It’s been brewing for a while, but today, it became (semi) officially official: Tuukka Rask is back with the Boston Bruins.
Rask appears set to start at least one game for Providence, though it could be more depending on how much rust he needs to shake off, how he feels, etc.
Barring any unexpected setbacks or particularly dreadful performances, Rask should be back on the Bruins’ NHL roster within a week or so.
This, of course, begs the question: what happens to the other goalies?
Linus Ullmark and Jeremey Swayman have each had decent seasons, with each having some ups and downs.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they didn’t run into a patch where both guys were significantly “off” for a stretch of games, and for the most part, the Bruins have gotten steady goaltending.
Now, however, one of them is going to be the odd-man out, as the Bruins aren’t bringing Rask back into the fold to serve primarily as the back-up goalie.
(Of course, that could happen if Rask falters or someone else goes on a tear, but it’s not likely at the start.)
What’s the most likely goalie scenario?
In all likelihood, Swayman is going to be the odd-man out when Rask returns to the NHL roster — Ullmark and Rask will likely split NHL duties.
The reason that Swayman may find himself out of the mix has more to do with his contract than his performance: Swayman is exempt from waivers, meaning the Bruins are free to assign him to Providence without fear of losing him.
Ullmark, on the other hand, has a full no-movement clause, per CapFriendly.
If one guy can be freely moved around and the other needs to give his permission for any kind of move, you can guess what’s going to happen.
What about the taxi squad?
Based on the new rules about the taxi squad, Swayman isn’t eligible (emphasis ours):
i) All Players who are a) on an NHL Active Roster, Injured Reserve or designated NonRoster as of December 22, 2021 (other than by virtue of an Emergency Recall) and b) are exempt from Regular Season Waivers and c) who have been on an NHL roster (including the Injured Reserve List and COVID-19 Protocol) for 75 percent or more of the days of the Regular Season up to and including Wednesday, December 22, 2021 (i.e., has been on an NHL roster for 54 days or more between October 12, 2021 and December 22, 2021);
What’s the wild card goalie scenario?
Some have speculated that the Bruins could look to move Ullmark to a team that desperately needs a goalie (hello, Edmonton).
It seems like this is little more than idle speculation, as it’d be pretty bold of the Bruins to trade a guy they just signed and go with a returning-from-injury Rask and a rookie as their goalie tandem.
I suppose anything is possible, but given the uncertainty around how Rask will perform and the fact that Ullmark has a full NMC, it’s hard to see a trade happening.
What will this mean for Swayman’s development?
Obviously it’ll be a bit of a setback for Swayman in his quest to become a bona fide #1 goalie in the NHL — no pro wants to be sent back to the minors.
However, you have to think this whole situation was discussed with both Swayman and Ullmark at the start of the season.
All signs point to the Bruins knowing Rask was coming back, so it’d be pretty poor development if the team never told Swayman this was the likely scenario.
Given his personality and how he’s handled his NHL stints so far, it’s hard to imagine this completely derailing Swayman’s development.
What does this mean for Providence?
Currently, Providence has been splitting games between Kyle Keyser and Troy Grosenick (excluding Rask, of course).
If Swayman ends up heading down, it’ll be both of those guys who are “harmed” the most.
Keyser and Grosenick have appeared in 13 and 11 games, respectively, so time has been split pretty evenly.
With Swayman in the mix, you have to think (for development purposes) that he’ll get the lion’s share of the starts.
It may end up being that Swayman gets 50% of the starts and Keyser/Grosenick split the rest.
It’s important to remember that most, if not all, AHL slates of games feature back-to-backs or three-games-in-four-nights type scheduling — the P-Bruins are still going to need multiple goalies, regardless of Swayman being back.