Bruins Should Delay Rask’s Return After Providence Games Postponed

With the news of Tuukka Rask signing a Professional Tryout contract (PTO) with the Providence Bruins creating buzz this past week, the Boston Bruins are definitely headed towards an excellent problem at goaltender. While it’s not entirely clear what his return means for the immediate futures of goaltenders Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, the fact that Rask could eat away at either of their playing time is a positive for the Bruins, not a negative.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask’s return to the Boston Bruins is in full swing. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Before Rask even gets back to the Bruins with an actual contract, though, many expected the veteran netminder to get some playing time in Providence to return to game shape after having offseason labrum surgery. With COVID-19 an ever-present factor this season, though, that may not even happen before Rask plays in the NHL again.

With the Providence Bruins weekend series against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms postponed due to COVID, their next two games will only take place Friday, Jan. 15 and Sunday, Jan. 17. Because of this, Rask’s immediate future is a little foggier than the Bruins would have liked.

“To be honest, I’m not sure when he’s going to play,” Cassidy said prior to a 5-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “So right now I can’t give you the definitive plan. He’s practicing and we’ll try to get him in some game action wherever we can. He might have to start playing here and miss some assignments in Providence.”

Because Rask can’t play in the NHL while on a PTO, the Bruins will have a decision to make on whether or not playing Rask in the NHL prior to getting him some action in the AHL is a worthwhile venture. This could only occur if the Bruins sign Rask to an NHL contract before he ever gets a second of game action to knock off some of the rust.

On the one hand, Rask isn’t looking for a big contract; something he’s made abundantly clear throughout this entire process. Because of this, the risk of signing him to an NHL deal even before he proves he’s still capable of playing at such a high level may not even be that much of a factor.

On the other hand, though, Rask is coming off of a pretty significant surgery and, at 34 years old, could definitely benefit from getting some playing time at a slower speed than the NHL rather than being thrown to the wolves.

The Bruins aren’t in dire need of Rask in net right now and waiting a week may be the best course of action for a team riding two goaltenders right now.

Bruins Getting Good Production From Ullmark and Swayman

Ullmark has started the 2022 calendar year with an impressive 3-0 record, though his peripherals certainly leave a lot to be desired. Allowing eight goals on 79 shots, Ullmark has a .899 save percentage and 2.66 goals-against average in January, though his most recent game against the Lightning was an encouraging one.

Related: What Tuukka Rask Returning Means for the Bruins

In general, Ullmark has been much better as of late and in his last nine games, he’s allowed 20 goals on 276 shots. That’s a .927 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average in that span. That stretch has brought this season’s totals to 10-5-0 with a .918 save percentage and 2.54 goals-against average.

As for Swayman, the 2021-22 season has been far more consistent and up-to-standard for the rookie netminder. Though he’s still a rookie and only 23 years old, the Bruins already know exactly what they’re going to get from Swayman. He’s looked good throughout the season, though his win-loss record may not accurately reflect that fact. With an 8-6-2 record, a 2.26 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, it seems like the team in front of Swayman have let him down more often than he’s let his team down this season.

All of this is to say that though the addition of Rask would be a major benefit to the Bruins rather than a detractor, his return doesn’t need to be rushed with the way both Swayman and Ullmark are playing.

Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman’s short-term future is up in the air as the Boston Bruins continue to develop him as the future of their franchise in the net. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Getting Rask playing time in Providence just feels like the logical plan of action right now. It would also delay the Bruins’ decision-making timeline as they’d have to figure out how to best manage having a trio of capable NHL goaltenders on the roster. It could also delay the questions that may arise about Swayman’s playing time as him sitting on the bench for any extended period of time wouldn’t benefit his development in the way playing him consistently in the AHL would.

While playing Swayman in the AHL may seem like a waste of talent, it could be the best option for the Bruins as they consider the long-term future of their potential future franchise goalie, rather than focusing on the short-term success he’s displayed thus far.

If the Bruins delay the signing of Rask by at least a week, this could push that can a little further down the road, though, which may be beneficial to all parties involved.

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