By: Mike Sullivan | Follow me on Twitter @_MikeSullivan
Coming into the 2022-2023 Boston Bruins season, expectations for this team were all over the place, and rightfully so. With an aging core in Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand, coupled with injuries to key players such as Charlie McAvoy, Brad Marchand, and Matt Grzelcyk, many people took the stance in saying that this team is poised to take a step back and potentially be on the outside looking in missing the playoffs. Fortunately, that has not been the case.
Not all, but a lot of this team’s success can be pointed at one, Linus Ullmark.
As the season began, fans were looking toward the future of this organization. Diving into what we know as not the most robust prospect pool, an aging core, and what we thought to be a rapidly closing Stanley Cup window. Some said the window was already closed.
Due to many peoples’ thoughts of this team needing a quick rebuild to set this team up for future success, many pointed fingers at a strong duo in net. With the thought process of shipping one, Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark out of town to quickly add either a future centerpiece to this lineup or re-vamp the organization’s prospect pool.
With the organization’s salary cap hell, many pointed at Linus Ullmark’s $5.0M AAV compared to Jeremy Swayman’s $925,000 AAV as an easy solution to fix the cap wall this front office faces. I can distinctly remember many jumping on the opportunity to send Linus to Vegas when Robin Lehner announced that he was out for the year—claiming that Jeremy Swayman was ready to be a clear number-one starter while holding a salary that was next to nothing against the cap. Aren’t we all glad that that didn’t happen?
As we approach the All-Star break, Linus Ullmark is the clear leader in the Vezina conversation. His closest competitor would be Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. However, Linus is the statistical leader in all significant goalie statistics, with Hellebuyck right behind him.
As it stands right now, Ullmark holds a blasphemous record of 25-3-1. That is unheard of for a starting goalie. Comparing that record to Connor Hellebuyck, who holds a record of 23-14-1. Hellebuyck doesn’t have the benefit of an elite backup goalie as Ullmark does in Jeremy Swayman, so Ullmark is gifted with expected rest days resulting in 29 starts for Ullmark and 38 starts for Hellebuyck.
Going through the major goalie statistics, three main categories trump all others. Those are Goals Against Average, Save Percentage, and Wins. Linus Ullmark, at this point of the season, leads all three categories.
For Goals Against Average, Linus Ullmark leads all NHL goaltenders and is the only netminder with a sub 2.00 goal against average at 1.86. The closest goaltenders with at least 25 games started are Dallas’ Jake Oettinger at 2.24, Vitek Vanecek of the New Jersey Devils at 2.30, and Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck at 2.40.
Now we jump to save percentage leaders, which, again, Linus Ullmark leads. In his 29 starts, Linus Ullmark has a save percentage of .937. Those are insane numbers to have as a starting goalie. To put that into perspective, the NHL’s all-time single-season save percentage record was set by Jacques Plante in the 1970-71 season, where he posted a .944 save percentage. So the fact that Ullmark is even close to that should raise some eyebrows.
Similarly to the Goals Against leaders this season, the two goaltenders trailing Linus Ullmark in save percentage are Connor Hellebuyck at .924 and Jake Oettinger at .924 as well.
In the wins category, Linus has 25 wins to Connor Hellebuyck’s 23 in far fewer games played. As stated above, Ullmark has started 29 games to Hellebuyck’s 38. On the other hand, Oettinger is at 21 wins in 37 games. I think it’s clear who is currently leading the NHL’s Vezina conversation.
Boston has seen its fair share of elite goalies win the Vezina Trophy in recent memory. Most recently, Tim Thomas, in 2010-2011, posted a 2.00 GAA and a .938 save percentage while collecting 35 wins and a historic Stanley Cup victory. In 2013-2014 Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy, where he collected a 2.04 GAA and a .930 save percentage while racking up 36 wins. Linus Ullmark is on track to shatter those numbers posted by other Boston Bruin netminders.
It’s Ullmark’s trophy to lose. The only thing barring him from winning is a complete collapse of his game, a surge by either Hellebuyck or Oettinger, or clueless voters who opt to vote for others based on advanced analytics or bonehead reasoning. If the season ended today, Linus Ullmark would be your 2022-23 Vezina Trophy champion.