It sure seems like Tuukka Rask is going to be returning to the Bruins at some point in the next month or two.
Let’s briefly review some recent developments:
Last week, Rask told ESPN’s Sean McDonough that he is hoping to be back playing sometime in early January, and that he hopes it’s with the Bruins.
A couple days later, Rask was seen at Warrior Ice Arena going through drills with current Bruins goalies Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman and several Bruins shooters. That was a notable progression from Rask skating and working out by himself at Warrior.
Then perhaps the most telling sign of all came on Tuesday when general manager Don Sweeney met with the media. While Sweeney said he and Rask haven’t yet had serious contract discussions, he came as close to committing to bringing Rask back as he has yet.
“As I’ve said, I think there’s been a general understanding that Tuukka has to make a decision on his health, first and foremost. When he’s able to do that officially and declare himself that this is what he wants to do and play, then we’ll find the common ground,” Sweeney said. “We have not hidden from that fact, that if indeed he is healthy and wants to play, then he’s likely to be a part of our group.”
“We’ll find the common ground.” Not “we’ll see” or “we’ll explore our options.” We will.
“He’s likely to be a part of our group.” Not just “the door is open” or it’s a possibility. Likely!
It’s always been clear that there was ongoing communication and at least some level of mutual interest in Rask returning to the Bruins, but with Rask getting closer to playing timeline-wise, it certainly seems like the two sides are also moving closer to getting something done.
One reason this decision is probably getting easier for Sweeney is another ongoing development, or perhaps lack of development: The Bruins’ current goaltending hasn’t been good enough. Sweeney’s assessment of the play of Ullmark and Swayman so far wasn’t exactly glowing.
“They’ve been OK,” Sweeney said. “I think both of them have had really, really strong pockets of games, and other times where they haven’t played quite as well as they would like in some situations. We have higher expectations for everybody in that sense. I don’t think Linus and Jeremy would say it any differently than I am.”
Statistically, Ullmark and Swayman have arguably been even worse than OK. Of the 60 goalies who have played the most minutes this season, they both rank in the bottom half of the league in five-on-five save percentage, high-danger save percentage, and goals saved above expected.
Aside from Rask’s health, the one thing that may have made Sweeney think twice about bringing Rask back was the performance of Ullmark and Swayman. If both were playing well and giving the Bruins top-of-the-line goaltending, perhaps Sweeney would pass on Rask. That hasn’t happened, though.
There would likely be a corresponding move to go along with Rask’s return, as the Bruins probably wouldn’t keep all three on the NHL roster. Sweeney put himself in a bit of a bind with the contract he gave Ullmark this offseason, so Ullmark probably can’t be moved.
Swayman can be sent down to Providence without going through waivers, though, and Sweeney acknowledged some “growing pains” when talking about Swayman on Tuesday.
“It’s a small sample size for Jeremy. It was tremendous last year, but it was six teams. You’re going through some new teams this year and new environments and teams that are probably doing their due diligence as to how to attack a young goaltender,” Sweeney said. “There’s been certainly other goalies that have gone through that, so we’ve got some growing pains associated with that position. I would say it’s a little more of the inconsistency than anything.”