By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
A ton of awards are handed out yearly at the NHL awards ceremony. However, only a few of them are awards that a player only has one chance to win. The Calder is one of them, and being named to the All-Rookie Team is another. Since a player can only qualify as a rookie once, they have one season to make an impact and win these honors. Jeremy Swayman did just that when he earned the goaltender spot on the NHL’s All-Rookie Team for the 2021-2022 season.
While he did not win the Calder (or even get named a finalist), Swayman still left his mark on the league this year and has been recognized as the league’s best first-year goaltender. This is huge for the Bruins’ future, provided they handle the young star properly. I think the team is set up nicely to do just that, but before we get too ahead of ourselves, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the season that Swayman was able to put together.
In his award-winning rookie season, Swayman played in half of the Bruins’ games and started 39 of the 41 he appeared in. He faced 1,111 shots which is a crazy coincidence I just had to mention, and he saved 1,015 of them for a save percentage of .914. He was also fifth in league with a 2.41 goals-against average, the highest among all rookies. He and Linus Ullmark shared the starting job as equally as they possibly could have, and it seemed like they were capable of protecting the net when called upon.
When the playoffs rolled around, Ullmark got the nod in front of Swayman. He had played slightly better down the stretch, and with a bit more NHL experience, it certainly seemed like the right call. Swayman ultimately was called into action after Ullmark and the Bruins lost games one and two in Carolina, and they rode with Swayman to game seven. It was a successful first entire season for the Alaska native, but I think we need to be mindful not to burn him out and stunt his growth as an NHL goaltender.
The first example that comes to mind is Philadelphia’s, Carter Hart. Coming out of juniors, Hart drew comparisons to Carey Price, who seemed to be living up to it. In his first entire season with the Flyers, he led them to the playoffs and a top 4 spot in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. Not many people picked them to have that kind of success when the season started, but Hart was a significant factor in the equation that brought them success. His numbers were nearly identical to Swayman’s, posting the same .914 save percentage and a marginally higher 2.42 goals-against average.
Rather than building on the success of 2019-2020 and becoming a stud between the pipes, however, Hart struggled massively the following season. His save percentage dropped 37 points to .877, which was 84th among goalies who played 14 games in the 2020-2021 season (according to Quant Hockey). Many people wondered if we would see Hart struggle to maintain the sensational play he showed when he broke onto the NHL stage; unfortunately, those doubts came to fruition.
So, how do the Bruins avoid doing the same to Swayman? Thankfully, it is relatively simple, and I think the Bruins have a good structure in place already. It boils down to this basic principle: do not rush him. Swayman has shown that he can win games (high stakes games at that) in the NHL. That is not a worry. He is also very young, though, and he still has a lot to learn about managing his body, managing the ups and downs of a season, and playing multiple games in short succession.
Thankfully, the Bruins have another goalie locked in for three more seasons which is also more than capable of winning games in this league. If I were the head coach of the Bruins next season, unless Swayman got on an insane hot streak, I would look to split his workload just about 50/50, at least for most of the season with Ullmark. If one guy is on a hot streak towards the end of the season, it probably makes sense to ride them a bit more, but I think the plan should be to stay cautious.
Tuukka Rask did not even start consistently playing the majority of the season until his fourth season in the league. He had a breakout season in 2009-2010 but then played behind Tim Thomas for two more seasons. I think using Swayman and Ullmark similarly to how the Bruins used Thomas and Rask would be awesome. Of course, if Swayman is playing out of this world, he should be getting game time. I do not want to see the Bruins ruin a potential franchise goalie because they rush him into action when there is an outstanding veteran to share the workload.
That is my mindset heading into the next couple of years. I am curious to hear what the wider fanbase thinks, though. Should Swayman carry the workload? Should he play a backup role? Is the solution somewhere in between? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments of this article! We can all agree that we want to see Swayman in the Bruins’ net for a long time to come!
*The stats used in this article are from hockeyreference.com unless otherwise noted*