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On Tuukka Rask, Bruins GM Don Sweeney Gives Most Definitive Statement Yet

BOSTON (CBS) -- In the case of Tuukka Rask potentially rejoining the Boston Bruins this season, there's been a whole lot of open-ended, speculative talk. Now, there's something a bit more definitive -- and it points to a return seeming borderline imminent.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney spoke to the media on Tuesday, and at the end of the session, he was asked if the team has spoken with Rask about a contract. Sweeney said that such a time has not yet come, but when it does, he's confident that the two sides will be able to reach an agreement.

"If indeed he is healthy and wants to play, then he's likely to be a part of our group," Sweeney stated.

That's a bit more decisive than "the door is open" or "we'll see what happens." Granted, Sweeney's statement still had qualifiers. For one, Rask has to reach the right level of health. Then, he'll have to decide he wants to play for the Bruins.

"I think there's been a general understanding that Tuukka has to make a decision on his health, first and foremost," Sweeney said.

Still, the GM showed no hesitation in declaring this: "We'll find a common ground."

Such an addition would likely be helpful for a Bruins team that currently sits in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, two points out of a playoff spot -- albeit with fewer games played than all but one Eastern Conference team.

With Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins rank 14th in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.83). Among goaltenders with at least eight starts this season, Swayman ranks 28th in save percentage (.908), while Ullmark ranks 24th (.914).

Sweeney characterized the Bruins' goaltenders as going through some growing pains, with a need for more consistency.

"They've been OK," Sweeney said of Ullmark and Swayman. "They both have had really, really strong pockets of games, and other times where they haven't played as well as they would like in some situations. And we have higher expectations for everybody. So I don't think Linus and Jeremy would say it any differently than I am."

Whether Rask -- approaching his 35th birthday in March, coming off hip surgery -- can provide that needed consistency is somewhat of an unknown. However, the late-career surge of Rask's predecessor, Tim Thomas, after undergoing hip surgery in his mid-30s does provide some reason to believe that Rask can come back similarly. Thomas won the Vezina Trophy -- his second -- as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy and obviously the Stanley Cup in 2010-11, his first year back after undergoing hip surgery at age 36. He had lost his starting job to Rask in the previous season.

Rask currently owns the third-best save percentage in NHL history, at .921. He's played 540 career regular-season games, all with the Bruins, posting a 306-163-66 record. He also has the fourth-best save percentage (.925) in playoff history among goalies with at least 50 starts, a category led by Thomas at .933. If the qualifier is shifted to a minimum of 53 playoff starts, Rask has the second-best playoff save percentage, one point behind Braden Holtby (.926).

Rask finished second in Vezina voting in the 2019-20 season, but his numbers dipped significantly last season, a drop that coincides with his hip injury. Rask said he first felt the injury in the 2020 postseason, and he dealt with it through the entirety of last season.

Rask has stated his desire to play only for the Bruins if and when he is healthy, and he was back on the ice at the Bruins' practice facility working toward that end on Tuesday.

As noted, the Bruins have had a light schedule thus far, but the workload increases significantly in the coming weeks. The schedule is also condensed a bit in the second half due to the Olympic break.

The Bruins rank 13th in the NHL with 3.06 goals per game, and their defensive corps outside of Charlie McAvoy doesn't exactly rank among the best in the league. Even if Rask does return at his best possible level, it might not be enough to lift the Bruins to the heights they hope to reach by the end of April.

But Sweeney seems to have made it clear that getting to that point will require better goaltending. And if Rask is willing to offer his services, the Bruins won't hesitate to make it happen.

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