Tuukka Rask isn’t leaving Boston.
He just doesn’t know if he has played his last game here.
His contract expiring and future unclear, Rask said the toll of thousands and thousands of butterfly splits has caught up to him. The goalie hopes to have fixed a torn labrum in his hip that has hampered him since last summer’s playoffs. If upcoming surgery goes well, it could extend a pro puckstopping career that began 17 years ago in Finland.
“Mentally, I’m up for that,” he said Friday, speaking to reporters over Zoom from a laptop at the Bruins’ practice rink in Brighton. “The physical aspect, hopefully everything goes well.”
The 34-year-old expects to have the procedure sometime in the next month, and believes he will be out of action until January or February.
Until then, the operative words are “if,” “hopefully,” and “I dunno.”
“You never know what they’ll find when they open the hip,” Rask said, when asked how much NHL time he thinks he has left. “Maybe it’s worse than expected. I don’t know. So it’s tough to give you an answer now.
“If everything goes well and I start feeling great, I can come back and play and feel awesome, then who knows how long [I can play]. It could also go the other way. Maybe I don’t recover that well, and I just can’t play anymore. Who knows.”
Jeremy Swayman, entering his second year as a pro, could begin his Bruins tenure as the starter in October. That’s if Dan Vladar doesn’t emerge in camp, the Bruins don’t look for outside help, or Jaroslav Halak, 36, who ended the year as the third-stringer, doesn’t re-sign. Halak was notably absent from Friday’s slew of player Zooms, which lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
Rask pledged to the coaching staff and management that while healing, he would “help out in any shape or form I can.”
“He’s a world-class goalie, a world-class person,” Swayman said. “It’s awesome to learn from him. He battled, I think everyone knows it. His compete level is unmatched. He brings the fire every day, especially when it’s the playoff atmosphere.”
Swayman had not seen a second of playoff action in NCAA, AHL, or NHL competition before relieving Rask for 19 minutes in Game 5 against the Islanders. The intensity of the postseason opened his eyes.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “It’s true what they say. I’m addicted. I want to be back for more.”
Swayman said he plans to return to his home in southeastern Alaska and “get up in the mountains right away.” After a few weeks of hiking and biking, he’ll be back on the ice.
Rask won’t be as fortunate.
His hip problem, he revealed, dates to the Toronto bubble. Against Carolina, he felt a “pop” while making a reactionary save. He left the team after Game 2, citing a family emergency involving one of his daughters. The hip, he said, “wasn’t something where it felt awful, but something definitely happened.”
Rask started 24 of 56 games this year, going 15-5-2 with a 2.28 goals against average and .913 save percentage. He worked all 11 playoff games, his numbers about the same (2.36, .919). His Game 5 start (four goals on 16 shots) was the second-worst performance of his 104-game playoff career. Coach Bruce Cassidy reiterated several times that his ace was good to go.
Rask was shelved for most of five weeks in March and April because other muscles were overcompensating for his hip, and his back “seized up,” he said. “I could barely walk for a week.”
His teammates knew, of course. Everyone played on.
“He doesn’t complain about anything,” Chris Wagner said. “He shows up and says, ‘I’m sore.’ What’s wrong with you? He’s like, ‘Nothing.’ All right.
“I have a ton of respect for the guy. He’s been through a lot here. He’s one of the best goalies, pretty much of all time.”
And a lightning rod in his adopted hometown. Rask said he doesn’t give much thought to his doubters, while Charlie Coyle called that group “insane.”
“It’s got to be people who just don’t watch closely, or I don’t know what,” Coyle said. “We all know what Tuukka brings, how good he is, what he plays through, what he’s done for us, what he’s done for this organization … for anyone to criticize him, it’s just stupid.”
Rask, who lives in the Boston suburbs with his wife, Jasmiina, and their three daughters, said most of the haters are anonymous. Most people he meets are supportive.
“It’s not like, you know, I go to the grocery store and people are throwing eggs at me or yelling at me over there,” he said. “You know, that might suck.”
After 12 years living here, Rask has no desire to move, no matter who offers a contract. If healthy and without NHL suitors, he said he could conceivably join the pro team he partially owns in Finland (Tampereen Ilves), or the Czech team he joined during the 2013 lockout (HC Plzeň).
Those comments were typically Tuukka: deadpan and dry.
“I’m not going to play for anybody else than the Bruins,” he confirmed. “This is our home. We have three kids, kids enjoy it here, they have friends in school, we have friends. At this point in my life and career, I don’t see any reason to go anywhere else, especially with the health I’m looking at now, recovery time 5 to 6 months. Hopefully it works out that I recover well, and we can talk about contracts when the time is right for that.”
Patrice Bergeron, entering the final season of his deal, says he will go year-to-year from here on out. David Krejci will take a few weeks to decide if he wants to continue his career. This could be an offseason of monumental change.
Or, they could make one last run together.
“This city only recognizes champions as their heroes,” Rask said. “I think we’ve been very close. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t, that we haven’t reached that goal yet, and I haven’t won the Cup as a playing goalie, but I feel like I played good hockey and have given us a chance.
“It’s tough to win. There’s very few guys who win it. It’s not easy. We definitely tried. I just haven’t been able to close the deal, and that’s the way it is. I just have to deal with it.
“Maybe it will happen. Who knows?”