The Boston Bruins made a significant investment in the goaltending position Wednesday, signing goaltender Linus Ullmark to a four-year deal worth $20 million ($5 million average annual value).
A 6-foot-4 netminder with 117 games of NHL experience since 2015-16, the 27-year-old Ullmark is making his way to Boston after a 2021 season that featured a 9-6-3 record and .917 save percentage in 20 appearances. That record and save percentage is certainly impressive when you consider the team and defense Ullmark played behind in Buffalo.
Ullmark was even better than those raw numbers would indicate, too, as his .937 save percentage at five-on-five was actually tied with Semyon Varlamov for the fourth-best in hockey among goalies with at least 900 minutes of five-on-five action to their name in 2021, trailing on Juuse Saros and Alex Nedeljkovic’s dueling .945s and Chris Driedger’s .942. Ullmark’s .937 at five-on-five was even better than Andrei Vasilevskiy and his .933 and 2021 Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury’s .929.
There’s an obvious sample size disparity when comparing Ullmark to some of those players (namely the two players he’s directly above), but Ullmark, the No. 163 overall pick from the 2012 NHL Draft, also ranked seventh in goals saved above average (9.13) and his .861 high-danger save percentage at five-on-five was the fifth-highest among qualifying goaltenders.
“He’s big, he stops a lot of pucks way above expected, especially in five-on-five situations,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said of the Ullmark signing. “Both our goalie coaches in Bob [Essensa] and Mike [Dunham] broke down where there might be some deficiencies in Linus’s game. There are a few than a lot of goaltenders. Then the PK side of things is an area we’re going to shore up with him and how we kill, and address some of those things.
“Overall, he’s in the prime of his career, he’s had a lot of experience. He’s had some injuries we’re going to help him address to be in the best shape going forward and play in a real structured environment which I think he was excited about. He knows what our team is like, playing against it, and he’s excited to be on the inside of it all, playing for the us, and we’re fortunate.”
There’s certainly an element of sticker shock when it comes to this signing, as this contract will make Ullmark the league’s 12th-highest paid goaltender by way of a four-way tie with Robin Lehner, Semyon Varlamov, and Thatcher Demko. But this is also reminiscent of the Bruins’ signing of Jaroslav Halak in 2018 in the sense that it’s the club looking at how a goaltender performed behind a subpar defensive system and believing that their system (from their on-ice play to off-ice preparation and regiments) could help take his game to another level that warrants the payday.
And Ullmark himself has declared himself ready for the Boston spotlight.
“I always liked playing in Boston for some reason,” Ullmark said. “It was always very tight games between us and them and I always liked the city as well, whenever we came here visiting. It’s a very beautiful city, I love TD Garden, and there is a lot of passionate people surrounding the Boston sports.
“I do like it as well that there is high expectations for the team. It’s not about making the playoffs, it’s about winning the Stanley Cup. That’s the first and foremost goal that everybody has from the fans to the players to the management.”
With Ullmark signed, and with Daniel Vladar traded to Calgary for a 2022 third-round pick, the Bruins will begin the 2021-22 season with a tandem of Ullmark and true second-year pro Jeremy Swayman.
The Bruins were quick to note that Ullmark’s signing does not close the door on Tuukka Rask returning to the team on a new deal when fully recovered from his offsseason hip surgery.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.