Oilers Need to Pursue Free Agent Tuukka Rask

The 2021-22 season couldn’t have started any better for the Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are dominating the league, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to be a very dependable source of secondary offence. They have one of the best top-six forward lineups in the league, and early on, their blue line has performed better than most expected, quieting detractors early on.

However, questions continue to be raised about the Oilers’ goaltending. Many were hesitant when general manager Ken Holland decided to return with the Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen duo, given Smith’s age paired with Koskinen’s struggles last season. 

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The concerns were warranted, as Smith was injured very early into the season and has yet to return. However, many would have thought an injury to Smith would be disastrous for the club, but Koskinen has stepped up in a major way. Through 10 starts, he has a very impressive 9-1-0 record, 2.74 goals-against average (GAA) and a .915 save percentage (SV%).

Despite his great start, many still want Holland to improve the Oilers’ goaltending situation, which is fair as Koskinen still tends to let in squeakers and has been wildly inconsistent during his tenure with the club. It’s anyone’s guess if he can sustain the level of play he has shown early on this season. However, should Holland decide to look for a goalie, his best option is an NHL veteran without a team.

Rask Looking to Return

Last week, Tuukka Rask was spotted skating with a Boston Bruins staff member before the team’s practice. The 34-year-old is recovering from offseason hip surgery and won’t likely be cleared to play until the new year. Most expect him to return to the Bruins once healthy, but that may not be the case.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the past few seasons, Rask has seemed hesitant to play past his contract, which ended after the 2020-21 season. That, paired with his surgery, forced the Bruins to sign former Buffalo Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million deal. Because of that, does that team still have room to bring Rask back?

It may seem easy for them to re-sign Rask, who should be affordable and offer a solid tandem with Ullmark for the rest of the season. However, management may not be so keen on that idea as rookie Jeremy Swayman has played in more games than Ullmark this season and is proving himself a legitimate starting goaltender. It is unlikely that management will assign him to the American Hockey League, and it’s also unlikely that they would be willing to have their free-agent acquisition (Ullmark) sit in the stands to make room for Rask.

Rask May Be Interested in Signing With a Contender

Earlier this week, Chris Johnston of TSN was asked about the possibility of Rask’s return and if he would be willing to sign with another team. Johnston did suggest that Boston is his preferred destination but didn’t rule out the possibility of him latching onto a contender if the fit isn’t there.

“He could be,” Johnston said when asked if Rask might be an option for other teams. “But I think there is one team in his mind and his heart and that’s the Boston Bruins. He’s been working out at their practice facility, doesn’t have a contract. Rask had surgery on a torn labrum on his hip during the offseason. I reached out to his agent who said the goal for him is to play and to win. Rask, previous to this, had been a little non-committal about his playing future, but the focus now is getting healthy, working on that hip and maybe returning as soon as January. He’s even left the door open to Team Finland for the Beijing Olympics.”

According to Johnson, Rask’s main interest is with the Bruins. Still, if there is a chance he may consider playing elsewhere, the Oilers need to reach out. At this point, they are as much of a contender as any team, and that alone could interest Rask.

Little Risk to Bringing in Rask

The best thing about signing Rask rather than trade for a goaltender is that the Oilers wouldn’t have to lose any players, prospects, or picks in return and, as mentioned above, he would likely command a low salary, especially if he wants to make a run at a Stanley Cup.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The hip surgery may be concerning to some, but again, there is no real risk in giving him a shot. He was an elite NHL goaltender for nearly a decade and was still very good as recently as last season, with a 2.28 GAA, a .913 SV% and a 15-5-2 record. If Holland can make this happen, the Oilers would become perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

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