By Nick Germano
It is no secret that the Boston Bruins have been blessed with excellent goaltending in the team’s recent history and the distant past as well. Ever since I have been alive, Boston’s number one guy has ultimately gone from Andrew Raycroft to Tim Thomas to Tuukka Rask. To have three solid starting goalies over an 18-year tenure is genuinely fantastic and speaks volumes to the team’s scouting department for being able to eye this NHL talent so quickly at such a tough position to read into.
However, Raycroft never found the success Rask and Thomas have found, as he only made it to the playoffs with Boston once in 2003-04, to lose in the first round. The other two goalies have made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and only Thomas has managed to come out of the final series victorious, capturing a Conn-Smythe trophy along the way.
Some argue that, even though Boston didn’t win last season’s Stanley Cup, Rask should have still been named the Conn-Smythe winner for his inhumane run for the duration of the playoffs up until game seven. Whether it is a valid argument or not, it still shows that both goalies can bring a Stanley Cup to Boston, whether or not Rask has done that yet. With that, how do you decide who is better?
Of course, Thomas has a one-ring advantage regardless of how amazing Rask had played in both of his Final appearances. Lots of analysts drew many comparisons to the heroics of Rask in 2018-19 to Tim Thomas’ run in 2010-11, and after comparing the stats, it is clear why. Having played one less game than Thomas, Rask posted a 15-9 record with a 2.02 GAA and a 0.934SV%. Thomas, with just one more tally in his W column, posted a 1.98 GAA and a 0.940SV%. Both of these stat lines are historically profound, but either way, Thomas has the edge.
The deeper into the statistics you look, the more perplexing the similarities are. In the entirety of their careers in the playoffs, their stat lines are almost entirely identical. In six years, Rask posted a 2.19 GAA and a 0.927 SV%, whereas Thomas posted a 2.16 GAA and a 0.928 SV% in four years. Just take a second to appreciate those numbers and how crazy they are. 0.001% separates Thomas from Rask. In their regular-season careers, Rask has a 2.27 GAA and a 0.922SV%, and Thomas has a 2.48 GAA, and a 0.921SV%. Again. 0.001% difference. You can not make this stuff up.
These statistics only say so much about a goalie, and having been one myself, know they can sometimes even be misleading. Even though I don’t think that’s the case with this scenario, I’ve found some more statistics to hopefully try and help connect the dots for the people who are still uncertain.
A quality start is a start with a SV% higher than their average SV% for the year. Out of every start in Tuukka Rask’s career, 60.6% of them have been “quality” starts. Just over 6/10 games for Rask are usually top tier, which is impressive given his long career. However, out of all of Thomas’ starts, 66.9% of them were quality, even more than Rask.
The opposite of a quality start is defined as a “really bad start,” where the goalie in question posts a SV% below 0.850. Out of Rask’s 492 starts in the NHL, only 66 have been wrong, or about 13.4%. Out of Thomas’ 260 starts with Boston, only 23 have been wrong, or about 8.8%. With this being one of the stats with more disparity, it speaks to Thomas’ reliability for his eight-year tenure with the Bruins. Not only did he more than not perform above average, but he rarely ever let his game slip, which is one of the reasons why he was so important to our franchise.
|THOMAS (4 years)||RASK (6 years)|
|0.928 SV% / 2.16 GAA||0.927 SV% / 2.19 GAA|
|27.13 GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average)||29.88 GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average)|
|34 Quality Starts (68%)||57 Quality Starts (64%)|
|1 “Really Bad Start” (2%)||4 “Really Bad Starts” (4.5%)|
|BEST RUN||BEST RUN|
|16-9 Record (Stanley Cup – Conn Smythe)||15-9 Record|
|0.940 SV% / 1.98 GAA||0.934 SV% / 2.02 GAA|
|THOMAS (8 years)||RASK (13 years)|
|0.921SV% / 2.48 GAA||0.922 SV% / 2.27 GAA|
|127.37 GSAA (9 seasons)||123.28 GSAA (11 seasons)|
|174 Quality Starts (66.9%)||298 Quality Starts (60.7%)|
|23 “Really Bad Starts”||66 “Really Bad Starts” (54 in first 8 years)|
|31 Shutouts||47 Shutouts (26 in first eight years)|
|0.920 SV% (7th all-time)||0.922 SV% (3rd all-time)|
|2.83 GAA (61st all-time)||2.20 GAA (10th all-time)|
|29-21 playoff record (58% wins)||50-39 playoff record (56.17% wins)|
|2 Vezina Trophies||1 Vezina Trophy|
As you can see by the table, this argument goes deeper than just the numbers. If you were to judge these two goalies off of paper alone, Tim Thomas would probably earn the edge in my eyes. But as we all know, hockey is about more than just the statistics.
It is hard to explain both of their games through numbers alone, but the comparison of these two goaltenders’ games is genuinely an extraordinary paradox. Thomas was known as a non-conformist goaltender, one who rarely had much structure to his play-style but always seemed to find a way to make the saves. Fans remember Thomas for his jaw-dropping stops by diving all around the crease or flashing his leather. Rask has much more structure to his game, using his athleticism to play into a butterfly-hybrid type game. Thomas was nowhere near a butterfly goalie and was one of the most divergent goalies the league has seen since Dominik Hasek.
Overall, this has been one of the fiercest arguments I have challenged myself to write. I don’t believe there is any way of getting a definitive answer to this question until Rask’s time in Boston comes to an end. A lot of fans seem to discuss this phenomenon often, and it’s fascinating seeing how similar these goalies played on paper, but how differently they played on the ice. Regardless, all true Bruins fans should be able to agree that the Bruins are incredibly fortunate to be able to even consider this argument, by having two of the best goalies in recent memory both play for your team.