The return of Tuukka Rask

Caricature of Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.

Guess who was back on the ice at the Boston Bruins practice facility? If the title wasn’t too much of a giveaway, it is indeed Tuukka Rask. Rask being at the Warrior Ice Arena is nothing new for the Bruins, however the fact that he is back on the ice is proof that Rask’s return to the team is inevitable. He is still a ways away from a return, as his original timetable to return from hip surgery was to be around January or February. Maybe him being back on the ice in November means that he is more likely to return in January than February.

It is important to note that Rask is still technically a free agent, but has made it known that he would rather retire than play for any team but the Bruins. The Bruins have less than $2 million in cap space as of right now, so it is expected that Rask will take a large pay cut to play half of this season. Now that Rask is getting some time on the ice, I expect Rask’s new contract to come some time in December when he is ready to begin practicing with the team once again. With Rask’s potential return, the Bruins will have quite the embarrassment of riches at the goaltending position; how they decide to manage the goaltending position will be interesting.

The Bruins signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal in the offseason to be the primary starter. Ullmark is pretty much a lock to split time with Rask and Jeremy Swayman as he would have to pass through waivers if he was sent to the American Hockey League. Ullmark is also too good of a goaltender to be sent down to the minors anyway.

Swayman is still in his two-way rookie deal, which means he can be sent down to the minors without having to pass through waivers. This could be a good option if Rask and Ullmark are playing great and Swayman needs some playing time. Swayman has arguably been the better goaltender between him and Ullmark thus far, but Swayman’s current contract makes him more likely to be the odd man out if Rask comes back and plays well.

Another option the Bruins can explore, and what I believe is most likely, is to have a three goaltender rotation. If Rask comes back and plays well, he won’t immediately assume the workload of a starter. So, in an effort to keep all three goaltenders rested and refreshed, the Bruins could decide to dress two goaltenders and keep the third goaltender as a healthy scratch. This would undoubtedly be the best way to ease Rask back into his typical role.

I am not known to be Rask’s biggest fan, as I do believe that his play tapers off when the stakes are high. However, I am not ready to put my complete faith in a goaltender who spent his entire career with the Buffalo Sabres and a rookie. I am a firm believer that Rask can maximize the Bruins' potential in the regular season and help the B’s make the playoffs. Nonetheless, one change I would make this season if I were Bruce Cassidy: if Rask begins to struggle in the playoffs, he needs to hand the baton to either Swayman or Ullmark before it’s too late.

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