Bruins Will Have Interesting Goalie Situation When Rask Returns

When Tuukka Rask was spotted practicing by himself at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday, news spread quickly. This shouldn’t be surprising considering Rask is one of the best goalies in the history of the Boston Bruins and up until this season has been the clear No. 1 starter for the team.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask was spotted at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of Boston Bruins practice, skating as he recovers from hip surgery (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Rask unfortunately undergoing offseason hip surgery, though, the Bruins and Rask would put off a new contract until the veteran netminder was healthy and ready to return to action. In his absence, the Bruins would split starts between rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman and newly-signed Linus Ullmark until Rask could step in and contribute, should he choose to play again.

As it stands, though, Rask isn’t under contract with the Bruins and a signing doesn’t seem to be imminent just because he’s returned to skating.

“He’s here in the mornings working with some of our trainers, using the facility, and then he leaves,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said the Rask news. “Typically there’s a crossover when we come in. But we’ve afforded him that and I think it’s worked out well. Tuukka’s just coming in, being a good professional, getting his work done and I think it’s worked out fine for him to allow him to do that.”

Cassidy would also mention that based on the original timeline for Rask’s recovery, in January or February, his best guess would be that he’s on target to achieve that recovery time.

Interestingly enough, the 2022 Winter Olympics are also in February so this recovery time could bode well for Rask on a few fronts.

To start the year, the Bruins have gotten good production out of their current tandem with both Swayman and Ullmark playing in five games apiece. Swayman has started the season with a 3-2 record, allowing 11 goals on 117 shots, good for a .906 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average. Ullmark has also gone 3-2, allowing 13 goals on 158 shots, good for a .918 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average.

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While the return of Rask doesn’t seem as pressing as the need for depth scoring (an ongoing theme for the Bruins over the last few years) and potentially another upgrade on defense, he would still be a welcome addition to the lineup.

Rask Wants To Help the Bruins However He Can

Rask has been excellent for the Bruins throughout his career. He wouldn’t just be some aging veteran addition either as it’s not like he’s appeared to be anywhere past his prime in recent seasons. In fact, Rask would win the Jennings Trophy alongside Jaroslav Halak just two seasons ago while also earning a nod on the NHL’s second All-Star team. He’d also be the runner-up for the 2020 Vezina Trophy.

Fortunately for the Bruins, bringing Rask back into the fold wouldn’t be an expensive endeavor as he has no intention of signing anywhere else once he’s healthy. Back in August, Rask would say the following about a potential return:

“I have been so lucky to be part of only one team in the NHL,” Rask said. “For me, it’s about that pride of playing for one team and one team only. I have no reason to chase the money anymore and go somewhere else. It’s going to be one of those things where the Bruins are my home, Boston is my home. I’ve always wanted to play here, wanted to stay here. So the money won’t be an issue. We had a conversation with [Bruins general manager Don Sweeney] and I will be a cheap goalie for them.”

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman should be the Boston Bruins long-term answer at goalie (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the long-term, Swayman truly does appear to be the goalie of the future. A brief but excellent sample size last season showed fans what the Anchorage-native could do and it got them excited. While he hasn’t looked quite as dominant yet this season, it’s important to remember that he’s still a rookie and isn’t set to turn 23 until the end of November. There’s a lot of time for him to turn into the goalie that everybody thinks he’s capable of becoming, the team just needs to make sure they develop him properly.

If that means letting Rask and Ullmark take the reigns for the 2021-22 season with Swayman getting starting time in the AHL, then that’s okay. If the team decides to carry three goaltenders and rotate starts accordingly, that could also be okay, especially with Rask needing time to ease his way back into game shape.

Pending continued solid performances, it seems unlikely that Ullmark will be the odd-goalie out in this equation after signing a four-year deal worth $20 million in the offseason.

It won’t be an easy rotation to figure out, but the two factors that the team needs to prioritize in the short term are winning games this season and developing Swayman in a way that sets him up for long-term success.

Rask seems to be on board with helping the Bruins in both of these endeavors as he’d also say this in August:

“I would say I’m not looking for a $7 million contract anymore. I just like to help the team out. I feel like I’m a veteran goalie and there are some young guys coming in, so whatever I can do to help the guys out I will do it and end my career as a Bruin.”

This is good for the Bruins. While they’ll have some interesting and even difficult decisions to make when (and if) Rask is healthy and returns to the team, it’s a good problem to have. The Bruins would much rather have three goaltenders on their roster who are worthy of starting games than have none. The alternative could be worse and goaltending should be a position of strength for them moving forward.