Boston Bruins

Jeremy Swayman #1 of the Boston Bruins and teammate Linus Ullmark #35 celebrate a 5-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at the TD Garden on February 21, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly three weeks since Tuukka Rask made the decision to retire from the Bruins and the NHL.

Now, that decision didn’t appear to shock those in the B’s organization. They knew that Rask’s recovery wasn’t going as planned once he went back into action in true zero to 60 fashion, and that multiple health issues were popping up. What it did do, however, was throw their plans into net into on-the-fly readjustment, with the potential of three-headed monster with Jeremy Swayman behind Rask and Linus Ullmark turning into an inexperienced-but-connected Swayman-Ullmark duo.

It put ’em back to square one, actually, with the Bruins no longer mapping out a long-term view of their stretch run. This alone was a change from the established norm in Boston, as one of the first meetings of a new season came with Bruce Cassidy, goalie coach Bob Essensa, and Tuukka Rask and his partner in the crease mapping out an all-82 look.

“We didn’t map it out as much because of the newness of Ullmark, for one,” Cassidy said. “We didn’t know how his workload is. Is he a guy that needs consecutive [starts] or does he want to split up at certain times? Some of that was a feel-out process.”

A career-long, oft-injured Sabre prior to his jump to the Bruins, Ullmark has never played more than 37 games in a season.

The Bruins didn’t have any interest in turning him into a 60-game workhorse when they signed him, and instead looked at ways they could ease the strain on his body and utilize him as a strong 1A or 1B option, be it with Swayman or Rask. The Bruins got a brief look at what Workhorse Ullmark would look like, too, when Rask’s body wasn’t responding to rest and the Bruins had to throw Ullmark out there for three starts in five days during a Western Conference road swing. Ullmark was pulled from that third game, though the Bruins said it was more about the team in front of Ullmark than Ullmark himself.

Swayman, meanwhile, is in the first 82-game season of his career. That wall tends to come — and in a major way — for players when they jump from the NCAA to the NHL. Swayman, with just 14 games of AHL experience since the start of last season, has essentially done that, and played 46 total professional games since January 2021.

The Bruins, by the way, are set to enter a stretch that will include 32 games in 65 days. That 32-game sprint will feature five sets of back-to-backs, and five sets of four games in six days. That is a lot of strain and against some stiff competition. And what’s interesting is that neither goalie has experience in this setting. The Sabres were never in contention this time of year during Ullmark’s Buffalo tenure, and Swayman was essentially found money for the Bruins last year.

This time around, there’s legit expectations for this duo to lead and make statements along the way.

“It’s a different animal,” Cassidy admitted of his ‘new’ one-two tandem. “We went into the year with it being more of a competition and a little more open. That’s the way we’re going to keep doing it.”

That competition has aleady come with its highs and lows, as Ullmark led the charge for the Bruins before a slight dip paved the way for Jeremy Swayman’s resurgence, and against some of the league’s top threats. The importance of that latter point cannot be stated enough, and needs to inch closer towards the norm for the Bruins to be considered legitimate.

“I love being in net and being able to get points for this team, so, it’s a good day, and we’re happy with the win,” a smiling Swayman said after his latest passed test, a 28-of-29 win over the Avalanche at TD Garden. “Anytime me or Linus go in net, we both want what’s best for the team, and we want to win.”

“We still have a lot of hockey left, so I don’t think we’re going to get too far ahead of ourselves, honestly,” said Cassidy.

Here are some other thoughts on where the Bruins are right now…

  • BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 10: Linus Ullmark #35 of the Boston Bruins shoots the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at the TD Garden on February 10, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    Revisiting the Linus Ullmark signing

    OK, so now that we know Rask’s recovery didn’t go as planned, is it time to feel differently about the Ullmark signing?

    I know there’s been a lot of screaming about giving $20 million to a free agent goaltender when you had Swayman waiting in the wings, but it’s a bit tough to argue with the results Ullmark has put up in his first year within the B’s system. In net for 25 decisions this year, Ullmark’s 16-8-1 record means that the B’s have earned 33 of a possible 50 points in Ullmark’s games this year. He’s a bit of a heart attack closer — I gotta admit that I never feel super comfortable with him in late-and-close situations — but he’s certainly gotten the job done and played like a $5 million goaltender this year.

    As for the ‘loser’ of the Ullmark signing and organizational belief in Swayman, Daniel Vladar, it’s probably time to put to bed the idea that the Bruins made this huge mistake by moving him for a third-round pick. One of 68 goaltenders to make at least five appearances since Dec. 1, Vladar’s .877 ranks as the third-worst in hockey among that group of 68. The worst thing that could’ve happened was Vladar posting a shutout over the Bruins because it made everyone think that he was this gigantic loss, but the truth is that he really hasn’t been a viable or reliable option for the Flames since that appearance.

  • RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 14: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins addresses the media following the morning skate prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the PNC Bank Arena on May 14, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Bruce Cassidy is sick of having nice guys

    Conductors of the ‘this team needs to meaner’ train got a big ol’ boost from Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy last weekend, as Cassidy outright said that he’d like the Black and Gold defense to play with more of an edge.

    “We have a lot of nice guys on our team [but] we need to be more like pricks, to be honest with you,” Cassidy said ahead of the team’s win over the Senators. “We’d like that whole defense corps to bring a little more of that. Even though they’re not by nature, but just as a six-some every night. Like Charlie [McAvoy] when he brings it physically. When Pageau hit Carlo the other night, you saw Charlie, all of a sudden the competitiveness ramps up. He didn’t get hit. His teammate did.

    “We need more of that from the whole group, to be honest with you.”

    The Bruins lost this element almost entirely from their defensive mix in the 2021 offseason when Jeremy Lauzon got scooped by Seattle, Kevan Miller retired, and worthwhile waiver pickup Jarred Tinordi left for New York. And this was after moving on from Zdeno Chara, who even at 44 remains of the most intimidating brawlers in the league, the previous offseason. Moving beyond the defense, the Bruins also waived (borderline banished, it seems) fourth-line thumper Chris Wagner down to Providence. That’s a lot of piss and vinegar removed from the Boston lineup, and the Bruins have felt it this season.

    From the countless incidents of Boston skaters getting absolutely walloped to a defense that simply isn’t built for retribution, you have to wonder if that’s something prioritized between now and the deadline. It almost has to be, really, as you can’t just reconfigure the DNA of a player on the fly. It can be a mindset thing, sure, but the B’s really want someone born mean.

    Something important to note: Cassidy doesn’t view toughness as pure fighting ability.

    “I think in the old days it was who can beat the crap out of who, right? I think now it’s a little more who can get to the danger areas, who can block shots on the penalty kill, who can finish their checks clean,” Cassidy told me about two years ago. “Noel Acciari; Good example of modern day tough hockey player. He can certainly scrap, but it’s more about what he can do in defensive situations, keeping the puck out of his net, keeping [opposition] away from the puck. That’s part of it, and that’s the makeup of a player. The rules of the game have changed. In the old days you could police the game a little easier in terms of taking care of business if you didn’t like a hit. Nowadays it’s a little more difficult to do that.”

    That ‘right defense three’ spot would be a perfect spot to add that kind of player.

  • EDMONTON, AB – DECEMBER 09: Goaltender Stuart Skinner #74 of the Edmonton Oilers makes a save against Nick Foligno #17 of the Boston Bruins during the third period at Rogers Place on December 9, 2021 in Edmonton. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

    Nick Foligno is having trouble finding footing

    Veteran forward Nick Foligno’s first year in Boston has not gone as planned.

    In action for 33 games to date, the 34-year-old Foligno has found the back of the net just once and tallied seven points in total. One of 360 NHL forwards to play at least 400 all-situation minutes this season, Foligno is one of just eight players to score one goal or fewer, and his 37 individual scoring chances are tied for the 11th-fewest among that group of 360. Other ugly numbers among that group of 360: Foligno is tied for the seventh-fewest goals-per-60 (0.13) and his points-per-60 (0.91) is tied for the 19th-fewest.

    It probably hasn’t helped that Foligno has both battled injuries and bounced around the lineup at a rather wild clip, but it’s been tough to find the perfect (or even a notable) fit for Foligno. It just feels like David Backes 2.0, with Foligno trying his best and then some, but failing to stick with any of the team’s current lineup complexions.

    In case you’re wondering, Foligno does have a full no-movement clause this season, so the Bruins are really hoping that an uptick in Foligno’s luck comes between now and the end of the season. If that doesn’t come, however, it’s perhaps worth noting that buying out the final year of Foligno’s contract this summer would create almost $1.9 million in cap space for 2022-23, and come with a manageable dead cap penalty of over $933,000 in 2023-24.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 26: General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speaks during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Do Bruins have the goods to address all their needs?

    If the Bruins have to decide between defensive or offensive help in 2022, where do you lean? I only ask because it’s an entirely plausible scenario given the Bruins’ recent investments and lack of viable prospects. Teams are going to ask the Bruins about players like Fabian Lysell, Mason Lohrei, and Jeremy Swayman. The truth is that the Bruins are really ill equipped to trade any of those guys, so they should be just about completely off limits unless you’re getting an under-30 talent with term.

    This team could use another high-end center to stick between Patrice Bergeron and Charlie Coyle on their center depth chart, another capable right wing, and a game-changing, minute-eater on defense. That’s an awful lot. Especially when you look at what the Bruins could (and would prefer) to give up for external help this deadline.

    Ultimately, I think I lean help on defense more than up front, just because the Bruins have some redundancies on their blue line and it has been a 2022 to forget for Brandon Carlo. But ask me in a week — or maybe an hour — and I might say forward.

    The Bruins almost need to find a two birds, one stone kind of trade out there.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 04: Mike Reilly #6 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with Curtis Lazar #20, Charlie McAvoy #73 and Tomas Nosek #92 after scoring a goal against the Detroit Red Wings. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Fourth line one-two putting in strong work

    The Bruins have something that’s working with the Tomas Nosek-Curtis Lazar combo on the fourth line. Together for over 265 minutes of five-on-five play this season, the duo has been out there for 137 defensive-zone faceoffs (compared to just 57 at the other end of the rink), but still managed to post a respectable minus-two on-ice goal differential (outscored 12-10).

    It may seem like relatively run of the mill figures, but it’s a gigantic change from the Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner combo that simply drowned a year ago, with an on-ice goal differential of minus-9 (they were outscored 14-5 at five-on-five). The Bruins have tinkered with this line’s usage a bit — Nosek and Lazar are given a bit more attacking-zone love than Kuraly and Wagner — and Lazar has certainly taken advantage of that, with a career-high six goals and a solid 13 points through 43 games. If Lazar continues to produce at this pace, there’s no doubt he’ll smash his previous career of 20 points (2015-16 with Ottawa).

    Lazar, of course, is a pending free agent. The Bruins have been pretty good about not overextending themselves for fourth liners no matter their statistical achievements (Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, and Noel Acciari can all attest to that philosophy), but the team bucked that trend when they extended Wagner in 2019. Worth watching.

  • BOSTON, MA – JUNE 24: Boston Bruins fans hold a giant flag with the Boston Logo on it prior Game Six of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden on June 24, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Elsa/Getty Images)

    An extra look at the Michael Callahan trade

    Deadline season got underway for the Bruins late Tuesday night with a trade for Coyotes prospect and Providence College captain Michael Callahan in exchange for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick.

    The easiest way to explain this trade: The Bruins liked what they saw from the 6-foot-2 defenseman in their viewings (they watch PC up close and personal with prospect Riley Duran on the Friars), and the Coyotes didn’t think that Callahan would sign with them at the end of his senior season, so they opted to get something while they still could. Callahan, a Franklin, Mass. native, also comes with the on-ice and off-ice intangibles that the team enjoys, as a big-time shot blocker for Providence and as a three-year captain for Nate Leaman’s squad.

    The Bruins may not be done with Friar talents, as they are among the five or so teams with an interest in Providence forward and pending college free agent Parker Ford, according to multiple sources.

  • VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: (L-R) Don Sweeney and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins attend the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – JUNE 21: (L-R) Don Sweeney and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins attend the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Sweeney’s future and how it factors into all of this

    When we entered the season, the word around the league was that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was among those with an expiring contract, but that the Bruins would eventually get that deal done. Well, it’s now nearly March and Sweeney is still without an extension (not one that we know about, anyway), and the Bruins are inching closer and closer towards having to make some difficult decisions on their future in terms of trading prospects and/or picks for help. Weird spot.

    If you remember back in 2015 when the Bruins in a similarly ‘middle of the road’ spot like they are now, the belief was that the Bruins restricted what then-GM Peter Chiarelli was allowed to trade at the trade deadline. That’s how the Bruins ended up with Brett Connolly and Max Talbot on the way to a did-not-qualify, and how Chiarelli ended up fired. Despite the public perception, I don’t think Sweeney is on that hot of a seat, to be honest, but it is interesting that we haven’t heard any update on a potential extension and the Bruins are perhaps about to make another all-in run that will only further mortgage for the future.

    The Bruins would probably want to know who is in charge of that future, you’d think.