On Tuesday, Tuukka Rask agreed to a free-agent contract to rejoin the Boston Bruins. It is a one-year deal for Rask, who is coming off of offseason hip surgery. While adding a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie is a nice addition for coach Bruce Cassidy, in the big picture, it does not address bigger needs the Black and Gold have. Rask will certainly help, but general manager Don Sweeney has more work to do if this team is going to punch their ticket to the playoffs later this spring, despite their recent play.
Rask Solidfy’s Goaltending
Do the Bruins really need Rask? The case could be made that they are fine with rookie Jeremy Swayman and free agent Linus Ullmark, but adding the talent of Rask is a no-brainer. It’s even more of a no-brainer when you consider that the NHL calendar is in January and having a three-goalie rotation that you feel comfortable with is a win-win situation.
Swayman this season is 8-6-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%). Last season he burst onto the scene and there were questions as to whether he could follow that season up this season and so far, the 23-year-old has been a reason as to why the Bruins are hanging around in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Things did not start well for Ullmark after signing a four-year, $20 million contract over the summer, but he has turned things around after a sluggish start. He is 11-5-0 with a 2.57 GAA and a .917 SV% and has got better and better in each outing. The length and amount of the contract raised some eyebrows this summer, but so far, the 28-year-old is living up to expectations.
Swayman and Ullmark have played well this season, despite facing many odd-man rushes and being left out on an island by their defense with bad defensive zone turnovers. With Rask joining the Bruins, Sweeney said that Swayman will head to Providence.
Bruins Need a Second Line Center
It is no secret that the Bruins have needs that can be addressed by the March trade deadline. A second-line center would be at the top of that list, followed by an addition to the defense with a left-shot blueliner.
When David Krejci announced last July that he was going to continue his career in his home country of the Czech Republic, Boston has not filled that gaping hole on the second line behind Patrice Bergeron. Charlie Coyle began the season as the man between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith and he has not played bad at all. He is just not the playmaking center that Hall seems to need to thrive as he did following last April’s trade.
Erik Haula has recently moved up to the second line between Hall and David Pastrnak, but in the long run, is Haula or Coyle the answer for the rest of the season? Coyle’s six-year, $31.5 million contract that carries an annual average value (AAV) of $5.25 million says he is, but he seems better off on the third line.
After Haula and Coyle, there are really no options for Cassidy to turn to. Jack Studnicka had a solid training camp when Coyle missed time, but he has spent a majority of his time this season in Providence, seeing top-six minutes at center. It’s clear that Sweeney will have to address this before March.
Bruins Could Use an Addition to Defense
In the offseason, the defense took a hit when Jeremy Lauzon was left exposed for the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft in July, which allowed Kraken GM Ron Francis to grab the young left-shot. In free agency, Sweeney signed Derek Forbort to be a 20-minute a night left-shot defenseman and brought back Mike Reilly, who he acquired from the Ottawa Senators last April.
Both players have had their ups and downs this season playing behind Matt Grzelcyk and Boston could use an addition to the left-side. Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes is a name that very well could be available in a trade. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound 23-year-old would be a nice addition, but the asking price is said to be high. He is in the third year of a six-year, $27.6 million contract that carries a $4.6 million cap hit. Trading for Chychrun will give the Black and Gold an addition for the next three years on the left side.
Right now, the Bruins are rolling out Reilly, Forbort, and Grzelcyk on a nightly basis on the left side, which is good enough to survive for now, but can it in the long run and in the postseason should they get there? That’s what the front office needs to ask themselves. An upgrade in a deal is needed.
Bruins Need to Address Some Needs
As the Bruins are constructed now, they are good enough to hang around for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They might be good enough to grab one of the two wild card spots, but beyond just getting to the playoffs, they need outside help to advance.
Jake DeBrusk is the best trade chip Sweeney has right now after requesting a trade in November. A straight-up player-for-player trade might not be good enough to get a deal done. Another roster player may have to be involved, some draft picks or even some prospects that are close to being NHL ready. Could Sweeney surprise people and make a blockbuster deal? That’s not his style, but anything is possible.
Don’t get me wrong, Rask joining the Bruins is a nice addition, however, other needs have to be addressed in the next couple of months. A second-line center and an addition to the left side of the defense are the two most pressing needs that need to be addressed by the front office.
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.