Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 27: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins greets teammates before playing against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 27, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

You don’t have to be an agent or general manager to realize that the math in front of the Boston Bruins indicates that this is almost certainly the end of the Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark tandem.

Boston’s backbone for the last three seasons, a breakout postseason from the 25-year-old Swayman has set him up for a gigantic payday as Boston’s most important restricted free agent. And given the needs the Bruins have elsewhere on the roster, namely in their top six and potentially on the backend, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Bruins putting themselves in a situation where they are guaranteed to have at least $5 million sitting on their bench in the regular season and, even worse, in the postseason.

It was fine for a one-year trek through cap hell, but it’s not a sustainable model.

And Bruins general manager Don Sweeney knows that to be the case, and knows that offers are going to come from around the league from other GMs who notice as much.

  • “We’re gonna find a landing spot with Jeremy Swayman, and if we can make the math work, we’re going to have the best tandem,” Sweeney told me. “If we can’t, we’re going to explore, and for Linus, he may come to us and change his mind, that may occur as well. Right now, we’re very happy to have signed Linus, and in a perfect world, we would keep the tandem because I think it’s damn good. But we’re going to explore opportunities.

    “My phone’s going to ring, I’m going to make calls. That’s just what the job requires.”

    But who will that market include between now and the call that potentially gets a deal done?

    (Please note: These aren’t ‘rumblings’ or ‘sources’ or anything of the sort. This is just who I think would make sense for the Bruins and Ullmark as they navigate a busy summer. Get mad at yourself if you treat this as anything more than summertime spitballing and for-fun dot-connecting.)

  • New Jersey Devils

    Dec 23, 2022; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (13) moves the puck behind the goal while Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) tends the net during the second period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Salus/USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 23, 2022; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Devils center Nico Hischier (13) moves the puck behind the goal while Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) tends the net during the second period at Prudential Center. (Thomas Salus/USA TODAY Sports)

    Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s quest for goaltending help has been well documented by this point. It went on for all of last season, and Fitzgerald, who claimed teams were trying to ‘extort’ his franchise at the deadline, ultimately settled on then-Canadiens netminder Jake Allen. The veteran Allen failed to make the difference (6-6-1 with a .900 save percentage in 13 games for New Jersey), and Fitzgerald’s front office is back on the hunt.

    “I’m in the goalie market talking to teams, but there’s a ‘but’ and the ‘but’ is how do we want to build our team?” Fitzgerald told NHL.com earlier this week. “We’d like to add up front, we’d like to add on the back end, so what are those pieces going to cost us. With the goaltending, what’s that going to cost us?”

    Now, whether Fitzgerald and the Devils like it or not, it’s going to be costly. That’s just how it is when it’s a glaring weakness for your squad, and it certainly was in 2023-24, as the Devils allowed 3.43 goals per game (fifth-worst in the NHL) and an .889 team save percentage (third-worst in the NHL).

    The Devils are also open to moving the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft, which would obviously be of interest to a pick-deficient team like the Bruins. Beyond the pick, the Devils also have their share of forwards and left-shot defensemen who could be of interest to the club. This is where it’s also worth noting that the Bruins have made multiple trades with the Devils over the last two years, and that general managers tend to go back to the same well.

    What’s also worth noting here is that the Devils definitely fit the bill as a ‘win now’ kind of squad, which could be of interest to Ullmark, who is not just playing with the hopes of re-establishing himself a top-tier goaltender in the league but also his next contract and what he hopes will be a raise from his current $5 million salary.

  • Columbus Blue Jackets

    Jan 2, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save as Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) looks for a rebound during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 2, 2024; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save as Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) looks for a rebound during the first period at Nationwide Arena. (Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Another Metropolitan team in need of serious help (and at just about every position), the immediate direction of the Columbus Blue Jackets will be an interesting one to watch unfold this summer.

    The Blue Jackets just brought in Don Waddell to oversee their entire hockey ops department, and Waddell and the Bruins reportedly talked about an Ullmark deal when Waddell oversaw the Hurricanes last season. Now, the circumstances and situations of the Hurricanes and the Blue Jackets are obviously different, but the overall point that remains there is that Ullmark a player that Waddell had interest in not that long ago. And, again, now he’s overseeing a Blue Jackets team with goaltending in worse shape than the Hurricanes ever were under his watch.

    This past season, Columbus allowed the second-most goals against per game (3.63), and over the last two seasons, only four teams have had a worse team save percentage than Columbus and their .891 save percentage. It simply hasn’t been good enough for the Blue Jackets, really for a few years now, and it’s seemingly started in goal.

    The Jackets also have their share of players in their prime (winger Johnny Gaudreau and defenseman Zach Werenski come to mind there) and developing studs (Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, and Cole Sillinger among countless others) and it’s possible that the Blue Jackets view themselves as a goalie away from inching closer to legitimate in a division that seems relatively wide open once you get beyond the top dogs in New York and Carolina.

    Of course, with the Jackets being a cellar-dweller, it’s worth wondering if they’re even on Ullmark’s no-trade list and if he would waive to go to Columbus. Odds are, he won’t waive for any non-playoff team (or probably any team not on his list, based on how things have gone to date and what’s he said about the situation).

    But even beyond that, the Jackets’ potential interest in Ullmark would likely to come back to what they do with Elvis Merzlikins. Set to make $5.4 million for the next three seasons, Merzlikins has been downright horrible over the last two seasons (his .889 save percentage is the worst in the league among a group of 37 goalies with at least 70 games played), and could be a legitimate buyout candidate for the Blue Jackets if they feel he’s broken beyond repair.

  • Detroit Red Wings

    Nov 4, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 4, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. (Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports)

    The Detroit Red Wings made a tremendous late-season push to try to sneak themselves into the 2024 playoffs, and came a tiebreaker short of besting the Capitals for the second wild card in the East.

    With a 4-1-1 record over their final six games, it was about a strong of a last gasp as a team could have put forth given the stakes of their situation. But the truth is that the Red Wings wouldn’t have had to do that had they gotten some better goaltending down the stretch in the days and weeks leading up to that nearly-successful mad dash to the finish line.

    Over the final 23 games of the regular season, Detroit’s goaltending posted an .896 save percentage at five-on-five play, which was the fifth-worst in the NHL. The Red Wings also allowed 3.78 goals against per game over that 23-game ending (second-worst in the NHL), while their penalty kill was the fifth-worst in the league.

    Detroit’s current goaltending outlook has both Ville Husso and Alex Lyon under contract for the 2024-25 season, while veteran James Reimer is a pending unrestricted free agent. The Red Wings made a considerable investment in Husso ($4.75 million cap hit through next season), but Husso hasn’t exactly delivered, with 35 wins and an .895 save percentage in 75 games with the Wings over the last two seasons. And with over $29 million in cap space, the Red Wings could in theory be able to take a one-year gamble on an Ullmark-Husso tandem making over $9 million.

  • Ottawa Senators

    Mar 21, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) in goal during the second period against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 21, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) in goal during the second period against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    Another team that’s been linked to Ullmark out of the gate this summer, Ottawa’s need for help in goal is straight-up dire. In the first year of a five-year, $20 million contract, Joonas Korpisalo was brutal for the Sens last season, with just 21 wins and an .890 save percentage in 55 games played. The Sens already want out of that commitment. Anton Forsberg also continued to take steps backwards, and put forth a 15-win and .890 in 30 games last season, and has another year at $2.75 million left on his current contract.

    Ottawa simply can’t run it back with this tandem, and everybody knows it. So could Ullmark be an answer?

    Based on the early-summer rumors, the Sens are expected to take another run at acquiring Ullmark from the Bruins. The Senators also have multiple first-round picks in this year’s draft (including a pick that originally belonged to Boston), and they would view Ullmark as a top priority and want to hammer out an extension, which makes him waiving his no-trade all the more likely. A potential Boston-Ottawa trade could have the makings of a ‘hockey trade’ with defenseman Jakob Chychrun potentially available as he enters the final year of his contract.

    (To get ahead of this one right now, the Senators are not trading Brady Tkachuk to the Bruins, nor would Linus Ullmark be the centerpiece of a Tkachuk package if the Sens were trading him inside the division.)

  • Toronto Maple Leafs

    Dec 2, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) brings the puck in front of Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark (35) in the third period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 2, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) brings the puck in front of Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark (35) in the third period at Scotiabank Arena. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

    To be absolutely clear here, I don’t believe that the Bruins would trade Ullmark to the Maple Leafs. It makes almost no sense for Boston to help Toronto fix their greatest need, especially when the NHL’s dumbass playoff format does its best to lock these teams into a playoff showdown every spring. But that doesn’t mean that someone else out there wouldn’t do what Sweeney did to the Kings in 2015 and acquire Martin Jones only to flip to LA’s top rival three days later. Could you imagine the fireworks that’d come with that one? As unlikely as it would be for a variety of reasons.

  • Carolina Hurricanes

    Jan 29, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) and Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) look at each other during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 29, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) and Carolina Hurricanes center Martin Necas (88) look at each other during the third period at PNC Arena. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

    One could argue that the Hurricanes already have their goaltending situation set for the 2024-25 season. Frederik Andersen is under contract at an affordable $3.4 million for one more year and Pyotr Kochetkov could be set for a big breakout after a couple of years of pro seasoning. But if the Hurricanes are simply looking to shake up the DNA of their crease as they still try to get over that hump of second and third-round exits, perhaps taking a one-year gamble on a former Vezina Trophy winner is what they view as their best possible move.

    There’s also the pending contract dispute with forward Martin Necas, who reportedly wants to play center and play top-line minutes, which will be difficult for him to accomplish in Carolina given their depth chart.

    Of all the rumors that’ve started to gain traction, this one is a little puzzling in the sense that Ullmark is more expensive than Andersen, which may be a natural conflict given what’s expected to be a costly summer for the Hurricanes when it comes to re-signing their own free agents.

  • Los Angeles Kings

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 09: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the second period against the New York Islanders at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the second period against the New York Islanders at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    If you wanted to take anything away from Boston’s end-of-year press conference with management, it was the line from Sweeney where he said “maybe Linus will change his mind.” That was seemingly an admission that Ullmark did in fact utilize his trade protection to block a would-be move to Los Angeles.

    Ullmark, for what it’s worth, seemingly confirmed as much without outright saying it at his own break-up day, as he said that he didn’t want to move away far away from his family. (Hey, it could be a stretch, but given how tight-lipped both have been on the matter, you’ll take and psychoanalyze whatever bread crumb they’re willing to maybe throw your way.)

    But with an offseason to weigh his options and accept what could be an awkward future with the Bruins as Jeremy Swayman’s playoff backup, would Ullmark be more open to a Boston-to-LA move? The thing I’d wonder here: Is Ullmark more willing to accept a trade to LA (or any team out West) if it comes with an extension in place? The Kings have a long-term need for goalie, and I’d wonder if Ullmark would be more open to going there if he knew that it wasn’t going to be a true one-and-done for him. If this means anything, and it might not, the Kings also seem to have a good connection with Swedish players, which may provide some more comfort for Ullmark.

  • Colorado Avalanche

    DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 7: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins skates to the net during the second period of a game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena on December 7, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 7: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins skates to the net during the second period of a game against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena on December 7, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    When it’s come to Ullmark and his no-trade, he has been careful to not say the wrong thing and he’s been quick to remind you that it’s not as black and white as it may seem. And while he’s made nods to the geographical limitations and preferences he may have, he’s also talked about his desire to win and be in competitive environments. That’s natural given what he’s felt in Boston and what he experienced in Buffalo, but it’s also made one feel like he potentially would welcome a move if it meant that he’d be the No. 1 goalie on a legitimate Cup contender.

    So, how about the Avalanche?

    One of the best teams in the league up front and on the backend, the Avs dealt with some in-season struggles in goal, with an .897 save percentage during the regular season. That was the third-worst team save percentage among all qualifying playoff teams, with only Toronto and Tampa Bay posting worse team save percentages. And Colorado’s No. 1 goaltender Alexandar Georgiev wasn’t the sole reason why the team came up short in the postseason, but he also wasn’t the difference, with an .894 save percentage over his 11-game playoff run.

  • Utah Hockey Club

    Jan 9, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save on Arizona Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse (67) in the third period at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 9, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a save on Arizona Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse (67) in the third period at Mullett Arena. (Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports)

    THE WHO!? First of all, rest in peace to the Arizona Coyotes. You deserved better.

    But as the Coyotes move to Utah and become the Utah Hockey Club for the 2024-25 season, there’s been talk of the kind of splash that they may want to make in their new city. From potential star additions to a slow-and-steady kind of build, one focus has come in net, as Utah could be looking for an upgrade in goal from the Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram tandem that might not be enough to get it done — or elevate, at the very least — moving forward.

    One thing that makes Utah a potentially interesting trade partner for the Bruins is their absolutely insane stockpiling of draft picks from the Arizona days. Over the next three drafts, Utah HC possesses three first-round picks, 10 second-round picks, and six third-round selections. One would think that there’s almost no way they’re going to use all of those picks on prospects, and if there’s no gamebreakers available on the trade market, an Ullmark-for-multiple-futures trade may be a sneaky-great way for the B’s to replenish their obviously-depleted draft pick pool.

  • Edmonton Oilers

    Mar 5, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a blocker save as Edmonton Oilers left wing Dylan Holloway (55) looks for a rebound during the first period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 5, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) makes a blocker save as Edmonton Oilers left wing Dylan Holloway (55) looks for a rebound during the first period at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

    For the first time in 18 years, the Oilers are back on hockey’s greatest stage in the Stanley Cup Final and vying for what would be the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship since 1990. There is a whole lotta pressure on this club.

    And that really begins with the question in goal as to whether or not Stuart Skinner can be The Guy. If he is, then the Oilers are parading down Edmonton and everything’s magic. But if the Oilers lose and Skinner is leaky as hell, the pressure for the Oilers to make a legitimate upgrade in goal is overwhelming. Especially with the Oilers’ one-two superstar punch of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid inching closer and closer to free agency.

    It would make a one-year gamble on Linus Ullmark the perfect play for Ken Holland’s club. Now, the obvious roadblock here is Ullmark’s no-trade, which would almost certainly include the Oilers. But if you’re looking for an interesting nugget, when it came to discussing his no-trade, Ullmark mentioned the Oilers by name as a team that may be on a player’s no-trade list because they were bad when it was first created but are now good. That felt… telling, for one reason or another. Was Ullmark just throwing a team out there or was there something there?

  • Boston Bruins

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 06: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins and Linus Ullmark #35 celebrate after the Bruins defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden on April 06, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 06: Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins and Linus Ullmark #35 celebrate after the Bruins defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in overtime at TD Garden on April 06, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    As unlikely as it may be (and it feels extremely unlikely, I gotta say), the Bruins do not hate the idea of running it back with the Swayman-Ullmark tandem for another year and letting it play out like they did a year ago. In fact, they’ve welcomed the idea if the financials work. And let’s say that the market dries up and the Bruins are unable to tackle the needs they want to address at what one would consider tolerable prices, then perhaps the Black and Gold should stick with the identity that’s allowed them to keep their goalies fresh and put a No. 1 netminder out there every night.

    For the record, I wouldn’t necessarily endorse this plan. Especially in what’s supposed to be a seller-friendly market for goalie transactions this summer. They have too many needs and they can’t afford to have $5 million (or worse) sitting on the bench in the playoffs once again. But this was their case a year ago. In addition to the no-trade obstacles and flat cap problems, teams weren’t necessarily offering the Bruins what they viewed as market value for a top-tier goaltender — they were eager to rip them off, actually — and the Bruins held firm on their price.

    So while unlikely, it remains a possibility until the cap ceiling says otherwise.

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