Bruins general manager Don Sweeney stated the obvious during his end-of-season press conference May 9.
“Roster changes are likely coming,” he said. “We’re not going to be the same team.”
As much as the Bruins would prefer to roll out the roster that rewrote the NHL record book this season, it’s not possible in a salary-cap league.
With more than $6 million in available cap room, more than $4.5 million in bonus overages on next year’s books, and no answer yet in regard to their top centers, the Bruins will need to make some moves this summer to assemble a competitive roster under the $83.5 million cap.
While most of the cap-conscious measures proposed usually revolve around dealing defensemen or forwards, could a goalie trade make the most sense?
Let’s run through the pros and cons of what could be a franchise-altering move.
PRO: Goalies are their top trade chip
There are a number of trade chips the Bruins might part with before Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman.
On the blue line, Matt Grzelcyk, Mike Reilly, and Derek Forbort might need to be moved. Taylor Hall and Jake DeBrusk are key cogs up front, but both should draw some suitors if the Bruins dangle them.
Offering a star such as Charlie McAvoy or Hampus Lindholm would spur a feeding frenzy around the NHL, but the Bruins aren’t moving pieces they view as part of their next core.
But if Ullmark or Swayman were available, many teams might be willing to pony up a hefty haul of draft capital or other assets.
Swayman is an obvious blue-chip trade target, given his restricted free agent status, age (24), and potential.
But what if Ullmark, whose no-movement clause reverts to a 16-team no-trade list on July 1, were available?
Be it the Kings, Oilers, or other clubs felled by substandard goaltending, there would be no shortage of teams willing to give up a nice return to acquire the likely 2022-23 Vezina Trophy winner.
If the Bruins need to both shed a contract ($5 million cap hit for Ullmark) and recoup an asset like a first-round pick or a forward/defenseman who aids in the rebuilding process, targeting a position of strength like goaltending makes plenty of sense.
PRO: Ullmark’s value might never be higher
Ullmark did not have a postseason to remember. Over six games against the Panthers, he was 3-3 with an .896 save percentage.
It was a shocking dip from his superb regular season, when the 29-year-old netminder posted a 40-6-1 record, .938 save percentage, and 1.89 goals-against average.
Even his underlying metrics were top-notch, with his 42.4 goals saved above expected ranking second in the NHL behind Nashville’s Juuse Saros (46.7), according to MoneyPuck.
Ullmark’s season for the ages should make him a coveted trade target, and his value may never be higher.
PRO: Swayman could be due for a breakout
Swayman was no slouch as the backup in 2022-23. After posting an .887 save percentage over his first 10 games, he went on a heater once the calendar flipped to 2023.
Over his final 27 games of the regular season, Swayman posed a .929 save percentage. Only Minnesota’s Filip Gustavsson and Ullmark posted higher marks over that stretch.
Overall, the 24-year-old Swayman posted a 24-6-4 record with a .920 save percentage and four shutouts. His goals saved above expected rate of 24.0 ranked eighth, while his save percentage on high-danger shots (.862) ranked fourth mong goalies with at least 1,000 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick.
If he is handed the keys to the Bruins’ No. 1 spot in net, there’s a lot to like about Swayman, and moving Ullmark also would open the door for the Bruins to either sign a veteran backup at a much lower rate, or even turn to 24-year-old prospect Brandon Bussi. The Western Michigan product thrived in his first full season in the AHL, ranking second with a .925 save percentage.
CON: Moving a goalie takes away a safety net
There’s a lot that can go wrong if the Bruins opt to move a veteran like Ullmark.
If Swayman takes a step back as the No. 1 goalie, the Bruins may not have a proven NHL goalie behind him. That would put pressure on Swayman to deliver, but also put an unproven player like Bussi in a bad spot.
The Bruins can’t have a repeat of the 2014-15 season, when Jonas Gustavsson’s lackluster play not only caused them to bleed points but also tired out Tuukka Rask (64 games played).
CON: Goaltending is one of the team’s strengths
The Bruins’ goaltending corps might be viewed as a luxury, but even if moving Ullmark or Swayman frees up cap space or nets a solid return, it’s still a high-leverage roster reshuffle with plenty of risk.
Beyond the chemistry between Ullmark and Swayman, their effective rotation in net formed the backbone of a Bruins defense that regularly gave teams little to work with in their attacking zone.
Even if there’s regression from Ullmark, he remains a very good goalie.
As the Bruins prepare for the eventual post-Bergeron era, they have plenty to work with in the framework of their roster.
They still have a 60-goal scorer in David Pastrnak to build around up front. A defense featuring McAvoy and Lindholm offers a solid foundation.
And a goalie corps featuring Ullmark and Swayman gives them arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league.
PRO: They may not need an Ullmark-Swayman tandem to contend
It’s unlikely the Bruins would have won 65 games in the regular season without their dynamic duo in goal. Had coach Jim Montgomery opted to keep that rotation going in the playoffs, we might not be even discussing this topic.
But do they need two top-10 goalies in 2023-24, especially with Swayman due a pay raise?
Swayman doesn’t have as much leverage as an RFA, but he’s still due a nice bump from the $925,000 annual cap hit he earned over the past three seasons.
If Swayman and the Bruins opt for a bridge deal, comparable contracts include Dallas’s Jake Oettinger (three years, $4 million cap hit) and Florida’s Spencer Knight (three years, $4.5 million cap hit).
A similar contract for Swayman means the Bruins are likely allocating at least $9 million to their goalies in 2023-24 and beyond if both remain on the roster.
When you look at the teams still in the hunt for a Stanley Cup, it’s not like you’re staring at a gauntlet of elite talent.
Even though Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky has turned his game around in the postseason, he’s been far from the player who captured two Vezina Trophies with the Blue Jackets. Playoff heroics aside, the Panthers can’t be thrilled that he’s logging a $10 million annual cap hit through the 2025-26 season.
Bruce Cassidy and the Vegas Golden Knights punched their ticket to the Western Conference finals with a dynamic goalie grouping of Laurent Brossoit and Adin Hill. The Hurricanes have rolled out three goalies this postseason: Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Pyotr Kochetkov.
Dallas might have the lone “franchise” goalie in Oettinger.
The Bruins might have the best goaltending duo in the NHL. But as this postseason proves, sometimes all you need is a guy or two who can simply get the job done.
It’s a gamble that could determine just how much of a contender the Bruins are in 2023 and beyond.
Conor Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.