With surgery to repair a torn hip labrum on deck sometime within the next month or so, and without a contract for next year to his name, Boston Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask is in a truly unusual spot entering the 2021 offseason.
So much so that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney isn’t dealing in definitives when it comes to his 2021-22 season.
“Tuukka has to have the offseason surgery and re-evaluate how he’s doing coming out of that,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “As he mentioned, he knows he’s had a torn labrum and wants to make sure that Dr. [Bryan] Kelly, who’s likely to perform it, that there are no surprises and then go from there.”
It seemed like a subtle ‘pump the brakes’ kind of answer from Sweeney, at least in regards to Rask’s potential timeline should he return to Boston next season (the belief is that he wouldn’t be ready to play until January or February). But Sweeney also did note that the 34-year-old Rask has plans for when he’s out of surgery.
“[Rask] indicated to us that he fully intended to rehab with the intention of coming back and we’ll go through our meetings and such and go forward,” Sweeney noted. “But we have to factor in that he could be a part of that. Whether or not that means that the two young guys get the bulk of the work in the early going and see where Tuukka comes, or we go to augment our group and create internal competition and then re-evaluate how Tuukka’s doing coming out of the rehab process.”
What that means for the Bruins, of course, will be interesting.
It feels safe to assume that Jaro Halak is not in the Bruins’ plans for 2021-22. A good soldier and serviceable backup during his three-season run in Boston, Halak’s tenure ended with him losing out on the backup job to Jeremy Swayman. Halak didn’t even take part in an exit media interview, so, that feels somewhat telling when it comes to that relationship’s future.
That leaves the Bruins with Swayman and Daniel Vladar as their current options for the start of 2021-22.
“Small sample size of Jeremy, he played extremely well,” Sweeney said. “Daniel played well in his starts. Obviously, had an overall hiccup as a team, I think we were pretty beaten up the one night when we played Washington at home. But Daniel acquitted himself very well, particularly against Pittsburgh on the road in that game he played.”
In the case of both Swayman and Vladar, it was a strong start. Swayman posted a fantastic 7-3-0 record and .945 save percentage in his 10-game NHL sample, and Vladar was humming along with an impressive .922 save percentage before that Washington beatdown Sweeney mentioned dropped his 2021 save percentage down to .886.
But it’s still an unbelievably small sample size for each, with just over 900 minutes of total NHL work between the two.
That could leave Sweeney & Co. scouring the free agent market for some potential insurance options with prior NHL experience, similar to what the Capitals did with Craig Anderson behind Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov this past season. (I mention Anderson because it’s unlikely to imagine a legitimate high-end free agent option looking at Boston as a destination if he knows that Rask is coming back in January and bumping him out of the rotation as the No. 3.)
“We’re in the early stages of learning if Tuukka has decided to have surgery, and we have to make a decision,” Sweeney admitted. “If we’re going to go to market and bring in a player that we feel is ahead of those two players or certainly from an experience standpoint, or we do roll the dice a little bit, allow those guys to see if they can handle the workload, which is a tall task. Make no mistake about it, it’s a tall task. Again, we’re still in the early stages and feel comfortable with the depth.
“We have a very crucial decision to make and chart a course for certainly the first part of the season as to when Tuukka will be ready. We have to forecast that accurately if Tuukka decides to come back and play and how he fits in.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.