Tuukka Rask only wants to play for Bruins, might do it for ‘cheap’

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Tuukka Rask’s $7 million cap hit expired after last season, but he never really explored 2021 NHL Free Agency. Part of that stems from the fact that Rask, 34, underwent offseason hip surgery. Yet, if Rask’s Wednesday comments are any indication, he had no intention to play for any NHL team except the Bruins, anyway.

That’s what Rask said during the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon on Wednesday.

The underrated veteran goalie made it sound like he wants to return. Granted, by needing hip surgery, he’ll need to continue to recover; during the appearance, Rask estimated a window of return as late December or sometime in January.

A window of recovery is important. Yet, for a contending team, it’s also crucial to know if Rask could fit within the Bruins’ salary cap structure. It sure sounds like the answer is a resounding “yes.”

” … I have no reason to chase the money anymore and go somewhere else,” Rask said on the Greg Hill Show. “It’s going to be one of those things where the Bruins are my home, Boston is my home. I’ve always wanted to play here, wanted to stay here. So the money won’t be an issue. We had a conversation with (Bruins general manager Don Sweeney) Sweens and I will be a cheap goalie for them, I think.”

The Bruins’ “capable” team is a plus for Rask. He also clearly values sticking with one team — even in a Boston market that sometimes heaped far too much blame on the Finnish netminder.

Rask could provide Bruins with crucial mid-season insurance

With the Bruins already losing David Krejci, the 2021-22 season carried some concern. (Even with Taylor Hall making a return, which was no guarantee when it seemed like he was merely a “rental.”)

No doubt, goalies can be an unpredictable lot. Still, a duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman introduces a lot of uncertainty to the mix.

Yes, Ullmark deserves credit for keeping his head above water with the Sabres. That’s an underrated trait on a team that was a sinking ship. (The Sabres were the Titanic if it bounced from iceberg to iceberg like a pinball.)

The Bruins’ investment in Ullmark remains baffling, though, at least considering just-fine work. As brilliant as Jeremy Swayman was in 10 games last season (.945 save percentage), that’s not much to hang your hat on.

While the Ullmark contract could be a real head-scratcher long-term, Rask presents the Bruins with some very nice peace of mind.

To start his career, Rask pulled off a remarkable feat in presenting a smooth transition from the Tim Thomas era. Among goalies with 60+ games played from 2009-10 to 2014-15, Tuukka Rask earned a .926 save percentage in 261 games, second only to Corey Schneider.

Since then, Rask slowed down, but didn’t screech to a halt like Schneider. Instead, Rask was reliable, and sometimes still brilliant (.929 save percentage, 22.5 Goals Saved Above Average in 2019-20).

Considering the sometimes-zany free-agent market for goalies, another team might have paid good money for Rask — even knowing he’d need months to return. It says a lot about what the Bruins have built that players like Rask, Taylor Hall, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron frequently accept less than their maximum market value.

At 34, it’s fair to wonder how smoothly Rask can bounce back from hip surgery. If he can, and if the Bruins make the numbers work, then suddenly goaltending goes from a question mark to what could be a strength — once again.

Maybe folks in Boston might even realize what they were possibly taking for granted.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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