Tuukka Rask’s possible retirement has been lingering for a couple years and the summer of 2021 was going to be very important in terms of the future in goal for the Boston Bruins. Rask is still only 34 years old and a lot of goalies can keep playing at an elite level well into their 30s. However, Rask is a very humble but private person and the events that transpired with his family since the covid bubble, might have made him think twice.
He is a family man, who likes to “disappear” to Finland during the off-season and doesn’t like to be contacted by anyone. He has a lot of interests outside of hockey as well, like tennis and drumming. Alongside the subtle hints that he’s thrown around in the last few years, as well as his recent surgery, it looked like he might have played his last game in the NHL.
The Boston Bruins have done their due diligence throughout the off-season and have kept in touch with Rask. He required surgery on his torn labrum back in July and he is targeting a return in late January. The Bruins went out and acquired potential number one goalie, Linus Ullmark for 4 years, with the idea that he will be between the pipes for the foreseeable future. Jeremy Swayman impressed enough at the end of last season and into the playoffs that he earned himself the backup job when the puck drops on opening night.
This off-season was rather important because of the assortment of riches that was available at the goalie position. There were several enticing backup options, who could have been a part of a 1A/1B tandem like Jonathan Bernier, Jaroslav Halak, and James Reimer but then there were only a few actual starters on the open market. Alongside Linus Ullmark, Darcy Kuemper and Frederik Andersen could’ve been had, with the former being a trade rather than a free agent signing.
The Bruins knew they had to act fast and with Rask’s health and general future in limbo, they acquired one of the more underrated goaltenders in the NHL. Ullmark has spent his entire 6 year career in Buffalo and has surprisingly amassed a winning record amongst all the chaos. The Sabres have finished 7th, 8th, 8th, 6th, 6th, and 8th place in their division respectively, as well as finishing last place in the NHL twice in that span (2017-18 and 2020-21).
He has never been the prototypical starting goalie for the Sabres, either because of injuries or tandems but in 117 games he has posted a 50-47-13 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.78 G.A.A. Most recently, he finished this past season 9-6-3 with a .917 save percentage; in contrast the Sabres went 6-28-4 in the games he didn’t start. His career peripherals might not stand out that much but considering the team he was on, the personnel in front of him, and how putrid the Sabres have been, those are pretty impressive numbers.
Jeremy Swayman had a chance to shine last year because of the injury to Tuukka Rask. He played in 10 games at a very critical juncture of the season and posted a 7-3-0 record with an impressive .945 save percentage and a minuscule 1.50 G.A.A. He even usurped Jaroslav Halak as the backup in the playoffs, once the season had ended and Rask had regained his starting job.
Letting Halak walk in free agency and even trading Dan Vladar to the Calgary Flames was vindication for Swayman as he would be thrusted into the backup spot. Ullmark and Swayman are both inexperienced to a certain degree but have shown flashes of brilliance in their time between the crease. However, the idea of going with a tandem of Ullmark and Swayman was rather easy, considering cost, Rask’s future, and the other options available.
Now that we’re only a month and a bit away from opening night, the Bruins off-season got even better with the news that once Rask is ready, he intends to return for the season on a very cheap contract. The idea of their all-time winningest goaltender coming back mid-season on a cheap deal, alongside Ullmark and Swayman is too enthralling not too be overly excited about.
Rask is coming off a season where he finished 15-5-2 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.28 G.A.A. On top of that, the season before he finished second in the Vezina voting with a 26-8-6 record. He’s no slouch, he’s still playing like he’s in his prime, and adding that kind of goaltending and experience mid-season is the best thing for the Bruins and their young goaltenders.
In a recent interview Rask intimated that he has never wanted to leave Boston and it’s essentially his second home and family. He played with one team in Finland and wants that trend to continue in the NHL. He doesn’t care all that much about money because he said he’s made enough over his career and that he wants to play the role as mentor for the young goaltenders. It would be his dream to end his career as a Bruin and give it one last kick in the can for that Stanley Cup.
The Bruins are in capable hands until Rask is ready to return. Once he’s back in the fold, I’m not exactly sure how the Bruins will divide the time in the crease, but it’ll all depend on how Swayman is adjusting to his first full season in the NHL. There’s a lot of games to be played until January and February, and even then they’re going to have to ease Rask into playing time since he hasn’t played since June.
Most likely a tandem of Ullmark and Rask will ride into the post-season but that still should give Swayman plenty of games to garner experience. If injuries come into play, having this three headed monster should subside the pain a bit.
Rask has always been a team player and he’s willing to help the Bruins at all cost. His surgery allowed the Bruins to find his future replacement at a good market value, it will allow Swayman to gather experience both on and off the ice, and it won’t affect the Bruins salary cap either. This could very well be one of the best trios of goaltenders in the NHL when all is said and done. Come playoff time, the Bruins will geared for another deep run as their lineup will be solidified from top to bottom.