Tuukka Rask trade speculation not going away

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Everything the Bruins have said publicly has indicated that they are planning to have Tuukka Rask back as their starting goalie next season.

That hasn’t put an end to the speculation that they may look to trade him, though.

In his latest “Trade Bait” column, TSN’s Frank Seravalli writes that many around the NHL “are wondering whether GM Don Sweeney is quietly checking the value of goaltender Tuukka Rask.”

The speculation is understandable. Rask opted out of the playoffs after two games to deal with a family emergency, and while the Bruins understand his decision and haven’t given any indication that they hold it against him, it could still lead to questions about his dependability going forward.

Beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, Rask is 33 years old and entering the final year of his contract with a $7 million cap hit.

He could be an appealing short-term option for a team that needs goaltending help and is unwilling or unable to spend big on one of the top free agent goalies like Robin Lehner, Jacob Markstrom or Braden Holtby.

But there are still a couple key issues that would seemingly make a trade unlikely. One is that other teams could have the same questions about Rask’s dependability, potentially lowering his trade value.

The other is that if the Bruins do trade Rask, then they’d become one of those teams that is looking for goaltending help and trying to decide between signing a free agent, executing another trade, or turning to a young prospect like Dan Vladar or Jeremy Swayman for significant NHL minutes before they’re completely ready. As this postseason proved, you might be in trouble if 35-year-old Jaroslav Halak has to be your workhorse No. 1 goalie.

There are a few older free agent options who are still good and whom you might be able to sign to a cheaper, short-term deal, like Stars playoff hero and former Bruin Anton Khudobin, one-time Stanley Cup Final nemesis Corey Crawford, and Islanders backup Thomas Greiss.

Pairing one of them with Halak in the short-term and maybe with Vladar or Swayman next year if they’re ready isn’t the worst idea in the world.

But the safest option for the Bruins would still seem to be rolling with Rask and Halak for another year and then re-evaluating the position after next season.

Rask was still one of the best goalies in the NHL this past season, as evidenced by his second-place finish in the Vezina Trophy voting, and a $7 million cap hit for that caliber of goalie isn’t bad at all. The Bruins led the league in goals against average, and that shouldn’t be forgotten just because the playoffs -- after a four-month layoff -- didn’t go as planned.

Obviously you wish Rask had been available for the playoffs. But unless you can get something valuable in return, and unless you’re confident there’s an option out there that will allow goaltending to remain a strength of your team, trading him doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.