It’s looking increasingly likely that Tuukka Rask will be back on the Bruins at some point this season.
The general manager has basically said as much, and it’s not the worst idea. Even with the uncertainty that surrounds Rask coming off an injury, it’s reasonable to assume that he is still better than Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark, one of whom he’d seemingly be replacing on the Bruins’ roster.
That’s where the possibility of a "worst idea" comes in. A fringe playoff team upgrading its goaltending with a cheap, proven star is an easy decision, but the Bruins shouldn’t do it if means sending Swayman to Providence.
Unless they carry three players at the position, the Bruins’ options are to trade one of their goalies, waive and perhaps demote Ullmark, put Ullmark on injured reserve (that’s a toughie given that he’s currently not injured) or demote Swayman.
That list of options basically disintegrates when you factor in that Ullmark has a no-movement clause in his contract. The Bruins can’t trade or waive him without his permission.
Without question, the easiest option is to send Swayman to Providence. They wouldn’t risk losing the player, and he can continue to play regularly in the AHL.
If that’s the Bruins’ plan for signing Rask, they shouldn’t sign Rask. Yes, having a top-end goalie like Rask masks other deficiencies, but Rask isn’t turning the Bruins into a realistic Cup contender. As of Sunday evening, the Bruins were on pace to be a Wild Card team by points percentage. They do not have the depth down the middle that they’ve had in years past when they were higher seeds and had Rask the whole way. The team being competitive is a good thing, but expecting a Cup run with the current roster (plus Rask) is unrealistic.
Swayman can be the positive in what will likely be a hardware-less season, though.
He has a solid .918 save percentage, which leads the Bruins. If the B’s end up making a shorter run than recent years, having a good young goalie coming off a strong first full season would be the silver lining going forward.
Sending that goalie down because you made a dicey offseason signing with Ullmark and need to bring in Rask to make up for it? That would be mismanagement and would send a weird message to a player that should be a big part of the team’s future.
Most importantly, it would be bad for Swayman’s development. He’s clearly an NHL goaltender right now. How would the Bruins possibly spin him toiling in the minors rather than taking on more challenges in the NHL as a good thing?
There’s always the microscopic possibility that the Bruins would shock the world and trade Swayman. After all, why would they sign Ullmark to that contract if they were truly high on him? If a floundering front office wants to stay in ownership’s good graces with a playoff run, improving in net with Rask and dealing Swayman, their best cheap trade chip, for help on forward or D would improve those odds.
That would be stupid, of course, and harmful to the team. I don’t think Don Sweeney would do that, though, so there’s no need in bashing the team for something it hasn’t done.
But the Bruins need to prioritize what is best for Swayman. If they stall his development and the Bruins show no improvement as a team from last year, what was accomplished this season?
I’m for the Bruins signing Rask. He’d be their best goalie. The Bruins just made that an unnecessarily tricky endeavor when they signed Ullmark to a big contract rather than opting for a cheaper veteran.
Swayman is the goalie of the future, but he’s presently too good to be demoted for the sake of a desperate push for the playoffs. If the Bruins want to make room for Rask, they should figure out another way.