[UPDATE: Providence’s games vs. Lehigh Valley Friday and Sunday have been postponed due to COVID protocols. Their next game is Jan. 14.]
Tuukka Rask’s return to the Boston Bruins will begin with an American Hockey League assignment this weekend.
AHL Providence has signed the 34-year-old Rask to a professional tryout agreement and he is expected to start Friday against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. This will be his first game since Game 6 of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The netminder has not played this season after undergoing off-season hip surgery.
Should this AHL tryout go without issue, Rask, who is an unrestricted free agent, could then sign with the Bruins.
Last week, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Rask could be ready for an NHL return in three weeks time. AHL Providence has five games left in January, so it’d be ideal to get him a good deal of those starts in preparation.
“I feel great,” Rask told reporters on Thursday. “The biggest issue for me was the catching of the joint and the pain that that created. That’s gone.”
Over the summer, Rask left open the possibility of returning to the Bruins saying that if he was able to be 100% following his surgery, he would not want to play for any other NHL team. Plus, there was always the important factor that the Finn would come cheap, something he reiterated during his media call.
“I’m not looking for a big contract,” he said. “I just want to come and help the guys and do my part that way. I didn’t want to flirt with the opportunity to go anywhere else. It’s a business as everybody knows, but for us players when you have a team like the Bruins where a bunch of us have grown up together you kind of feel that brotherhood. You don’t want to leave guys on bad terms. I wanted to try to come back and maybe finish it up with them, a bunch of guys I’ve played with my whole career.”
Rask’s arrival would force Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to make a decision. It’s an easy one, however, since Linus Ullmark, who signed a four-year, $20 million deal in July, has a full no-move clause. Jeremy Swayman, 23, who does not require waivers to be demoted, will likely be on his way to Providence if and when Rask is ready.
The duo have combined for a .922 5-on-5 save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick) this season through 29 games for the fourth place Bruins.
“We’ll see what happens, Cassidy said. “Having one net for three goaltenders is certainly a challenge, but we’ll figure it out. At the end of the day, we’ll do what’s best for the Bruins. … Hopefully everyone plays well and it’s a good problem to have.”
If Rask can get back to his old self, he shouldn’t be considered a savior. But he could strengthen an important position for a team currently battling for a playoff place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The veteran wanted to play again and wanted to only do it for the Bruins. That’s been motivation enough.
“He certainly looks the part out there right now,” Cassidy said this week. “He’s come along very well. You’re never sure with surgery how it’ll go, complications, etc. He got through it, put the work in. I’ve seen him in the gym every morning here when it’s his scheduled time, so clearly he’s taking it seriously and wants to rehab as quickly as possible.
“So credit him, 100 percent, for his work ethic through this whole thing. Looks good on the ice and time will tell how that translates.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.