The Bruins have a great downside on their arms … once more.
Boston’s record-setting run in 2022-23 was anchored by the stellar play of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, who established themselves because the league’s finest 1-2 punch between the posts.
By the primary three-plus weeks of the 2023-24 marketing campaign, the duo has managed to be even higher.
Swayman has opened the season with an unblemished 6-0-0 file — main all NHL netminders (min. 5 begins) in each save proportion (.952) and objectives in opposition to common (1.49).
The 24-year-old goalie has already saved 9.11 objectives above common (per Pure Stat Trick) whereas recording a .912 save proportion on high-danger pictures.
Ullmark has dipped beneath Swayman’s scorching begin … by solely going 4-1-1 out of the gate with a .926 save proportion and 4.01 objectives saved above common.
In different phrases, each Swayman and Ullmark are enjoying at an elite stage as soon as once more — routinely elevating a 10-1-1 Bruins workforce that has needed to defend a number of one-goal leads en path to gritty wins.
After all, it hasn’t taken very lengthy for each Swayman’s blistering begin in web to lift questions on whether or not or not Boston ought to increase what has been a 50/50 partnership in web out of the gate.
It could possibly be tempting to shift these reps in favor of Swayman because the season goes on.
And given Boston’s inconsistent scoring output, the case could possibly be made that Boston ought to promote excessive earlier than the commerce deadline with Ullmark — securing a helpful ahead in return whereas subsequently giving Swayman the unquestioned function as Boston’s 1A in web.
However for as interesting as these contingency plans are at hockey’s most vital place, the outdated mantra of “If it ain’t broke … can and will apply right here in relation to the bedrock of this roster’s success.
Adhering to a profitable method
After all, the much less excessive of these two mid-season tweaks could be a redistribution of begins for Swayman and Ullmark, particularly if the previous doesn’t present any cracks in web because the season wears on.
However after straying from that method on the most important juncture of the season, Jim Montgomery and Boston’s teaching workers ought to heed these robust classes doled out through the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Past the repetition and cohesion that each Ullmark and Swayman acquire from buying and selling off begins, maintaining each netminders in and round 42 begins needs to be the optimum goal to be able to preserve each contemporary for the postseason.
Be it accidents or fatigue, Ullmark — whose earlier profession excessive in begins earlier than final season was 41 in 2021-22 — couldn’t replicate his spectacular play in opposition to the Panthers final April. Swayman’s career-high in video games performed? 41 contests again in 2021-22.
Past maintaining each Swayman and Ullmark contemporary through the 82-game gauntlet that’s the common season, a 50/50 break up in reps additionally ensures that the aggressive hearth between each netminders stays stoked — as long as each are enjoying at a excessive stage.
“That’s what makes it so particular is that if we didn’t have that, we’d be pissed at one another, as a result of that wouldn’t elevate our recreation,” Swayman stated of inner competitors again in August. “And that’s one thing that we actually take critically.
“I’m not competing as laborious, he’s not competing as laborious in apply — we all know that if we stoop in video games, the opposite man’s gonna take that web. And that’s what’s gonna elevate our stage of each single recreation.”
After all, following a strict goalie rotation within the common season received’t imply a lot if it falls to the wayside within the playoffs.
However after sticking with Ullmark for the primary six video games of an eventual first-round exit final spring, would Montgomery be daring sufficient to commerce off begins for his goalies within the playoffs — win or lose?
It’s an unconventional method, little doubt. However then once more, the Bruins are an unconventional roster — paced by two goalies who could possibly be Vezina Trophy frontrunners in back-to-back seasons.
Eliminating a pillar of energy
Given the variety of groups in determined want of elite goaltending this season, it is sensible for a netminder with Ullmark’s resume and inexpensive cap hit ($5 million) to be dangled as a viable commerce chip.
It’s a maneuver which may maintain some validity within the coming years, particularly with Swayman due a hefty new deal subsequent summer season and Brandon Bussi vying for NHL reps subsequent season.
However in 2023-24? The Bruins can’t afford to anoint Swayman as their unquestioned ace in web and push Ullmark to the wayside.
As stellar as Swayman has been this season, the Bruins’ potential to stack factors at a record-setting price since final October has largely been a results of deploying two prime goalies able to snuffing out prolonged dropping streaks and selecting up the opposite netminder throughout uncommon chilly spells.
Even when Swayman takes a significant step ahead this yr, Ullmark represents the very best insurance coverage that Boston has in case of harm or a stoop in web.
And given the personnel round these two, the Bruins’ finest odds of contending this yr rests on having an elite goalie in web for 82 video games and past.
With their scoring depth sapped, Boston has much less room for error in relation to its defensive fortitude and its potential to fabricate snug leads. Amid their 10-1-1 begin, six of these 12 Bruins’ video games have been determined by a single purpose.
Boston ranks first within the NHL with simply 1.92 objectives allowed per recreation, but in addition fifteenth within the league in 5v5 scoring probabilities in opposition to per 60 minutes (27.32).
Positive, the Bruins may finally generate some cohesion and constant scoring punch of their ahead corps. And sure, their protection will possible tighten up when extra regulars return to the lineup.
However for this Bruins roster to be at its finest, it’s going to want this goalie tandem to stay in place this season.
An unsuitable return
After all, even when Boston did choose to dangle Ullmark out on the commerce market — few groups can provide up a return that might immediate Don Sweeney to uproot his roster’s best energy.
Sure, a workforce just like the Oilers are in determined want of a steadying presence in web. However Boston isn’t getting a megastar like Leon Draisaitl in any Ullmark commerce, nor does Boston essentially have the cap flexibility to herald a star participant with out probably transferring out a number of property to be able to stay beneath the cap ceiling.
Sure, a 30-year-old heart like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does make sense on paper as a possible commerce chip in a Bruins-Oilers blockbuster. However earlier than his 104-point breakout final season (53 of these factors on the facility play), Nugent-Hopkins solely surpassed 60 factors two different occasions on some proficient Edmonton groups.
With true franchise-altering abilities possible not accessible, the Bruins shouldn’t be transferring a reigning Vezina winner in Ullmark, particularly throughout this season.
And with Ullmark holding a 16-team no-trade record, it stays to be seen if the Bruins netminder would even approve a commerce to a defense-optional squad like Edmonton.
If the Bruins wish to improve their offensive personnel, they might wait till the offseason — when a cap surge may enable them to be gamers for a possible free agent like Elias Lindholm, or a commerce suitor keen to tackle Tomas Hertl’s contract.
However given Ullmark’s significance to this 2023-24 grouping, it’d must take a star expertise to persuade Boston to interrupt up its best energy on the ice.
If it ain’t broke …
Join Bruins updates🏒
Get breaking information and evaluation delivered to your inbox throughout hockey season.