaltenders to play at least 5 games this season, Rask’s save percentage is 43rd playing on the same team, with the same players and the same coach Khudobin is 2nd in the NHL. With all the young players who will need a new contract and raise over the next two off season on the Bruins roster, and it being unlikely the cap will rise more than 2-3 million in that time, Sweeney has to be looking for cap space anywhere he can find it. The biggest reservoir of room to sign players wheres number 40.