By: Ryan Ellis | Follow Me On Twitter @_RyEllis_
The year was 2010. I had just wrapped up my freshman year at college and was ready to get back to good old Cape Cod for what was sure to be an exciting summer. I spent most of the year working the dark, underbelly of the unsanctioned t-shirt slinging game outside of The Garden during Bruins and Celtics games (which is a wild story for another day.) I worked my last game during the quarter-finals while the Sabres were in town. Little did I know I would be back for the biggest game of the year, off the clock this time, a couple of weeks later. On a cool, Friday afternoon I got the call from my good friend, James, “Game 7 buddy, let’s go!” Okay, twist my arm, pal!
We hopped in my ’99 Pontiac Grand Am, which was fraudulently named “The Sleek Sex-Mobile.” As we zipped up Route 3, we blasted Gunz & Roses, Aerosmith, and AC/DC, getting absolutely gassed up for what was sure to be an exciting night of hockey. Pre-game slices at [REDACTED], washed down by “tall, ice-cold, frosty beahs” procured in a less than kosher manner… (Statute of limitations?) We were primed up and ready to go. Puck drop could not come soon enough. Or so we thought.
This is the part of the story where we can fast forward to what ended up being the most brutal loss of my Bruins fandom at the time. The Bruins fell to The Flyers by a score of 4-3, after being up 3-0 in Game 7 (and 3-0 in the series before that.) James and I drowned our sorrows that night, and we have not been to a game together since. What went wrong? How did the Bruins manage to blow the series when they were up 3 games to none? Well, one man took the brunt of the blame. His name was Tuukka Rask, a 23-year-old rookie netminder from Finland.
In 2010-2011, Tuukka enjoyed as promising regular season campaign as it gets, posting a 1.97 goals against average and taking the majority of starts over Tim Thomas, who was coming off a Vezina trophy-winning season. Tuukka went on to start all 13 playoff games that year before the heartbreaking early exit. 11-years and three Stanley Cup Finals appearances later, Tuukka’s time as a Boston Bruin appears to have come to an end, as surgery for a torn labrum in his hip will keep him sidelined until early 2022. The Bruins have now postured themselves for life without Tuuka for the first time in over a decade.
The New Guard
Enter Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. Ullmark was recently acquired as a free agent for 4-years, $5M AAV. Those are not numbers that suggest a return for Rask. Swayman, a 22-year-old who played important minutes during the second half of last season, turned heads around the league as the Bruins dealt with injuries between the pipes. As far as Bruins fans have been concerned, Swayman’s time to shine is now. Does the organization feel the same way?
Could the not-so-distant memory of a young promising goaltender, thrust into the spotlight of a starring role for a perennial contender, only to fall when the stakes are at their highest, be looming in the minds of the Bruins front office? There has been plenty of turnover across the organization since then, but around the league, we have seen it as recent as this past season.
Will the Recency Effect Play a Role on Sway’s Playing Time?
Oddly enough, The Flyers are still relevant in this conversation. Carter Hart, also 22-years old, enjoyed back-to-back successful seasons for Philadelphia. Including a Calder Trophy for the rookie in 2019. This past season, we saw Hart’s performance dip. It was not disastrous, but it’s no secret that a goalie’s ego can be quite fragile. Like a pitcher or golfer, the game in between the ears is equally as important as the game in between the pipes.
These are cautionary tales for a club considering handing the reigns to a young goalie. And for fans that are all in on the youth movement, that includes young Mr. Swayman. It’s not Sway’s job just yet. Whether it’s more time developing in Providence or complimenting the freshly acquired Ullmark, who has 6-year and over a hundred games played in his NHL tenure, it would behoove the Bruins to proceed with caution.
Given Ullmark’s veteran status and the contract Don Sweeney & Co. doled out for the 28-year-old, expect him to take the lion’s share of starts while the Bruins opt for a tandem strategy. Cassidy will have months of game tape to consider before deciding on the future of Tuukka Rask. Assuming that Tuukka feels he has some left in the tank, you cannot count out the possibility of a return no matter how improbable it may be. Lest we forget that the 2013-2014 Vezina winner has made it clear, he has no desire to play elsewhere. “As I’ve said before, I’m not going to play for anybody else but the Bruins,” Rask reiterated after being bounced by the New York Islanders in the second round of the playoffs.
Rask or no Rask, Ullmark is officially in the fold and being paid like a goalie that will play a significant role. Let Jeremy Swayman come along at his own pace. He has had success at every level of the game and projects to be a solid goaltender in the NHL. Being a goalie in Boston can be a thankless job. Under control for the next two seasons with a sub-million dollar cap-hit, there is more than enough history and merit in letting Swayman earn his playing time and not jumping the gun on his timeline.