For the first time in what seems like forever, the Boston Bruins goalie tandem won’t include Tuukka Rask.
Rask underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum in the offseason and is an unrestricted free agent. He’s made it clear he only wants to play for the Bruins, while general manager Don Sweeney has said the door is open for a return.
While the future of Rask is unknown, what we do know is that Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark will handle the duties between the pipes. Ullmark signed a four-year deal with Boston in the offseason and provides a veteran presence for the 23-year-old Swayman, who appeared in 10 NHL games for the B’s last year.
It’s unclear just who will get the start Oct. 16 when the Bruins open their season at TD Garden against the Dallas Stars, let’s take a look at the duo.
Ullmark spent the first six seasons of his career with the Buffalo Sabres. He impressively amassed a winning record of 50-47-13 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. One thing worth noting about Ullmark is that he’s never started in more than 35 games in a season. He twice started a career-high 34 during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 campaigns. The workload in Boston has the potential to be more than that in a regular 82-game season, even with platooning with Swayman.
The term and money given to Ullmark in the offseason show the Bruins have confidence in him to help lead Boston to a successful season. But there still are a lot of what-ifs. Ullmark could benefit from being on a team that consistently makes the playoffs and just getting out of Buffalo — especially with all the drama surrounding Jack Eichel and his neck injury.
So maybe Ullmark will thrive in a new environment. The stakes are high and there certainly will be a lot of pressure on Ullmark. Bruins fans haven’t had to worry about the goalie position for the last decade. And while there’s reason for optimism, the relative uncertainty justifies cautious optimism.
We couldn’t say enough good things about Swayman last season. Boston recalled the rookie goalie Providence when Rask was hurt and Jaroslav Halak was sidelined with COVID-19. Swayman ultimately won the backup job for the Stanley Cup playoffs after showing the confidence and poise of a seasoned vet.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Swayman. His 7-3-0 record with a 1.50 GAA in 10 games speaks for itself, albeit in a small sample size. However, this will be his first full NHL season and you don’t want to rush him, especially seeing what happened to Philadelphia Flyers netminder Carter Hart last year. Still, Swayman displayed an ability to show up when needed and gets the job done. He never gets in his own head and isn’t likely to dwell on one goal allowed. He’s focused on making the next save, and that surely will be an attitude he brings into a new slate of games.
At the end of the day, there are obvious questions and a lot potential scenarios that could happen: What if Ullmark struggles and Swayman needs to pick up the slack? What if Swayman falls into a similar path Hart had last year with the Flyers? What if Rask wants to return?
Training camp will give us a better idea as to how the playing time between Swayman and Ullmark will go. Maybe the Bruins start with a 70-30 split, with Ullmark getting the bigger chunk of playing time. But, as we saw last year, an injury or illness could pave the way for Swayman to see more time in net.
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For the sake of conversation, and the fact Rask only wants to play for the Bruins, we’ll add him to this list.
A return for the Vezina-winning goalie depends how his recovery goes and if there is a spot for him to return to the bench. The Bruins will have some tough decisions to make should Ullmark and Swayman be successful the first few months of the season. Similarly, they’ll have decisions to make if they decide to bring Rask back for the final stretch regarding playing time, sending someone to Providence and splitting playing time.
A healthy Rask is a dangerous Rask, and he’s helped keep the Bruins in games and stood on his head throughout his career.
These questions obviously can’t be answered now and even Cassidy said the situation has the potential to “get sticky.” But we shall cross that bridge when we get to it. One thing we do know, though, is that Ullmark isn’t thinking about anything he can’t control.
For even more Bruins, tune into ?Bruins: Back To Work? Tuesday on NESN at 5:30 p.m. ET. For the latest updates, view the NESN TV schedule here.