As the NHL offseason ramped up, with the draft and expansion draft out of the way, the Boston Bruins and Don Sweeney knew they had work do to do turn themselves back into a contender. And boy did they ever make moves.
While most of their additions were centered around adding to the existing core, their biggest signing was one that signaled change may be on the way. By inking former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract, one thing became clear: the Boston Bruins are preparing for life after Tuukka Rask.
Is it worth it for the Boston Bruins to bring Tuukka Rask back?
The Ullmark contract is just one of a few reasons that it seems like the Bruins may be preparing to move on from Rask. That’s a lot of money and a lot of term for someone you don’t project as your starter. What does that mean? That the team isn’t sure that last year’s starter is coming back.
While Rask has certainly played well when he has been on the ice over the past few years, injuries have started to creep in. This past season, he played in only 24 of the team’s 56 games with a nagging back injury, before a torn labrum severely hampered his play in the playoffs, leading to calls that his time in Boston should be over.
And now, thanks to surgery to repair that torn labrum, Rask wouldn’t even be available for the Boston Bruins until at least January 2022. By that point, he’ll have missed somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 games. That’s a lot of time.
And even when he would return, the Bruins would surely play it safe with how often he takes the ice. Realistically, even if Rask does come back this year, he would probably only play about 15-20 games. That’s hardly even worth it, especially if the Bruins have gotten good goaltending until that point.
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With the combination of the newly signed Ullmark and standout rookie Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins should be able to stay afloat. Their goaltending should be the same strength it has been in recent years. Whether Ullmark takes up the lead as the #1 option, or if Swayman steals the job, the Bruins should be just fine.
If that is the case, and the Bruins are winning, there may not be a role for Rask whenever he would be able to return. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? And based off of Swayman’s rookie year and Ullmark’s shockingly good numbers on a straight-up terrible Sabres team, there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen.
That’s not to say that Rask isn’t better than both of those guys. If he’s healthy, he probably is. But momentum and confidence act in strange ways, and the team may not want to mess with what they’ve got if it’s working in Rask’s absence.
Boston Bruins cap situation is another obstacle
Although the B’s went into free agency with more than $20 million in cap space, their flurry of signings on Day 1 just about depleted it. So much so that their finances are another hurdle to a Rask return.
After the recent news that David Krejci plans to return to the Czech Republic to play this year, the Bruins are left without a real second line center. Sure, they have Charlie Coyle and Jack Studnicka in the organization, but neither of those guys have inspired any confidence to lead an effective second line.
With two replacements for Rask and none for Krejci, the Bruins may be best suited to use their remaining cap space, and probably some picks and players, to bring in another center instead of bringing back their injured goalie.
Rask may make the Boston Bruins’ decision for them
In the end, though, the final decision rests with Tuukka. He could wake up one morning and just decide that he’s done. He’s already admitted that he has no plans of playing anywhere except Boston, and if it’s clear that Boston is moving on, he may take matters into his own hands and retire to save any embarrassment that would come from being replaced.
Are the Bruins better off without Rask, as some fans have been claiming for years? I certainly don’t think so. But the organization seems to be preparing for it, and we may very well be about to find out for sure.