When the Boston Bruins signed goalie Linus Ullmark to a five-year, $20 million contract on July 28, many NHL pundits and fans alike felt that meant there would be no way that longtime Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask would play for the Bruins again. In fact, probably half of the Bruins fan base and a good portion of the Boston media celebrated the very real chance that after 12 seasons, 10 as a starter, Rask’s career with the Bruins and likely in the NHL, was seemingly coming to an end. As far as the Boston Bruins are concerned though, not so fast.
Despite Rask, 34, not being able to return from recent surgery for a torn labrum until at least January, and being an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NHL career, the Boston Bruins not only continue to leave the door open for his return but also seem to be cautiously factoring him into their plans for the 2021-22 season.
This was Bruins general manager Don Sweeney in his media Zoom call July 28, just hours after signing the 28-year-old Ullmark and trading away goalie Dan Vladar for a 2022 third round pick:
“Fortunate to have the opportunity to bring a goaltender at a primary age with experience,” Sweeney said of Ullmark just hours after signing the former Buffalo Sabres netminder. “We just think where we were currently sitting with two young goaltenders, we needed to be prepared and allow Tuukka [Rask] all the time he needs to get healthy. He just had surgery, spoke to him this morning, doing very well. Just have to go through the process and go from there. I think we’ve always left the door open for Tuukka to return, and I think it just allows Jeremy [Swayman] to continue to progress at a natural rate, but also give him the opportunity to be at the NHL level.
As you can see, we gave Daniel [Vladar] an opportunity to go to Calgary and establish some stuff there. They were excited to have him. It was a little bit of a musical chairs shuffle, but for all the right reasons we just felt we’ve had very strong goaltending. We want to continue to have that, and it was a unique opportunity to explore having Linus join our group and we’re excited about that.”
Rask has been adamant that if he doesn’t sign with the Boston Bruins again, that will be it for his NHL career but health-permitting, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t think that NHL career is over yet.
“I do,” Cassidy told TSN 1200 (Ottawa) last week when asked if he believes that Rask will play in the NHL again. “I think that’ll be his call at the end of the day.”
So if Rask will only play for the Boston Bruins and Cassidy thinks he will play again, then unless there’s something other than health that prevents him from playing for the Bruins again, Rask will be back in a Bruins uniform likely by the time the NHL pauses for the Winter Olympics (Feb. 5-22) or by the time the leagues resumes action right? So then with hot-shot prospect Jeremy Swayman as the back-up and seemingly the Bruins’ starter for the future, would the Boston Bruins sign a goalie in his prime to a five-year contract and not just bring in a stop-gap until Swayman’s ready?
“It’s a good five-month rehab, so we did not want to wait and say, ‘OK, Tuukka will come back.’ What if the rehab doesn’t go well? Anything could happen,” Cassidy said. “So we identified a guy that we thought would be a good young goaltender in this league for years to come, and we happened to have one who kind of surprised us last year in Swayman [with] how quickly he developed, so we just figured we’ll start with those two.
If Tuukka wants to play and it looks like he’s gonna play, well that’s a good problem to have and we’ll sort it out in the second half of the year. But all indications from [Rask] are that he thought he still had some hockey left in him but was gonna have the surgery and go from there. So it’s a little bit up in the air right now.”
Rask’s teammate Charlie McAvoy also seems to think the Ullmark signing didn’t signal the end of the Rask era as well, but rather a welcomed dilemma to have for a team that still has Stanley Cup aspirations.
“It’s a luxurious problem to have,” the Bruins’ top defenseman said at the Smashfest Charity Ping-Pong Challenge recently. “We have great depth at the goalie position. We have Swayman and Ullmark, and Tuukka is rehabbing now … and we absolutely love ‘Tooks,'” McAvoy said. “I think he’s the best goaltender in the NHL. So if you’re able to bring him back into the fold, like I said, it’s a luxurious problem to have. I’m really excited to start the season [with the goalies we have] and then, you know, possibly get Tuukka back at some point.”
An email to Rask’s agent Markus Lehto Wednesday morning for an update on Rask’s health and status as a UFA had not been returned. Until he or Rask speak, we won’t know what the future holds for Rask and the Boston Bruins but it sure sounds like the Bruins believe Rask will be back in Black and Gold at some point in the upcoming season.