A 27-save shutout from ex-Bruins goaltender Daniel Vladar on Sunday night has, as one would expect, prompted some Monday morning silliness. Because what is Boston’s hockey scene if we’re not constantly yelling about goaltending?
But let’s start with a hypothetical…
You’re Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. You’ve just made your biggest Day 1 free agency splash in your six years on the job. it’s dug you into the idea that you are going to ‘go for it’ with Patrice Bergeron & Co. once again. The ‘brutally honest’ discussions of your future led you to this point. The phone rings. It’s the Calgary Flames and they’re offering you a third-round draft pick in exchange for a goalie with five career NHL games who may have very well been passed on the organizational depth chart by springtime sensation Jeremy Swayman and his .945 save percentage.
Now, keep in mind the following: The goalie you’re trading is finally waiver-eligible, meaning you could Malcolm-Subban-to-Vegas yourself in camp for the second time under your watch. You could also run the risk of that goalie, who surrendered eight goals in his final outing of the 2021 season, not being worth a third-round pick with more NHL exposure. (That wouldn’t be the first time that one of your blue chip prospects actually got worse and lost value with more NHL minutes.)
Oh, and the team you’re trading with made a coaching change and were still a .500 team under Darryl Sutter. A failure to buy in on his system would’ve led to similar results in 2021-22, giving you a pick near the top of the third round. You also didn’t have your own third-round pick to your name thanks to the Mike Reilly deadline deal. With 13 draft picks traded since the 2016 trade deadline, recouping any sort of pick (either for yourself or another future deal) has its value.
You’re also making this decision in July. Not on Nov. 22.
In other words, miss me with this newest chapter of revisionist history in net.
If July You says, ‘No, I’m keeping Vladar,’ I feel you’re not debating in good faith or you’re a Vladar Superfan. Both are fine if that’s your path. But, again, the Flames were offering you a top-96 pick in exchange for a goalie with five games experience and a sub-.900 career save percentage at that point. That’s a hard deal to pass on in value alone.
The Bruins were also never going to open the year with a Swayman-Vladar tandem. They said as much. That would’ve been the franchise’s least-experienced tandem since 2005-06, and it would’ve flown in the face of being a win-now team. If neither goaltender was truly ready or both proved to be flashes in the pan, that would’ve crushed the Bruins faster than anything else.
It’s also why I didn’t have a problem with the investment on Linus Ullmark and his strong underlying numbers on a dreadful Buffalo team then and why I still don’t, actually. Failing to cover your bases would’ve been a truly fireable offense. Way more than giving a low-end starter $5 million a year during Swayman’s team-controlled (cost-controlled) years. (Also: Nobody wants to talk about this, but Ullmark and Swayman have performed at similar levels through the first month of the season, but one’s perception is still haunted by his preseason first impression.)
Unfortunately for all, the multiverse is not yet open, so there’s no way of knowing how things would have fared had the Bruins passed or waited on any of these moves. But the constant in every other hypothetical as it relates to the spending vs. non-spending in net? It greatly overstates what was actually available on the open market this past summer.
If the Bruins saved money (just over $4 million, by the way) with Vladar over Ullmark, who do they get that makes them a dramatically better team? I need a name. We can’t just say “I don’t know, a big defenseman” because the Bruins did exactly that with Derek Forbort in a painfully thin market for legitimate top-four upgrades. In fact, the two players you’d consider the best fits for the Bruins based on their needs — Alec Martinez and Jamie Oleksiak — never even made it to market. Martinez re-upped with Vegas and Oleksiak was selected and signed by the Kraken in the expansion draft.
It wasn’t much better up front. The Bruins could’ve jumped into the $33 million bidding war for Phil Danault (never scored more than 13 goals in a season and a career-worst 6.8 shooting percentage last year) or spent more on the aggregate to acquire Christian Dvorak from Arizona. The next-best options were all wingers, and the Bruins weren’t in dire need of help there after thinking they found the perfect top-six fits with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith stabilized on their second line.
But back to the matter at hand: Vladar The Vezina.
There’s no denying his success out of the gate this season, at 4-0-1 with a .945 save percentage. But we can’t ignore just how absurd the Flames have been as a team this season. They’ve most definitely bought in on whatever it is that Sutter is selling system-wise, as navigating the defensive zone is a slow death that’s giving serious 2012-2014 Kings flashbacks and setting records predating the forward pass. (No, seriously.)
Calgary Flames become the first NHL team since offensive forward passes were allowed in 1929 to record 7 shutouts within the first 19 games of a season. pic.twitter.com/wmN82EMjFj— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 22, 2021
It’s also greatly reduced the strain on their goaltending tandem. And given what we’ve seen from the Bruins this season, it stands to reason that Vladar’s nights wouldn’t be as clean as we saw firsthand Sunday night, and that the numbers would dip with it. (Unless you truly believe that he’s a better option than Swayman and Ullmark, which seems hyperbolic at the very least given the sample sizes we’re working with for all three right now.)
There’s a billion reasons why the Bruins may not reach their potential this year.
But to bring it back to the loss of Vladar, a player who clearly never factored into the team’s long-term plans in net, is perhaps our most outlandish tale of revisionist history yet.
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.