By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
This article is going to divide the Bruins fan base more than any other article I’ve ever written. Recently, we saw Tuukka Rask return to the ice after getting hip surgery this offseason, as covered by BNG Writer Carter Hochman. He is now beginning to recover from an injury that some people blamed for the Bruins’ exit from the playoffs last season. I’m not one of those people, but I do think there is a risk of him not being able to perform to his usual standard if he does make a recovery. I hesitate to say “full recovery” because he may never get back to what he once was.
If I were a betting man, I would bet that Rask does play for the Bruins this year. He seems determined to play again, and we know from past events that Bruce Cassidy and Bruins’ management has a soft spot for him. I would guess that even if he’s not quite 100%, he will tell the team he wants to give it a shot, and I do not see them denying him that opportunity. For that reason, I want to operate as if Rask is going to come back and think about what that may mean for the two current goaltenders who will have to give up ice time.
The first option I want to discuss is the possibility that one of either Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman gets traded this year close to the deadline. This could be a viable strategy, especially given the Bruins’ need for a defenseman. You can check out some potential targets for the Bruins to go after in this recent article by Kevin O’Keefe. My favorite option from the list that Kevin explored is probably Hampus Lindholm. As Kevin said, he would fit in great as a partner for McAvoy and could be a solution for years to come.
My pick would probably have to be Linus Ullmark. His contract is very manageable for teams that may be interested but also a bit too pricey for my liking, considering how much time he’s spending as a backup right now. The only catch here is that Ullmark has a no-move clause currently in place, so any potential trade would require him to waive that clause. It is possible, but I’m inclined to say it will not happen. Ullmark likely will not want to waive the clause, having just signed the contract this summer.
Swayman, on the other hand, has looked pretty solid early in the season. Many fans, including myself, were worried that he’d show signs of sophomore season syndrome, much like Carter Hart last season for the Flyers. That has not seemed to be a problem so far, though, so hopefully, Swayman can keep that rolling. If he can, I do not see him as a tradeable asset. Even if Rask comes back healthy, he is definitely running out of time playing at a top level. Having Swayman ready for when Rask needs to step away for good will be crucial for a potential retooling effort that the Bruins will have to make at some point.
With that being said, both the Ducks and Golden Knights have great starting goaltenders already. Their nets are locked up with John Gibson and Robin Lehner, respectively. This means trading Ullmark for Lindholm, Cam Fowler, or Brayden McNabb is probably not an option. That would leave Jacob Chychrun, which I would love, but it would be a really steep ask. Ullmark would help to close the gap needed, but there probably would still need to be some prospects headed to the southwest in exchange for the 23-year-old.
If Ullmark is not moved, that would mean the Bruins have three viable goaltender options. Most teams, however, do not carry three goalies. The most likely situation would be sending Jeremy Swayman down to Providence. It is a totally reasonable course of action, but with the way Swayman has started the season, it’s hard to get behind right now. I would much prefer a trade to acquire something that can be used now, while the Bruins’ core is still performing at a world-class level.
If Don Sweeney can pull this off, it would mark two years in a row that he went out and scored at the trade deadline. I still wish he would have made a bigger splash in free agency, but if Rask signs for a cheap price and Sweeney can get a solid left-handed defenseman at or before the deadline, even I’ll have to give him a round of applause for how he handled the Bruins’ tight budget. It will undoubtedly be a challenging task, given Ullmark’s no-move clause and the available defensemen out there, but I don’t think many people seriously thought the Bruins would land Taylor Hall last season either.