For the last 12 seasons, Tuukka Rask has been the main guy in the net for the Boston Bruins. He has won 306 games during his 14 total seasons with the Black and Gold, but following their elimination from the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, the 34-year-old’s contract expired. He recently underwent surgery for a torn hip labrum that he played the second half of the 2020-21 regular season and postseason with, while there are questions as to whether he returns for a 15th season.
The recovery time frame for Rask is January or February of 2022 and general manager Don Sweeney has not shut the door on Rask re-signing at some point for the 2021-22 season. Veteran backup Jaroslav Halak has spent the last three seasons in Boston with Rask, but he moved on in free agency and signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, rookies Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar got their opportunity to show what they could do when injuries and COVID-19 hit the netminders and they both had their moments. Vladar was traded in July to the Calgary Flames for a third-round draft pick in 2022.
With questions surrounding whether or not Rask is coming back and with Halak leaving in free agency and Vladar in a trade, let’s take a look at who will be between the pipes for the Bruins this upcoming season and the depth they have from Boston through the minor leagues.
Sweeney hit the free-agent market to bring in a veteran goaltender when he brought in Ullmark, someone who the Bruins know well. The 28-year-old spent the first six seasons of his career with the Buffalo Sabres in the same division as Boston.
Ullmark signed a four-year, $20 million contract that carries an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million, something that is a bit of a surprise for a goalie that has dealt with injuries during his tenure in Buffalo. In 117 games, he has a 50-47-13 career record with a 2.78 goals-against average (GAA) and a .912 save percentage (SV%). In 2020-21, he went 9-6-3 with a 2.63 GAA and a .917 SV% for the Sabres.
The 6-foot-4 Ullmark finished tied for fourth with the New York Islanders Semyon Varlamov in save percentage 5-on-5 last season at .937, which was higher than Stanley Cup winner Andrei Vasilevskiy (.933) of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vezina Trophy winner and former Vegas Golden Knight Marc-Andre Fleury (.929), who is now with the Chicago Blackhawks.
There is no doubt that the talent is there for him to be a No. 1 goalie, but the question the Bruins have is can he stay healthy? Time will tell.
Swayman burst onto the scene in 2020-21 and despite the showing only being 10 games, the results were good enough for Sweeney, who traded Vladar to the Flames after signing Ullmark. Swayman went 7-3 with a very impressive 1.50 GAA and a .945 SV%. The 111th pick in the fourth round of the 2017 Entry Draft allowed just 15 goals on 271 shots.
There is no doubt that Swayman will push Ullmark in training camp for the starting job. Regardless of how things go, Swayman will get his share of opportunities this season in the net, and should Ullmark go down with an injury, the 22-year-old former University of Maine standout has proven he is more than ready to fill the void.
With Swayman looking like he will end up in Boston this season, Keyser should get his chance to shine in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Providence Bruins. The 22-year-old Coral Springs, Florida native played in five games in the 25-game shortened season in 2020-21 with the P-Bruins when Swayman and Vladar were called up to Boston.
Keyser also played in 22 games last season for the Jacksonville Icemen in the ECHL with a 2.46 GAA and a .917 SV%. With the AHL expected to go back to a normal schedule this season, Keyser will get a shot in Providence and be ready should an injury occur early in the season in Boston.
In October of 2020, Sweeney signed Booth to a one-year, two-way deal for $750,000 and he spent his time between Providence and Jacksonville. On Aug. 5, the Bruins brought Booth back on another one-year, two-way contract for the 2021-22 season, which means he will battle with Keyser for playing time with the P-Bruins.
Despite no NHL games under his belt, the 24-year-old from Montreal, who was the 93rd pick in the fourth round of the 2015 Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, has the makeup to be a diamond in the rough in the Bruins system.
With Vladar and Halak gone, and Rask still up in the air for next season, the Bruins signed Grosenick to a one-year, two-way contract in July to add depth to the system. The 31-year-old has played in four NHL games combined with the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, going 2-2 with a 2.27 GAA and a .933 SV% in the four games.
Grosenick will battle with Keyser and Booth for time in Providence, but he most likely will see some time with the Maine Mariners, the Bruins’ new ECHL affiliate beginning this upcoming season.
It would not surprise anyone if midway through the season, Rask agrees to a contract and comes back for another playoff run with the Bruins. Regardless if he comes back or not, after Ullmark and Swayman, Boston has some young players battling for playing in the minors looking to gain more experience as they head into the 2021-22 season.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma, Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.