(Photo Credit: Eric Bolte/USA Today)

By: Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis and Linktree

The 2022-23 season ended on a series of lows for goaltender Jeremy Swayman. After watching the first six games of Boston’s first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers, he was thrust into action for game seven, allowed the series-clinching goal to Carter Verhagee in overtime on TD Garden ice, and entered the offseason without a contract for the first time in his career.

The adversity didn’t stop there. The Alaska native underwent a contentious arbitration hearing in August and eventually settled on a one-year, $3.475 million deal from Don Sweeney and the Bruins brass. He could have let all those issues impact his game this season, but instead, he’s used it as fuel.

“I’m grateful for what happened (with arbitration). I think I learned so much about the business side of things,” said Swayman after Monday’s 3-0 shutout of the New Jersey Devils. “And again, it doesn’t matter what happens away from the rink. It’s all about what happens when you step through the doors every night. I’m very grateful to be in the position I’m in.”

Boston came into the 2023-24 season with a clear plan on how to deploy their goaltenders: split the reps. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Linus Ullmark and Swayman would rotate games, keeping both goalies fresh and giving the team an elite netminder every time they step on the ice. But that plan was deserted once Ullmark went down with a lower-body injury against the Arizona Coyotes. Swayman would go on to start the team’s next four games and prove how his game has risen since last season.

“It’s nice to be able to see him have this opportunity,” said Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery of his goalie’s added workload. “His makeup is someone that wants the net every night. But the swagger he brings… his mental attitude and his positivity, he exudes it, and it goes through our bench.”

The University of Maine alum has brought more than intangibles to the Bruins this season; he’s brought results. Just past the halfway mark, Swayman has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, ranking in the top ten in both save percentage (.923) and goals against average (2.37) among goalies with ten games played. Among goalies with 25 games played, Swayman is in the top four in expected goals against, goals saved above expected per 60, and save percentage above expected.

The scary thing for other teams around the NHL is that Swayman is still getting better.

“Well, when I look at Sway’s game, I think he continues to improve. He’s much better this year than last year,” said Montgomery. “His game management is better: when to take a faceoff, when not to, when to move the puck up, and recognizing that the other team is changing and we can catch them. And then just his overall presence in the crease.”

“He’s always had a swagger and confidence to him, but no, he really seems to be dialed in as to tracking and his depth in the crease.”

Swayman has consistently improved his statistics every year he’s been in the NHL. In the 2021-22 season, his save percentage was .914. He elevated that number to .920 during Boston’s historic 2022-23 regular season. This year, he’s on pace to set a career-high with a .923 save percentage.

“It’s kind of weird watching film from last year at times, like, who is that guy?” said Swayman when asked about his improvement from this year to last. “I know that I feel more confident in letting the puck come to me. You can’t buy experience at Target, so we have to go through it, and that’s really special.”

Swayman’s performance has garnered league-wide recognition, as he was selected to the 2024 NHL all-star team via fan vote. In classic Bruins fashion, he refused to take any credit and praised his teammates.

“It wouldn’t be possible without the guys in front of me every single night,” said Swayman of the all-star nod.” So that accolade completely belongs to this team.”

Despite a season that has seen the Bruins defy expectations and post a 27-8-9 record, good enough for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and second-best in the NHL, Swayman isn’t satisfied. Boston’s goaltender insists on continuing to better his game and doing everything he can to be the best he can be.

“You talk to any veteran goalie or mentor that’s been through a professional career, you never get comfortable because that’s when you start getting humbled,” said Swayman about continuing to improve. “It’s really special to see when you look at film from last year to this year, or from college to this year, it’s all these years of experience that have helped round my game, and I know that there’s a ton of room for growth so I’m excited for that and I’m going to keep working for it.”