By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
It’s no longer a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”. Tuukka Rask will re-sign with the Boston Bruins, likely sometime this month, marking his 15th season as a member of the Bruins since joining the franchise back in the 2007-08 season (played one game). Multiple members of the Bruins media space are predicting a signing to become official sometime next week, but with the recent postponements of Boston’s AHL affiliate team, that may be delayed longer. Regardless, when the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, Tuukka’s return to Boston will bring a new issue to this team – there will be one extra goaltender.
Following a crushing 6-2 defeat to the New York Islanders in Game Six of their second-round series, the Bruins had some serious question marks to answer come the offseason, with the biggest ones coming between the pipes. Tuukka Rask’s eight-year, $56 million contract signed back in 2013 was expiring and the knowledge of him needing offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum was fresh on the minds of Bruins management.
Young goaltenders Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar looked the part in their share of games played near the conclusion of the shortened 2021 NHL season, but the uncertainty of trusting these two goaltenders to be the backbone of a team trying to contend for another shot at most prestigious prize in hockey was a daunting thought. This ultimately led to the Bruins signing former Buffalo Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal worth $5 million per season.
This put Don Sweeney in a position with arguably three NHL-caliber goaltenders on the roster (very similar to their upcoming situation), so he was forced to send Vladar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2022 3rd Round Pick. For the time being, Tuukka Rask and his possible return was put on the backburner and Bruins fans focused on the season ahead with Ullmark and Swayman holding what has become a 1A/1B situation.
Both Swayman and Ullmark had shaky starts to their seasons, but have since battled back to boast over .917 SV% and around 2.50 goals against per game. At one point this season, both were near the bottom of the league for MoneyPuck.com’s Goals Saved Above Expected model, but now Swayman has a solid 5.2 GSAx and Ullmark is fighting to get his above zero.
As of this moment, I’d be one to argue that the goaltending is not one of the major problems with Boston (currently 4th in Atlantic). With that said, Tuukka Rask stepping into the scene as a former Vezina winner and not far from being a nominee for the same award, he automatically becomes one of the regulars in the rotation. This has resulted in Bruins fans pondering the idea of moving one of the other goalies – but here’s why that doesn’t make sense.
Reports surrounding Tuukka’s deal are a bit scattered, but recently it appears as thought it might only be a one-year contract. Rask also stated in a recent article by NBCBoston, “I want to help out. I’m not looking for a big contract, like I’ve said before. I just want to come and help out the guys, and do my part that way,”
Perhaps it is a one-year deal, there is (again) no certainty on what his plans are next season or the season after that. He may decide to call it a career after the playoff push and that would leave the organization without him once again. For that reason, it would be too much of a risk to move either one of Ullmark or Swayman. There is another difficult task with moving one of those, specifically the Sweden native Linus Ullmark – his full no-move clause attached to his contract. Convincing him to waive that clause with less than twenty games played with the club is unlikely and it ruins the integrity of handing out NMCs to future free agents. While yes, some teams would greatly improve with the services of Ullmark, trading him is quite improbable.
Of course, the Bruins should also be very hesitant to move Jeremy Swayman – the young 23-year-old who seems to be improving each time he mans the crease. His poise and calm demeanour is something Tuukka Rask also possesses and to have Rask returning in a mentorship-type role could be a massive benefit to a developing Swayman. With the taxi squads returning, having Swayman remain on the roster to run a three-goalie lineup could also be a possibility and having Covid protocols being unpredictable – extra insurance in the most crucial position also doesn’t hurt.
If worst came to worst, sending Swayman down to the Providence Bruins to become the starting goalie down there isn’t a bad option either. He would be able to further perfect his game with lesser competition to set himself up for a more secure role once Rask’s future is more certain in the years to come. Playing the long game with a potential franchise goaltender makes more sense than rushing it for the sake of trying to get the maximum trade value. Sometimes sitting on assets and developing is better than forcing a trade.
Finally, I’d be truthfully shocked if Boston turned around and flipped Rask right after he re-signs with the team he has spent his entire NHL career with. He has had the chance to sign with other teams due to his unrestricted free-agent status, but he has remained clear – he wants to play with the Boston Bruins and he wants to wear the Spoked-B. It would be a massive slap to the face of one of your franchise’s best goaltenders if you immediately flip him to another team. There’s also the possibility of Rask straight up retiring if that were to happen, who knows, but the thought of a Tuukka trade is pointless.
My final thoughts: keep all three and play it safe. Game-by-game, assess the trio and see what is the smartest thing at that time. Trading any one of them is not only improbable – but wouldn’t benefit the team now or in the future. Jeremy Swayman, Linus Ullmark, Tuukka Rask. Those are your Bruins goaltenders for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.