Today is Part 3 of a five-part “Breaking Down the Boston Bruins” series that will run this week at Boston Hockey Now. Today we’ll look at the current and future picture for the B’s goaltenders as we head into an important offseason.
Of the three positional departments within the Boston Bruins roster, the goaltending spot is where Boston stands in the best shape both in terms of personnel and their salary cap situation. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark are both in their 20’s, combine for a cap hit of less than $6 million and now have the Stanley Cup playoff experience that they severely lacked headed into last season. It didn’t result in a playoff series win for the Black and Gold this spring, but there’s no doubt the 23-year-old Swayman is now battle-tested after parachuting in midway through the Carolina series.
The final numbers for the playoffs were merely okay for Swayman with a 2.63 goals against average and a .911 save percentage, but he gave them a chance to win in the games he played in addition to notching all three home victories that the B’s did get in the first round series.
The postseason performance came after a solid rookie campaign that had peaks and valleys, to be sure, but finished with Swayman likely to receive some Calder Trophy consideration even if he doesn’t end up as one of the finalists. For him, though, the sting of the Stanley Cup playoff elimination means that he’s going to be even better moving forward.
“I can assure that I’ve got a lot of fuel for the fire motivation-wise this summer. I’m going to do everything I can to come back prepared for next year,” vowed Swayman. “I learned a lot about myself off the ice this year when it comes to recovery and preparation and on-ice focusing on hands and puck play…anything a goalie needs to do well.
“I’m happy for the experiences I’ve had so far. I don’t want to feel again the way I felt a couple of days ago [at the end of the playoffs]. I’ll do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m really excited about what I learned this year to bring it forward next year and beyond.”
He certainly kicked that offseason off well enough as one of the best parts of Team USA at the World Championships where he robbed David Pastrnak at one point in the series.
2-on-1 David Krejci to David Pastrnak
— bob beers burner (@BeersBurner) May 23, 2022
For Ullmark the playoffs were a bit of a rougher time after he put up a strong final month to the regular season to earn the starting spot at the beginning of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins will get criticized for spending big free agent money on Ullmark when they could have rolled the dice on a young, unproven duo of Swayman and Daniel Vladar, but it feels like the B’s ultimately made the right move bringing in a veteran hand knowing there would be inconsistent swoons mixed in with Swayman’s rookie brilliance.
Together they finished with the fourth-best goals against average (2.66 GAA) in the NHL during the regular season and tied for the eighth-best save percentage (.913) while representing almost half the cap hit of the previous Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak duo.
It’s left the Boston Bruins feeling good about the goaltending and the back end led by Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, which might have to be the backbone of the B’s hockey club where changes might be coming up front.
“It’s an under-30 group, maybe [Lindholm] is right there, but in general a very young group that’s only going to get better. McAvoy is already an elite player at his age,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, when asked about the bright future for the defensemen group headlined by Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy. “And Lindholm is only going to get better as he gets more comfortable and gets used to playing with us. Brandon [Carlo] is only going to get better every year and [Matt Grzelcyk] is still a young guy even though he’s got some medical issues to take care of.
“I saw [Derek] Forbort and [Connor] Clifton really grow into what we expect out in terms of a third pair and Jakub Zboril is an interesting one because he was really starting to play some good hockey at an age where he’s starting to get really comfortable. And I’d translate that right into the goaltending. We’re excited about Swayman and Ullmark. We went into last year and didn’t know how they would be along with the Tuukka [Rask] situation. It’s tough to throw a guy that hasn’t played in the playoffs right into the playoffs because it’s a positional thing where that guy really is going to be important. So good for him. I thought he had a lot of growth, Jeremy, especially during the playoffs to get that under his belt. Jeremy and Linus with a great second half, so from the blue line back there are a lot of positives in terms of young guys with room to grow.”
Perhaps even better is the camaraderie between Ullmark and Swayman, as their goalie hugs following victories warmed the hearts of even the most jaded Boston Bruins fans.
Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark goalie hug feat. guy with a shopping cart: pic.twitter.com/jgq6qlTLXu
— Evan Marinofsky (@EvanMarinofsky) March 22, 2022
It made the competition for playoff playing time much less adversarial than it could have been, and instead turned it into true workload-sharing and mutual respect society. It will be interesting to see how things play out moving forward as Swayman continues on a trajectory to be a true No. 1 goaltender at the NHL level sooner rather than later, but it may take a few years of playing time, development and growth before he is truly ready to be “the guy” for the Black and Gold.
Ullmark started slowly this season and had his own bumps on the road during the year, but he also showed exactly what the Boston Bruins saw in him at his best. He may not have the same upside as Swayman does at the eventual height of his career, but the Swedish netminder is certainly good enough to be a 1B at the NHL level while Swayman learns on the job.
Either way, this is the most stable position for the Boston Bruins where both goaltenders will be in Boston for the foreseeable future, and it should be onward and upward until perhaps the salary cap becomes a challenge once Swayman’s price tag goes up.
But for now, get used to the postgame goalie hugs because they are here to stay for a while with Swayman and Ullmark moving forward.