The Boston Bruins are welcoming a familiar face back to the team.
Veteran goalie Tuukka Rask has signed a one-year deal with a salary cap hit of $1 million, the team announced Tuesday. It's possible Rask could make his season debut Wednesday versus the Montreal Canadiens or Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Rask's return is far from a surprise. This move has felt inevitable, based on comments from head coach Bruce Cassidy, general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely over the last couple months. Rask has been practicing with the Bruins for several weeks, too.
Rask underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and his rehab went well. The procedure has created a noticeable difference in Rask's comfort level playing the position.
"I feel great. The biggest issue for me was the catching of the joint and the pain that created. So that's gone, and it makes a huge difference," Rask told reporters last week. "Every time I go to butterfly and get up, I don't have to think about it locking up on me again and creating that pain. So I feel great."
Why would the Bruins make this move midseason, especially when they already have two capable netminders in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman?
For starters, the price makes it a worthy gamble. Getting a high-quality, experienced goalie for a $1 million cap hit is a no-brainer move.
Rask is a known quantity. He's the team's all-time leader in wins and save percentage. The Finnish goalie was second in Vezina Trophy voting two years ago and then posted a respectable 15-5-2 record, a .913 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average last season despite battling pain and a hip injury.
The Bruins ranked near the bottom of the league in 5-on-5 save percentage for a good chunk of the 2021-22 season. They've improved of late and now sit 16th with a .920 save percentage, per Natural Stat Trick.
One area where Ullmark and Swayman have struggled is making critical saves on high-danger scoring chances created by opponents. Boston's .808 high-danger save percentage ranks 22nd of 32 teams. There are 65 goalies who've played 400-plus minutes this season. Among that group, Swayman ranks 29th and Ullmark ranks 46th in high-danger save percentage.
Rask's .843 high-danger save percentage is the third-best among all goalies with 2000-plus minutes played since the start of the 2019-20 season. His .923 save percentage overall is the third-highest over that same span.
Despite all of the hot takes about Rask's lack of a Stanley Cup title as a starter, the numbers show he absolutely is capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run.
If Rask is healthy, and all indications are that he is in good shape thanks to his surgery, this should be an excellent addition for the Bruins. He's not guaranteed the starting job. He'll have to earn it. Ullmark should get plenty of action whether he's the starter or backup. You need two quality goalies to have a successful regular season and stay fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The most controversial aspect of Rask's return is that Swayman probably will be the odd-man out. He's a rookie and doesn't need waivers to go down to the AHL's Providence Bruins. Sending him to the AHL is the easiest move from a logistical standpoint, and it also would allow him to play more games and continue to work on some of the weaknesses in his skill set, such as rebound control.
It's certainly not the ideal scenario for Swayman, but he still has another year left on his rookie contract and will be a restricted free agent in 2023. Bringing back Rask and giving Swayman more time in the AHL does not prevent him from being the team's goalie of the future.
There's also nothing to stop him from making spot starts for the Bruins. Boston's schedule over the second half of the season will be grueling. They have a lot of games to make up after last month's two-week pause due to COVID-19. It's possible all three goalies could get plenty of action to avoid fatigue setting in.
The Bruins are in win-now mode. Patrice Bergeron is 36 and in the final year of his contract. We don't know what his future plans are. Brad Marchand is the league's most complete left winger and an elite two-way player, but he's also 33 years old. There isn't much help on the horizon in regards to prospects. Boston's prospect pool ranks among the weakest in the league.
Rask and Ullmark give the Bruins the best chance to win right now and help the team's veteran core chase another Stanley Cup title.
Goaltending should not be an issue if this tandem is healthy. The biggest remaining question marks are secondary scoring and defensive depth. The former has improved quite a bit of late and the latter can be addressed at the trade deadline.