For the first time since 2012, Tuukka Rask won’t be the starting goaltender for the Boston Bruins. With the Finnish netminder healing from hip surgery and his future in the league up in the air, GM Don Sweeney went out and signed free agent Linus Ullmark this summer to a four-year deal.
Now, Ullmark got paid like the starting goaltender with a $5 million AAV. He will be the starting goaltender opening night, barring any injury during camp. But how secure is his job, considering how Jeremy Swayman looked to end the season?
The easy answer is as long as Ullmark performs up to the standard that is suitable for Bruce Cassidy, he’ll get No. 1 reps. He was somehow actually pretty good as the starting goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres. Yes, those Sabres. He managed a reasonable 2.63 GAA with a team that averaged the third-most goals per game in the league. With a better team in front of him in Boston, Ullmark should be even better.
Where does Jeremy Swayman fit into the Boston Bruins equation?
It’s hard to look past what the young Swayman did in the spring. The University of Maine product dominated the AHL with an 8-1 record, 1.89 GAA, and .933 save %. He then dominated in the NHL once he was called up due to injuries, finishing the regular season with a 7-3 record, 1.50 GAA, and a .945 save %. Absolutely absurd numbers for a rookie.
By signing Ullmark, Sweeney made it clear the team does not feel Swaymn is ready for the No. 1 role yet. That’s totally reasonable considering the extremely small sample size from Swayman, and that he’s just 22 years old with a total of 19 professional starts.
The question is what happens when Swayman when he does get starts, continues to produce at the clip he was last year? It’s highly unlikely considering it would be historic numbers, but even if his numbers slip to an above 2.00-GAA and under a .940 save %, those are still extremely good numbers.
I don’t see Cassidy immediately giving Swayman more starts if both Ullmark and Swayman are performing at a top-level. Even if Ullmark is above average, but not great, he’s still got the top job.
But if Ullmark begins to really slip, does a two-goalie tandem become a thing? Cassidy hasn’t shied from it before with Rask and Jaroslav Halak and it’s becoming more and more common in the NHL.
Or, skip the middle man and go right to the Sway as the answer. If he deserves it. Knowing how Bruins fans work, as soon as Ullmark has two or three bad starts in a row, Twitter will be calling for Swayman to be the starter, regardless of how the youngster is performing. The beauty of social media, am I right.
They might have a point though. The Bruins don’t have it easy going back to the old division alignment. They’re going to have to play Tampa Bay. They have Florida, who is not a fluke and got better. They’ll make Toronto, who all jokes aside, is still a top-5 team in the league. There’s Montreal, who added some depth pieces this offseason and will be a tough out. Boston is going to need all the wins they can get.
At the end of the day, it’s a good problem to potentially have. A proven NHL starter that could get outplayed by your budding star. But Swayman is not your typical backup and if Ullmark isn’t up to snuff, Cassidy shouldn’t hesitate to ride with the Sway if he’s the elite goalie we saw at the end of the last season.