Musical chairs made their way to the Bruins’ crease on Wednesday afternoon.
With Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar the team’s only two NHL goaltenders signed when free agency began at 12 p.m., the Bruins created a crowd when they threw $20 million at free agent Linus Ullmark. The payday was more than your standard ‘veteran brought in for mere competition’ with Swayman and Vladar, and that round of musical chairs ultimately led to the B’s shipping Vladar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick.
But the Bruins made it clear that Tuukka Rask, currently a free agent for the first time in his NHL career and fresh off hip surgery, will remains with a chair in Boston should things go smoothly in time for a full recovery.
“We needed to be prepared and allow Tuukka [Rask] all the time he needs to get healthy,” Sweeney said. “[Rask] just had surgery, spoke to him this morning, doing very well. Just have to go through the process and go from there.
“I think we’ve always left the door open for Tuukka to return.”
You read that right: Even after committing considerable money (and years) to Ullmark, the Bruins remain straight-up open to a Rask reunion when the hip is healed and good to go. There was no easy “we’ll see what happens” or “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there” copout to take the pressure off Sweeney as a Rask returns looms over the B’s crease. The Bruins outright said that they needed to be prepared (read as: have the capable options to stay afloat in the playoff race) and basically acknowledged that doing that would allow Rask to return at 100 percent.
The Bruins even said that they’ve ‘always’ left the door open for Rask to return. Again, even after committing $20 million to Ullmark and removing Swayman’s top competition for NHL starts by way of a trade with the Flames, Rask is factoring into the Bruins’ plans, according to Sweeney.
Sweeney even made it sound that they’ll entertain a Rask return even if the Ullmark-Swayman tandem is working.
“I see it like having extremely good goaltending at that point in time,” Sweeney said when asked about a potential Rask return in the middle of the 2021-22 season. “Again, Jeremy [Swayman] is in a position where we have flexibility. He could be the best goaltender, and then you feel like not a lot of teams juggle with three, but you have opportunity if you needed to send Jeremy down [to the American Hockey League] and get to the playoffs and play the best goaltender. Ultimately, you’d have, in Linus and Tuukka in that case, as you spelled it, that’s hypothetical.”
This is certainly true. One of the reasons why the Bruins traded Vladar to Calgary was that lack of flexibility.
Out of minor-league options given his pro experience, Vladar had to make the Bruins out of training camp or hit the waiver wire. The Bruins already went through that with Malcolm Subban in 2017, and they understandably had no interest in a rerun there. You could argue that a pending Rask return factored into that decision, too, as the Bruins wouldn’t have needed to truly make a call on Vladar until Rask officially returned, as Swayman’s aforementioned options made him an easy shuttle down to Providence. It was basically easier for the Bruins to get something before the entire league knew that they were out of options with Vladar once the season started (recouping a 2022 third-round pick after sending one to the Senators for defenseman Mike Reilly last deadline was a pretty shrewd move, too).
But with the Bruins entrenched in what Sweeney considers ‘win now’ mode yet again, the Black and Gold know that all options will remain on the table, especially when it comes to his team’s netminding situation.
“I think we’re prepared in any way to go,” said Sweeney. “What if you have an injury to somebody else? I’m knocking on wood here, obviously, [but[ you’re just trying to be prepared. When you’re trying to be a competitive team, you have to have depth. We felt that the last two playoffs, and we came up short. Now we’re trying to make sure that we’ve got the most competitive team we can, and identify if we have some needs going forward that we may have to have some changes as well.”
Depth that even after a day of movement to the goalie depth chart, still includes Rask as a viable option to the B’s.
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.