By: Andrew Taverna | Follow me on Twitter: @andrewtaverna
Bruce Cassidy isn’t shy about his methods of riding the hot hand in the net. He opened the season by saying that regardless of salary, the guy who is playing best will be in the net. This statement has primarily held valid outside of the few weeks that Tuukka Rask attempted to make his return. That said, the guy who’s currently hot is Jeremy Swayman.
First and foremost, the Bruins are looking to replace arguably the greatest goaltender in franchise history, Tuukka Rask. The idea that either goaltender would step into the crease and singlehandedly replace Rask is a bit of a fanciful notion, yet, I think a small segment of the Bruins fan base might believe exists. The truth is, the Bruins are in a far better situation having two netminders playing a high level of hockey than chasing the dream of bringing in another Tuukka Rask. They’ve done this by pairing up Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. If you’re going to replace Rask with a tandem, you still need your 1A and 1B, and to me, Swayman has earned his spot at 1A.
When engaging in these conversations online, I’ve heard two primary arguments from fans as to why Swayman should be backing up Ullmark. Money and experience. Let’s take a minute and look at each category critically and then address why it’s less important than some might think.
Money Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story
Look, the salary cap is a real issue in today’s NHL. I’m not trying to deny that, nor am I trying to minimize that we’re paying Ullmark a decent salary for a backup, but when you look at the total cap hit of goaltending, it tells you the real story. The Bruins are currently spending $5,925,000 on goaltending. To put that in perspective, the average cap spent on goaltending in the NHL this year is $6.1 million.
The Bruins rank 21st in terms of cap hit against active roster, according to Spotrac.com. That’s excellent news for the Bruins, as the Bruins goaltending (Rask included who drags this number down) has a .909 save percentage. The league average save percentage is .904. While this might not seem significant, the fact that the Bruins remain above average with a below-average salary cap hit is precisely where you want to be.
Beyond this year, that luxury continues into the following season as after this year, Ullmark will still spend another year on his entry-level contract. Now fans will likely argue, “you’re going to have to pay him while you still have Ullmark for two more seasons.” OK – fair point. The truth is, though, during the 2023-24 season, Ullmark will have a modified no-move clause that includes him having to provide a 16 team no-trade list. Believe it or not, Bruins fans, Sweeney had the same concerns you did. If Swayman continues on pace with what he’s doing, Ullmark could become a trade chip if you meet a cap crunch. If you don’t, he’s still a reasonably paid 1B goaltender. This goaltending situation and cap space truly is a win-win situation for Boston.
Expereince Is Gained By Playing
When we look at goaltending experience, there is a lot of debate among the fan base. Ullmark came in to be the “experience” if Rask couldn’t return or couldn’t continue his return. The truth is, Swayman deeply needs that. Although impressive in his poise, attitude, and even hard work, goaltenders are finicky creatures. It appears the short stint in Providence solidified that ethic even further, contrary to what many were saying. Swayman is, without a doubt playing some tremendous hockey.
Realistically though, he still has many of the emotional hurdles a goaltender goes through ahead of him. This development is where Ullmark will play a critical role. Not only do you need a goaltender with experience, but you need someone who can teach Swayman how to deal with that adversity. Ullmark is young enough to handle the workload but has been around long enough to teach Swayman those skills. As a fan base, we seem to disagree on a lot, but for the most part, we appear to all agree that Swayman is the future in Boston’s nets. If this is the case, then Ullmark can be just as valuable playing a 1B role as he can 1A and can still use that experience to groom Swayman.
As much as you might be worried about salary cap and experience, the path Swayman is taking seems to be working for him. At this point, the Bruins need to lean into letting him gain the reps and not listen to people like Mike Milbury, who are clamoring to trade one of the most valuable assets the Bruins have. There will be ups and downs, but it is time to let Jeremey Swayman take his rightful spot as the 1A on the Bruins roster, and it is almost certainly not time to move on from him.