Tommy Bennett | Follow Me On Twitter @TJBennettt37
Summer has come early for the Boston Bruins. After the monumental collapse of the Florida Panthers, vacations are happening earlier this year. That loss is going to sting for a while. However, work is left to do, as next season will be here before we know it. Despite the early exit, Don Sweeney and Cam Neely have numerous questions to answer.
Given the team’s current cap space, critical decisions will be made. The bonus overages for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci carry over. In addition, there are essential free-agent decisions to make. The biggest questions lie with its goaltending.
The Future Of The Boston Bruins Net
With any franchise, no player plays forever. Goaltending has been a blessing, transitioning when the player hangs up the skates. The writing was on the wall when Tuukka Rask was hanging them up. With Jeremy Swayman waiting in the wings, Don Sweeney made an insurance move. Sweeney signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year, 20 million-dollar contract. It is safe to say that deal has worked out nicely for the Boston Bruins. However, the clock could be ticking on his time in Black and Gold.
The Tenure Of Ullmark
The level of excitement when the signing happened had mixed feelings. After being the goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres the year prior, it was a concern if he could be the guy for this cup-contending team. However, Ullmark proved everyone wrong and showed he could take the reins.
In his first season in Boston, he split time equally with Jeremy Swayman. The duo worked well and helped guide the Bruins to a wild-card spot. Ullmark went on to have a solid season playing 41 games. He would allow 95 goals (in all situations), have a 2.45 goals-against average, and a .917 save percentage. In addition, Ullmark would finish the season with 5.7 goals saved above expected. Safe to say, the criticism was silenced. It was precisely what the Bruins wanted to see after handing him the contract.
The criticism needed to be longer. As everyone got to witness, the Boston Bruins made history. They became the team with the most points and wins to secure the President’s Trophy. One player that played a factor was Ullmark. The Boston Bruins goaltender had a season for the history books. He was a triple-crown winner (1.89 GAA, .938 save percentage, 40 wins). In addition, the crease belonged to him this season. Ullmark excelled tremendously as he finished the year with 42.4 goals saved above expected. The Vezina Trophy favorite had an excellent season worthy of all the praise. However, there is one element attached to him that raises some eyebrows.
Life In The Postseason
Coming down harshly on Boston Bruins goaltenders in the playoffs is nothing new. Tuukka Rask was heavily criticized for years and often blamed the most. Ullmark has seen postseason action since joining the club. However, it did not go well for him. In the first year, the club faced the Carolina Hurricanes. Ullmark would get the nod in the first two games. Those two games would be his last. He would allow eight goals in the two road games that proceeded to be blowout games. Ullmark would finish with 4.16 goals against average and a .860 save percentage. His -2.3 goals saved above expected was eye-opening. Jeremy Swayman played the rest of the way in that series and performed much better than his partner. Ullmark would get a crack at the postseason once again. After a historic regular season, he did earn the crease.
In their first-round matchup against the Florida Panthers, Ullmark got the nod for six games. Ullmark did not look himself in this series, and it did appear he was battling a nagging injury. Ullmark went on to allow 20 goals in the series, and making a timely save was lacking. In addition, he finished with 3.33 goals against average, a .896 save percentage, and 1.6 goals saved above expected. To make matters worse, Swayman got the nod for the decisive Game Seven. Injury aside, another not-great showing for Ullmark in the playoffs.
Why Trading Him Makes Sense
Given the Boston Bruins salary cap situation, a decision must be made. Jeremy Swayman has shown he can be a number-one starter in this league. In addition, he is young, and that goes well with the next wave in the organization. Swaymans next contract will likely be cheaper. Even if the team needs a backup goaltender, there are options. Sweeney can find a veteran goalie or bump Brandon Bussi to the big club roster.
Regarding Ullmark, his trade value could not be any higher. Ullmark put together one of the best single seasons for a goaltender in the league’s history. There is a list of teams who can use a capable starter in the crease. Given his affordable cap hit, Don Sweeney can capitalize on a return for the starting goalie. Ullmark has two years remaining before becoming an unrestricted free agent. A decision will be made, and the right choice for the team is Jeremy Swayman moving forward.