Monday, June 24 2024

Bruins’ playoff run proved Jeremy Swayman is No. 1 goalie going forward originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Two of the biggest question marks for the Boston Bruins entering the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs centered around Jeremy Swayman. Could the young goalie handle the heavy workload of a postseason run that went more than one round, and could he also consistently perform at a high level?

Even though the Bruins’ quest for the Stanley Cup ended in disappointing fashion Friday night with a Game 6 loss to the Florida Panthers in the second round, the answer to both of those questions was an emphatic yes.

This fact alone makes the 2023-24 season a successful one because now the Bruins have much-needed clarity on the goalie situation going forward.

“I think the whole year was an incredible year of growth,” Swayman said after Game 6. “Not only for myself, but everyone on this team. That’s what I’m most proud of. These guys not taking no for an answer. We were doubted from the beginning, obviously losing huge pieces. Everyone stepping up and making a name for themselves. I would be a part of that a thousand times over if I could.”

Swayman did not play well over the final five weeks of the regular season. He ranked 41st in save percentage (.884) and 21st in GAA (2.87) after the March 8 trade deadline. He gave up three or more goals in 11 of the last 17 games he played during that span.

But his performance drastically improved come playoff time. And not only did he play at an elite level, he showed no signs of fatigue or physical wear and tear despite making a career-high 11 consecutive starts. Before the playoffs, Swayman had never started more than six straight games.

“Jeremy Swayman was terrific. Night in, night out he gave us an opportunity to win by making sensational saves,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said after Game 6. “His competitiveness was something our players and our bench fed off of.”

Swayman was the Bruins’ most outstanding and most valuable player through two rounds. He also played with the type of passion and confidence that teams want from their best players. Without his excellent play in net, the Bruins would not have escaped the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their exit to the Panthers would have been far uglier.

In the post-series handshake line between the Bruins and Panthers, several people on the Florida side, including star forward Matthew Tkachuk and head coach Paul Maurice, had a long embrace with Swayman — a sign of respect toward Boston’s netminder.

“(Swayman) got us to this point. He pretty much won us the Toronto series. Kept us in that,” Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said after Game 6. “I know goalies feel like every mistake is a goal. But sometimes it’s not even a mistake. He covered for a lot of ours. That’s what guys were saying. ‘Just keep your head up, man. You’re a stud.’ He really took his game off in the playoffs. He should be proud of that.”

Swayman exits the playoffs as the league’s top goaltender. He ranked top five in pretty much every category through his 12 games played, including No. 1 in save percentage.

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Now that Swayman has emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie, the Bruins need to figure out a way to keep him here for many more years. He’s able to become a restricted free agent this summer. A long-term deal with a salary cap hit around $6.5-8 million per season would be fair for both sides.

It would give Swayman a substantial raise over the $3.475 million he made in 2023-24, while also giving the Bruins plenty more years of top-tier goaltending at a price that should get more team friendly if the salary cap rises at its expected pace in future years.

Only five goalies currently have a salary cap hit above $6.4 million for next season, per CapFriendly. One of them, Carey Price, hasn’t played since 2022.

Bobrovsky has won the Vezina Trophy twice and has played in a Stanley Cup Final. Vasilevskiy is a two-time Cup champion and won the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy. Hellebuyck is arguably the best goalie in the league right now and expected to win his second Vezina Trophy next month. Sorokin has a .919 career save percentage and was the Vezina runner-up last season.

What does the future hold for Linus Ullmark?

It doesn’t make much sense for the Bruins to use up $10-plus million of cap space at the goaltender position. Ullmark has one more year left on his contract with a $5 million cap hit. So if Swayman’s extension comes in at $5 million or higher per season, the Bruins would be using at least 11 percent of the salary cap on their goalies. That would be too much for any team, but especially one like the Bruins that has several other roster weaknesses to address in the offseason, most notably acquiring another top-six forward.

The ideal path for the Bruins is finding a trade involving Ullmark this offseason. That kind of deal could give Ullmark a chance to play more than he would in Boston, and also provide the B’s with some cap relief. Ullmark, who won the Vezina last season, is a very good goalie and would be an upgrade for several teams. It should be noted that, per CapFriendly, Ullmark still has a 16-team no-trade list in his contract.

Overall, the most positive outcome of the playoffs for the Bruins by far was Swayman proving he can be a franchise goalie during the most important time of the season. The Bruins have been very fortunate over the last 15 years to have the backbone of their roster consist of an elite goalie, with the best examples being Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.

Swayman is the next guy in line. He’s already a top 10 goalie at 25 years old. Building around him, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy long term should help the Bruins remain a threat in the Eastern Conference for many more years.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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