Since the start of the 2022-23 season, the Boston Bruins have a combined record of 79-14-8. Boston's success has been staggering, and their goaltending tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman has been right at the center of it.
So why might one of them be on the trade block?
The Ullmark and Swayman tandem was dominant in the 2022-23 season. The duo captured the Jennings Trophy (awarded to the goaltenders of the team with the fewest goals against), while the 2022-23 Boston Bruins shattered several NHL records, recording 135 points and picking up 65 wins. At the end of the season, Ullmark netted the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's top goaltender. He was honored with the Vezina after securing a personal record of 40-6-1 and leading the NHL in both goals against average (1.89) and save percentage (.938).
Despite their historic regular season, the Bruins season came to a heartbreaking end in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as they suffered a dramatic Game 7 loss at home to the Florida Panthers. Boston had led the series 3 games to 1, and led Game 7 in the final minute of regulation. Ullmark started the first six games of the series, and failed to live up to his regular season performance while reportedly playing through "a debilitating & painful injury."
Ullmark's poor play, plus his nagging injury, led head coach Jim Montgomery to turn to Swayman for Game 7. Swayman was in net when Florida's Carter Verhaeghe ripped a wrist shot over his right shoulder at 8:35 of overtime, bringing Boston's season to a devastating end and dashing any hopes of a Stanley Cup title.
In 2022-23, Ullmark started 48 games between the pipes, while Swayman was called upon for 33 starts. Boston has continued their goalie tandem approach this season while rotating the two consistently. Through 19 games in the 2023-24 campaign, Swayman has the edge, starting 10 games to Ullmark's nine. When Jeremy Swayman started Monday's game against Tampa Bay, it was the first instance this season that a Bruins goaltender had started consecutive contests.
Ullmark and Swayman are also close personal friends, with Ullmark's kid's even calling Swayman "Uncle Sway" and Bruins fans have become captivated by the pair's patented "goalie hug" after team wins. It is fair to ask how a trade might be received in the Boston dressing room, but even Ullmark himself acknowledged last offseason that their unique partnership might not last forever.
There were rumblings this offseason about the Bruins possibly swapping Ullmark for a top line center, which became a position of need for Boston after the retirement of franchise centerpieces Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. The emergence of 19-year-old Matthew Poitras has alleviated some of the concerns about the team's center depth, but there is consensus that the Bruins will need to upgrade at the position if they have hopes of a deep playoff run come spring.
Enter: the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton began the season as a Stanley Cup contender, but has been plagued by poor goaltending, struggling to a 6-12-1 record out of the gate. Edmonton has given up the third most goals per game in the league, and starting goalie Jack Campbell was demoted to the AHL after posting a 4.5 goals against average and a 1-4 record. Sources say that the Oilers checked in on Ullmark and Swayman's availability over the summer, and with Edmonton's poor start in the crease, those rumors have heated back up.
Strong goaltending might be the only thing standing between Edmonton and a long playoff run, and an additional top six forward might be the only thing standing between Boston and a long playoff run. Edmonton has the flexibility to part ways with a top six forward, and Boston has the flexibility to part with one of their netminders. Simple enough, right?
Unfortunately, not that simple. Ullmark's contract also includes a 16-team no trade clause, so he holds a substantial amount of leverage in any negotiation. Ullmark is locked up for next season as well with a cap hit of $5 million, while Swayman will make $3.475 million this year before becoming a restricted free agent with team control after this season. Swayman will likely see a pay bump, and the Bruins might be reluctant to pay two goalies a combined salary in the area of $10 million. There is a belief that the Bruins' regular season goalie tandem model can't translate to postseason success, with last season's premature ending held as Exhibit A.
With the age differential (Swayman turned 25 yesterday), the 30-year-old Ullmark would likely be the odd man out.
One such Edmonton-Boston blockbuster proposal involves Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Nugent-Hopkins is a former first overall pick of the Oilers in the 2011 draft, and a consistent presence on the Oilers top two lines, putting up 104 points last season. He is also a responsible 200-foot player, having received Selke Trophy votes last year as well (awarded to best defensive forward).
Nugent-Hopkins is in the third year of an eight-year contract, which sets his annual cap hit at $5.125 million until 2028-29, when he will be 36.
Boston might also be inclined to wait until closer to the trade deadline if they were to move one of the two. This would allow Boston to rotate their goalies for a few more months and prevent Swayman from hypothetically having to carry almost all of the workload for the remainder of the season, something that he has never been asked to do.
If Boston wants to hoist the Cup this season, they will need to add an impact forward to their top two lines. If Edmonton wants to hoist the Cup this season, they will need to solve their goaltending dilemma. Will these two clubs help each other out then? Well, that remains to be seen.