By: Zach Carlone | Follow me on Twitter @zcarlone21
Bruins free agent goaltender Jaroslav Halak had a tough season in 2020-21, and his days with the Bruins seem to be coming to a close. According to Halak’s agent Allan Walsh, the 36-year-old netminder won’t be returning to the black and gold and will instead test the free-agent market starting July 28th. For the Bruins, this means more likely than not that they’ll be losing their consistent backup to Tuukka Rask for the last three seasons. In 83 starts with the Bruins all-time, Halak had a record of 49-23-14. Last season, he went 9-6-4 with a 2.53 GAA, and a .905 save percentage.
For the Bruins crease, this doesn’t change much of what many speculators anticipated. Rask is currently recovering from a torn labrum suffered last season that’ll keep him out through at least February/March, meaning the Bruins don’t actually have a sure-fire number one goaltender heading into the 2021-22 campaign. Halak reportedly leaving opens the door for Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman to potentially battle over a backup or split-starts position as one of the two goaltenders for next season. Both played well in the small sample size of games they played in 2020-21.
Vladar played much of last season with the Providence Bruins but made some great saves in the few games he did play with Boston. The 6’5″ goaltender went 2-2-1 in his five starts with the Bruins while both Rask and Halak were sidelined due to injuries mid-season. He wasn’t as flashy or confident as Swayman, however, as the Alaska-native finished the season with a 10-7-3 record when called upon during the absences of the Bruins normal tandem. Swayman had a remarkable 1.50 GAA, and a .945 save percentage.
Halak’s departure and Rask’s recovery expected to be until at least late mid-season leaves me to believe the Bruins will fetch another reliable goaltender in free agency. Swayman or Vladar will be able to handle the backup duties but shouldn’t be thrown into a ton of action just yet, as their development is still the key as the future young ones in the Bruins crease. The Bruins are anticipating taking another shot at a Stanley Cup run in 2021-22, meaning rolling with Swayman and Vladar until a potential Rask return seems highly unlikely. Rask is also still an unrestricted free agent, meaning a return isn’t necessarily guaranteed just yet.
Of those goaltenders expected to hit the open market on July 28th, the Bruins should mostly associate themselves with those who have a wealth of playoff experience yet still have more left in the tank. The most appealing names for goaltenders the Bruins could eye, in my opinion, include Rask, Phillip Grubauer, Linus Ullmark, Brian Elliott, and Petr Mrazek. Toronto Maple Leaf’s goaltender Frederik Andersen is also expected to test free agency but is expected to be asking for much more money than the Bruins should give to a goaltender of his caliber.
Colorado Avalanche unrestricted free agent Phillip Grubauer would be the ideal candidate to fill in as the Bruins best option in net, but his arrival to free-agent waters is unlikely. Certainly, the Avalanche have some salary cap obstacles to juggle prior to free agency, as defenseman Cale Makar is a restricted free agent looking for a new deal. The 29-year-old goaltender will be desired by a handful of teams if he actually makes it to the open market. I’m expecting the Avalanche to pull some tricks out of their sleeve and re-sign their number one goaltender in Grubauer, but the Bruins should be all over him if he’s available.
Linus Ullmark isn’t necessarily the flashiest guy in the goaltending realm this offseason, but he realistically could be the next-best option for the Bruins if Grubauer is asking for too much money or simply isn’t available. Ullmark has spent the entirety of his six-season career with the Buffalo Sabres yet still posted impressive numbers. Last season, he posted a 9-6-3 record with a 2.63 GAA and a .912 save percentage. If he receives better support from the Bruins defense, those numbers could be much better, and the 27-year-old would be an excellent goaltending signing.
Brian Elliott and Petr Mrazek, both separated from one another by seven years of age, are two goaltenders with playoff experience that I think still have more left in the tank. Elliott, 36, went 26-15-9 for the Philadelphia Flyers last season and actually outperformed Carter Hart for much of it. He has 17 career playoff wins across four teams and could be a simple fill-in until Rask potentially returns for the Bruins. Mrazek has started 19 playoff games for the Carolina Hurricanes over the last three seasons and could be another guy the Bruins look into, although I think his injury history could be a cause for concern. Last season, he missed much of the year with an injury but still posted a 6-2-3 record.
There are many more options for goaltenders the Bruins could potentially pursue in free agency with the expected departure of Jaroslav Halak in free agency, but I think these are their best options as of right now. Names like Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Smith are appealing as well, but both are getting towards the finish of their respective careers, and they might not be able to handle helping the Bruins for at least half of a full 82-game slate. While free agency is still a ways away following the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft in a week’s time, general manager Don Sweeney has the time to figure out the future of the Bruins goaltending tandem.