After going through offseason hip surgery, goaltender Tuukka Rask was slated to return to action around the new year—that is if he returned at all. Rumors swirled about whether Rask would retire, or sign a lucrative deal elsewhere in the NHL, although he adamantly stated he had no interest in playing anywhere other than Boston.
Footage leaked from Warrior Ice Arena on Sunday revealed Rask on the ice, and taking light shots from a Bruins coach. It is early November, almost two months before his projected return. So while the action he faced Sunday was by no means indicative of real, live NHL play, it does signal that Rask is on the fast track to return to action.
The Bruins currently have two goalies who belong in the NHL. Linus Ullmark was signed to a healthy four year deal worth $20 million. deal this offseason, and Jeremy Swayman is the presumed goalie of the future for the Bruins. Despite his young age and minimal contract, he has also put up slightly better numbers than Ullmark.
The problem arises if Rask were to sign again with the Bruins because he currently is a free agent after all. He would join a goaltending room already full, and there would likely be only one option for Boston to take: demote Swayman. That is by no means ideal. Swayman has played like the superior netminder so far this season, and there is no guarantee that Rask returns to the elite form he has played with for the past few years in Boston. Demoting Swayman for Rask would be a big risk to the Bruins season. It would also mean Swayman misses key minutes in Boston to further develop.
The other option Boston could take would be to attempt to trade Ullmark, since he cannot be sent down to Providence. Considering they just signed him this past offseason to a lengthy deal that was clearly not general manager Don Sweeney's vision. He would also likely garner minimal return, especially with Boston lacking any sort of leverage on the trade market. In addition, it is unlikely that Rask signs more than a one year deal (or half year for that matter), which would leave the Bruins with just one netminder—Swayman—for the 2022-23 season.
Overall, having three good goalies is the kind of problem any team wishes to have. But it will pose some very difficult questions for Boston's staff. If Tuukka Rask is healthy and playing well, there is no doubt he is Boston's number one goalie. A run in the playoffs would be with him.
Even if Rask doesn't return (which seems less and less likely), Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff will have to choose a goalie for the playoffs or risk faltering attempting to play both. As of right now, Jeremy Swayman is the Boston Bruins number one goalie. If Rask returns, Swayman could be promptly bumped to number three on the depth chart and demoted to the American Hockey League.
It is still a long way off as Rask is projected to return at the earliest in early January. If he does plan on returning to the team though, and it looks like he does, Boston will have some tough choices to make.