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Colageo: Boston Bruins Embrace Life after Goalie Hug

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In acknowledging Bill Zito’s boldness in tearing up his floorplan for the Florida Panthers after winning the 2021-22 Presidents Trophy (and then getting swept out of the second round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay), Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney argued Thursday when meeting media in Las Vegas for the NHL Draft that breaking up his goalie tandem of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark does, in its own right, constitute a substantial change.

“Bill deserves a lot of credit, he just won the Stanley Cup. He’s done a really good job as a general manager,” Sweeney said. “Every team is a little bit different in terms of how they’re going to lop off (roster players) or make changes. We just made a big change.

“At times, when players like (Patrice) Bergeron and (David) Krejci retire, you’re forced to make decisions. You might not want to make them – I would rather that Bergeron be back and that Krejci were going to continue to play – but those things are the hand that you’re dealt, and sometimes you’ve got to go play the cards.”

While Sweeney is confident in the general direction of his hockey team’s building program, he won’t undersell how important to the Bruins’ success the goalie hug had been. Although Swayman has solid NHL betting odds to win the Vezina next season, going with one No. 1 goaltender instead of two is a brave new world for the Bruins.

Joonas Korpisalo was not as good a goalie in Ottawa as Ullmark was in Buffalo, and after Swayman proved himself through the 2024 playoffs, the Bruins’ situation is not quite the same as it was when Ullmark was identified as a potential successor to a worn-down Tuukka Rask. The Bruins will bring in Korpisalo as a complement more in a Jaroslav Halak role.

“You have to look at it in the context of where his team is at, where he’s going to project into our team, which we did do with Linus … and, hopefully in (goalie coach Bob Essensa’s) case, realizing that the body of work is … not just isolated to the most-recent statistics,” said Sweeney. “In previous time – and I used LA as a reference point – (Korpisalo) went there. He had a really good run.”

Unless it’s the 1970s and you’re not playing for a contender, a 3.27 goals-against average and .890 save percentage are generally redeemable for a one-way ticket back to the European leagues. So Korpisalo’s career might ironically be saved by a contract paying an annual $4 million for each of the next four seasons (the Senators retained $1 million per year).

How much repair Korpisalo’s game needs is a matter for the experts, and the Bruins obviously have one of the game’s top whisperers in Essensa. That said, the kneejerk reactions to the trade have overlooked how recently the 30-year-old Finn played at a level warranting consideration of starter status. In 49 starts this past season (55 appearances overall) while playing in the brutal Atlantic Division, he earned 21 wins.

Referenced above by Sweeney, Korpisalo’s 2023 playoffs in a Kings uniform against the Edmonton Oilers were up and down (2-4, 3.77 GAA, .892 save pct.), but his performance in LA as a 2023 deadline acquisition yielded a 7-3-1 finish with a 2.13 GAA and a .921 save pct.

Any goalie facing the Oilers in the playoffs is going to have rough patches. Check on that with Sergei Bobrovsky.
Ullmark’s 2022-23 Vezina Trophy (and Swedish car endorsement) notwithstanding, the veteran goalie turned out to be arguably the second greatest bridge player in modern Bruins history after Brad Park.

The gut feeling here is that Dean Letourneau is in for a time-zone adjustment. It’s not that he isn’t NHL material but regarding how soon the rangy centerman will make the leap to the bigs.

“I’m trying to make Boston as soon as possible. My goal is to make the NHL as soon as possible,” said Letourneau. “So I’m going to work my best this offseason and next year at Boston College and kind of see where it takes me, but I’d probably say one or two years until I think I’d be ready to step into Boston.”

Confidence is a great thing, and Letourneau has it in spades.

Nothing Bruins management would love more, but Sweeney stressed the fact that Letourneau’s busy resume is dominated by lesser competition and that Hockey East will constitute a huge leap.

The 25th overall pick that came over from Ottawa in the Ullmark deal (once Boston’s pick originally sent to Detroit in the 2023 Tyler Bertuzzi deal) is a 6-foot-7, 214-pound center from the Ottawa area.

Around age 15, Letourneau said his childhood dream of playing in the Ontario Hockey League (major junior).

“Growing up, I always wanted to play in the OHL. I was picked a little later than I was hoping to (get picked) in the OHL Draft, so I didn’t think it was going to be a possibility, so I after that I kind of thought college would be best for me,” Letourneau said. “It’d be a longer runway if I need it.”

The Boston Bruins’ search for hidden gems in the 2024 NHL Draft is predicated on later-bloomers relatively lacking age-appropriate experience at elite levels, be it OHL, USHL, Euro elite leagues, etc. Odds are thusly longer, but any wins will be bigger.

Letourneau originally committed to Northeastern University. If he can be a regular as a freshman at BC, he’ll still get to play hockey inside Matthews Arena, slated for the wrecking ball next year. Then known as Boston Arena, Matthews in a prior iteration was the original home of the Boston Bruins. The last NHL game played in the rink happened in the late 1950s, and Gordie Howe scored a goal for Detroit.

Playing some of the home games in Boston Garden, the New England Whalers of the new World Hockey Association also called the Arena a part-time home in their inaugural 1972-73 season.

On day two of the NHL Draft, the Boston Bruins swapped Jakub Lauko (to reacquire Vinni Lettieri) and picks with the Minnesota Wild to move up from 122nd overall (fourth round) to 110th overall where they selected defenseman Elliott Groenewold (Cedar Rapids, USHL).

Lauko’s energy on the forecheck will be missed, but the Mark Kastelic acquisition (in the Ullmark deal) crowds the bottom six. Lauko probably would not have cleared waivers, but of greater relevance is that the Bruins were not committed to dressing Lauko in the 2024 playoffs.

Fans can get their first look at Letourneau and a smaller group of prospects at the Bruins’ July 1-4 Development Camp at Warrior Arena. Sessions start at 9:50 am Monday, 9:30 am Tuesday, 10 am Wednesday and 9:30 am Thursday.

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