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BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the second period of the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on October 22, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

A familiar mask and pad set returned to the sheet at Warrior Ice Arena this week, as free agent netminder Tuukka Rask has jumped on the ice and taken the next steps in his recovery from offseason hip surgery.

“He’s on the ice skating on his own with no equipment, not taking shots, I know that part,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday. “He’s here in the morning working with some of our trainers, using the facility and then he leaves. Typically, there’s a crossover when we come in, but we’ve afforded him that and I think it’s worked out well. Tuukka’s just coming in, being a good professional, getting his work done, and I think it’s worked out fine for him, allowing him to do that.”

A free agent for the first time in his NHL career, Rask’s return to the ice is hilarious in the sense that he’s still wearing a Bruins jersey, still has his Bruins pads and mask, and is working with members of the Black and Gold’s training and coaching staff. He is a free agent in contact status, really. Especially when considering how downright openly the team has talked about his return to the team at some point in 2021-22, from management to the coaching staff to Rask himself.

There’s no rush to get a deal done either. Rask has no intentions of playing anywhere else (and he’s already said he’s going to be a ‘cheap’ goalie upon his return), and he’s not expected to be ready for at least another month or two, as confirmed by Cassidy.

“I was told originally that the timeline for him to return to play — wherever that is, whether it’s Boston or somewhere else — would be January to February,” Cassidy said. “And I guess the best I can tell you is he’s on target for that.”

As it relates to any potential awkwardness on the way, Linus Ullmark has already said that he’s not worried about a potential Rask return, and Jeremy Swayman’s status as a player still with minor-league options prevents what would be a true logjam in net. But Cassidy also believes that Rask has remained in touch with Swayman and his other (presently former) teammates throughout his recovery.

“I don’t know if he knows Ullmark at all from previous relationships, [but] I know him and Swayman got along well, and I thought it was good,” Cassidy said. “My guess is they do talk periodically. I think that’s just part of the business. You get to be friends with people no matter what team [they’re on] after a while, so I would imagine there’s some of that.”

The 34-year-old Rask, who is the franchise’s all-time wins leader, went 15-5-2 with a .913 save percentage during the 2021 regular season, and won six games and posted a .919 save percentage during his 11-game playoff run.

The Bruins currently have the 23rd-best even-strength save percentage in the NHL, at .907.

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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.