Rask/By S. Bradley

The swap activity leading up to Monday’s trade deadline grabbed everyone’s attention this week, but there were also two big contract extensions signed by a couple primetime goaltenders earlier this week.

Both deals could effect what Tuukka Rask will receive from the Bruins between now and when his current two-year, $1.25 million-per-season deal expires after the 2011-12 campaign.

In Detroit, Jimmy Howard signed a two-year extension with the Red Wings for a cap hit of $2.25 million per season. Howard, who will turn 27 later this month, was ticketed to be an unrestricted free agent. After establishing himself in the NHL for the first time last year with a campaign that earned him Calder Trophy nominee status, Howard has been solid again this season.

Antti Niemi did for the Chicago Blackhawks last season what Howard could not for Detroit — and that’s lead a team to the Stanley Cup in his first full NHL season. Niemi, who’ll turn 28 this summer, then left the ‘Hawks for the San Jose Sharks and a one-year deal last summer. This week, he re-signed for four years at a cap hit of $3.8 million million per season.

Niemi, like Howard, would’ve been unrestricted this summer. And that’s one thing that separates Rask from these two players, as the Bruins’ netminder won’t be eligible for UFA status until after the 2013-14 season, under terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (which expires after next season). As a player that signed his first NHL deal at 20, Rask — who’ll be 25 when his contract is up — also needs four seasons of experience to gain arbitration rights, so that wouldn’t kick in until after the 2012-13 season.

Of course, the CBA situation is what messes up these comparable most of all. I’m a bit surprised the Sharks were willing to commit a four-year deal to any player, let alone Niemi, considering the uncertainty of what the rules will be after next season. It seems some teams aren’t fearing the unknown — Los Angeles re-signed forward Justin Williams long-term and other clubs have been doing business as usual as well — and are more worried about retaining their assets best they can.

The Bruins in recent years have been proactive with some of their most-coveted potential RFAs, including Rask last fall. Milan Lucic also signed a multi-year deal around the same time as Rask before his entry-level deal expired. In the case of Rask’s third NHL contract, and in light of the CBA uncertainty, it’ll be interesting to see how the Bruins approach this situation.

On the ice, you have to figure Tim Thomas won’t continue to perform at an all-world level next season and instead will settle in as the perfect partner for Rask in a goaltending rotation that more equally distributes the playing time. That will allow Rask to put up numbers closer to his breakout rookie season, which was better statistically than Howard’s, and make him more valuable. With the Bruins in control of his rights, however, he won’t have much leeway to make demands.

As an educated guess, I’d say neither side would want to commit to any type of deal that eats into Rask’s UFA status. The Bruins would avoid it because of the CBA, and the player’s side would probably rather see how things play out and then maximize value, unless some sort of lifetime deal came along. Unfortunately for Rask, Charles Wang owns just one NHL team.

So a two-year deal would be in order. Looking at Howard and Niemi’s deals, and the Wings’ knack for always retaining players at a hometown discount, you’d have to figure Rask would be good for something in the $2.5 to $3 million range. After July 1, 2012, the Bruins can trade Thomas without his permission. So they wouldn’t necessarily be devoting upwards of $8 million to one position by then.

Again, this is all far-off speculation, especially in light of a CBA that doesn’t exist yet. The UFA and arbitration-rights age could be lowered. Or who knows what else might come about?

I’m just looking at this with the thought that if the Wings and Sharks were willing to commit to their main goaltenders long-term, the Bruins might want to consider doing the same, maybe even as early as this summer.