Tuukka Rask deserves support, not criticism, after opt-out decision

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It is one thing to rip Tuukka Rask for his play on the ice or his comments in a postgame press conference or even a hat he wears. Those are fair game and worthy of all the debate and criticism your heart desires.

It is quite another to rip him for putting his family ahead of hockey. But rest assured, there will be plenty of people -- media and fans alike -- who are doing and will do exactly that.

They’ll say that he quit on the Bruins. That he’s soft. That he doesn’t care about winning the Stanley Cup. All while not knowing Rask, his family or their situation.

None of us know much about Rask’s situation. We know from his statement that he believes that “at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family.”

We know that he sent a text message to Dale Arnold saying that there was a family emergency, but that everything is fine now. And we know that general manager Don Sweeney told the media that Rask’s family, which includes a four-month-old baby girl and two other young girls, is healthy and safe, and that the Bruins weren’t really surprised by this decision as they had been aware for a little while that Rask was dealing with something.

Here’s what else we know: So far everyone in the Bruins organization that we’ve heard from -- Sweeney, coach Bruce Cassidy, and players Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle and Jaroslav Halak -- has offered nothing but their full support to Rask.

“We understand completely where Tuukka's coming from,” Sweeney said. “I don't think it's any big surprise to us, to be honest with you. We're privy to information maybe before the rest of the public is. This has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”

“Obviously our first concern is the health and safety of his family,” Chara said. “That's the most important thing we were all kind of thinking about, and obviously we support Tuukka’s decision. There is nothing more important than your family. At this point we want to make sure that everybody else respects his privacy and, you know, I think we all just want to wish his family the best and that's it.”

“Obviously we’re supporting him,” Bergeron said. “We’re behind him. We understand. Family comes first. We’ve always said that. Obviously, we’re a tight group in this locker room. We’ve been together for a while and supporting each other. Obviously, we’re thinking about him and we’re supporting that decision.”

To believe that Rask quit on his teammates or that they’re disappointed in him or upset with him is to not believe what they’re actually saying.

The retort would be, “Well what else are they going to say?” While you’re right that they would never publicly rip him, if they didn’t support his decision or were disappointed in him, they could simply say something like, “We’re just focused on the task at hand and the guys who are still here.”

They’re not lying to us. They do support Rask. They do believe family comes first. It’s why so many of them brought up family when discussing the NHL’s return to play over the last couple months. It’s why so many of them said being away from family would be the hardest part of this postseason. It’s why the Bruins organization made sure they put programs in place to help players’ and coaches’ families if they need it while the Bruins are away in the bubble.

We are all living through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. How comfortable someone is being away from their family for potentially months on end during this, or during some sort of family situation that comes up in the middle of this, is not something we should be judging people for. Every player isn’t the same, and every situation isn’t the same.

Players who opted out before the restart and players who have opted out in other sports have generally been afforded respect and understanding. How many people have you heard calling Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung quitters?

So, is it the timing from Rask that’s the problem? He deserves more criticism because he tried to play, tried to go to the bubble and power through whatever he’s dealing with, but ultimately couldn’t? How does that make sense? Or is it just because it’s Rask and the people criticizing him already don’t like him and just want to add this to their list?

The Bruins’ situation is the same now as it would have been had Rask opted out a month ago. Either way, Jaroslav Halak becomes their clear No. 1 goalie and Dan Vladar and Max Lagace vie for the backup job. There was no magical elixir sitting out there that would dramatically change that situation.

Sure, all three goalies’ mindsets and workloads would have been different through training camp and the round-robin tournament. But Halak’s a veteran and a true pro. He knows how to prepare to be ready at a moment’s notice whether he’s listed as the No. 1 or not, something he proved in Saturday’s 3-1 Game 3 win. And if something were to happen to Halak and you had to turn to Vladar or Lagace, well that would be a tough situation for everyone no matter how many reps they got in camp.

It apparently wasn’t a secret that Rask was dealing with something. Sweeney and Cassidy’s comments both suggest that this possibility was at least somewhere in the backs of their minds. It’s fair to surmise that it probably played at least some role in their decision to bring four goalies to the bubble rather than the three some other teams brought.

Rask tried to give it a go. Maybe he realized after a couple weeks that it just wasn’t going to work, that his mind was on his family more than hockey, and that he wanted to be with his family right now more than he wanted to be away playing hockey. Maybe something changed with his family situation over the last few days and that was the catalyst for his decision.

Professional athletes are not robots void of emotions or immune from difficult life situations just because they make a lot of money. They are human beings with families and issues and concerns just like the rest of us.

If one of them, in this case Rask, decides that family and those issues and concerns are more important to them right now than their games, we should follow his teammates’ lead and support that.