The return of Tuukka Rask has come with a demotion for Jeremy Swayman, as the Bruins confirmed that Swayman will report to Providence on Wednesday morning.
The Bruins, of course, acknowledged this as a possibility — both internally and even externally — when the season started. And with that day finally here after 16 appearances for Swayman, how did the 23-year-old take the news?
“Disappointed, but not overly surprised based on what was trending and how it was tracking for Tuukka’s health and potential availability,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said when about Swayman’s reaction. “Jeremy took it in stride as a professional, and he’s extremely motivated to be a top flight goaltender, which we believe in.”
The Alaskan-born netminder certainly looked capable out of the gate in 2021-22, with an 8-6-2 record and .918 save percentage on the year. But it would’ve taken something truly spectacular (or perhaps legitimately impossible and/or historic) for Swayman to force a difficult conversation — looking into the possibility of trading Ullmark or saying no bringing the 34-year-old Rask back to Boston for what’s basically pennies — for Swayman to stick as a No. 1 or No. 2.
“I think the single biggest thing that came out of my conversation today was [Swayman] just stared at me and said, ‘Well, if those two guys struggle, do I get the net?'” Sweeney revealed. “That’s what you want to hear from a player. And any young player that has confidence in himself and some success will accept the fact that he’s got some things to continue to work on. But in a competitive environment that we’re trying to win, the best players are going to play and I don’t think Linus [Ullmark] and Tuukka would look at it any differently.”
The ‘competitive environment’ comment could certainly apply to the difficult conversation that the Bruins had with Swayman and the one he was unable to force within the Boston front office, too. In net for seven games against teams currently in a playoff spot this season, Swayman went 1-5-1 with a .903 save percentage. (Ullmark, in case you’re wondering, has gone 4-2-0 with a .919 save percentage against playoff opponents in 2021-22.)
Given the schedule in front of the Bruins, moving Swayman (who still has minor-league options) to the AHL, where he will play consistent games opposed to being the No. 2 or No. 3 in Boston and fine-tune his game, was a no-brainer.
“I understand the disappointments, especially when you feel like you positioned yourself to be on an NHL team, and you’ve had some success, [but] it’s generally not a straight, linear path,” Sweeney noted. “Take the opportunity to work on your game, expand it, and realize that there’s challenges associated with everybody’s professional career.
“And Jeremy, to his credit, recognizes all those things.”
Sweeney also made it clear to everyone (but most importantly Swayman) that this isn’t a reflection on his ceiling.
“He knows [we believe in him] and the commitment we made to him,” Sweeney said. “Part of it was this [past] summer in trading a good, young goaltender in Daniel Vladar and allowing Jeremy to play Opening Night for that matter.[Swayman] knows he’s a big part of our current team as well as moving forward.
“Most importantly, he’s got a hell of a long career in front of him as a Boston Bruin.”
But for now, the journey will take a detour through Providence.