Tuukka Rask’s return to the Boston Bruins took another step forward.
Though he remains without a contract, the Bruins signed their all-time winningest netminder to a professional tryout agreement on Thursday. The deal sends Rask to Providence for a conditioning assignment, begging with a scheduled start Friday night.
Rask spent the first few months of the 2021-22 campaign rehabbing from off-season hip surgery. And now he’ll suit up for the first time since Boston’s Game 6 loss to the New York Islanders in last year’s second-round exit.
“Obviously, he’s been cleared medically to play, which is a great sign,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of Rask. “The next step is getting himself ready to be an NHL goaltender again. So step one will be in Providence. From there, we’ll see what happens.”
Rask’s lingering hip issues didn’t affect his daily routine away from the rink during a pandemic-shortened 2021 campaign. But the frequent flare-ups from his on-ice appearances provided enough concern for Rask to opt for surgery.
Retirement wasn’t an option for Rask. He wanted to return as soon as possible with the only NHL team he knew during his productive decade-plus long tenure. With the pain behind him, Rask now takes the next step in his journey.
“It didn’t affect my everyday life so much, that hip injury; it was just for hockey,” Rask said in his first Zoom call with the media since last season’s breakup day. “If I didn’t decide to play anymore and I to pursue rehab and whatnot, I didn’t have to do the surgery. But since I wanted to have a good quality of life and play hockey again, it was the only option.”
The Bruins promoted Jeremy Swayman, a backup to Rask a year ago, following a stellar 10-game stint to kick off his career. With uncertainty surrounding Rask’s surgery, GM Don Sweeney signed former Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark to a risky four-year contract with an annual $5 million salary-cap hit.
Cassidy and Boston’s coaching staff informed Swayman and Ullmark of Rask’s situation at training camp. The tandem to start the season now encountered the news like true pros, sharing reps with Rask over the last few weeks at practice.
“The biggest point for me was if I felt great that I wanted to come back,” Rask said of the dynamic with Ullmark and Swayman. “The only thing at this point is I want to help out. I’m not looking for a big contract; I just want to try and help out in any way.
“Obviously, people on the outside are looking for controversy. There’s always going to be controversy when you play in Boston. But so far, sharing the net with Sway and Linus there in practices, we get along great. Like I said, I just want to help out as much as I can and be up for the task.”
Controversy aside, the Bruins have a few options once Rask signs. They could send the waivers-exempt Swayman back to Providence. Perhaps they’ll keep three goaltenders on the roster — at least temporarily — with the return of taxi squads following the latest league-wide COVID-19 outbreak. Or they could try to entice Ullmark to waive his no-trade clause and send him to a team desperate for an improvement in net.
It’s a good problem to have. Ullmark, while inconsistent, provided more decent outings than not following a rough start to his Boston tenure. Swayman showcased more flashes of brilliance following his early-season rut. And Rask’s return will only strengthen their prospectus between the pipes.
“Having one net for three goaltenders will be a challenge, but we’ll figure it out,” Cassidy said. “At the end of the day, we’ll do what’s best for the Bruins…so hopefully everyone plays well and it’s a good problem to have.”
Rask expects to ink his new contract with the big club next week barring any setback. If everything falls into place, he could be trading in the spoked P for B perhaps as early as next Wednesday or Thursday during Boston’s back-to-back homestand with Montreal and Philadelphia.
“We have a plan in place, and it shouldn’t be an issue,” Rask said. “I plan on playing [Friday in Providence] here, and we’ll see about [another start] Sunday. And then moving forward next week I should be with the big guys.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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