The Boston Bruins are expected to have at least two, and likely three goalies sharing their crease throughout the 2021-22 season. To start the season, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman are expected to both get playing time. Once he’s fully recovered from injury, however, Tuukka Rask still figures to factor into the game plan and could very likely regain his spot as the team’s full-time starter should he prove capable of playing at the same level he has in the past.
It’ll be an interesting year for the Bruins in net and the storylines surrounding all three goalies should be plentiful for different reasons. For Ullmark, the discussion will be whether or not he can live up to the four-year, $20 million contract that he signed during the offseason. For Rask, the discussions will range anywhere from his health, to his potential signing and the terms that come with that, to his role on the team and his future beyond.
A discussion that isn’t being thrown around very much in the offseason, though, is the expectations surrounding Swayman after an excellent rookie season. In 10 games as a rookie, Swayman would go 7-3-0 with even more impressive peripherals of a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and a GSAA (goals-saved above average) of 10. The numbers were very impressive, the composure was evident and the admiration was deserved. Still, it may have created some unrealistic expectations for Swayman that shouldn’t lead to harsh critiques if things don’t go perfectly during the 2021-22 season.
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Swayman will still be considered a rookie for this upcoming season as he only played 10 games during the 2020-21 season. While he will be considered a rookie, he’ll also be looked to as a replacement for arguably the best goalie the Bruins have ever had in Rask. Suffice it to say, the shoes he’s being expected to fill will be large, especially with Ullmark and maybe even Rask himself pushing for starts early in Swayman’s career.
Temper Expectations for Swayman During 2021-22 Season
It’s definitely important to remember throughout the season that Swayman will indeed be a rookie at just 23 years old. It isn’t unheard of for a goalie to break onto the scene in dominant fashion before regressing in their second season before settling into a more comfortable norm throughout their careers.
There are many examples of this, including Rask who had an excellent first season before struggling in Year 2.
In Rask’s first full season with the Bruins, he’d play in 45 games, put together a 22-12-5 record with a very impressive 1.97 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and 24.3 GSAA. In his second season, and with expectations sky-high, Rask would regress to more average numbers in 29 games. He’d go 11-14-2 with a 3.05 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and a 4.4 GSAA. Obviously, he’d go on to become one of the best goalies in NHL history, but it wasn’t without some bumps in the road.
The excitement for Swayman is warranted. A fourth-round pick coming into the NHL as a rookie and dominating in the way he did rightfully created anticipation for Bruins fans that they would once again have a goalie to rely upon for another decade-plus with Swayman in the fold. It’s easy to get caught up in that, though, and forget that development is a real thing and that Swayman has all of the potential in the world but is still capable of bad performances and bad stretches when given a bigger role and a larger sample size to evaluate.
Ullmark and Rask Will Serve as Security for Swayman
The signing of Ullmark and Rask’s potential return may create other questions, as mentioned, but they should also serve as a security blanket for Swayman to dip his toes into the water rather than being pushed head-first into the deep-end without a lifejacket.
The Philadelphia Flyers and their fanbase can attest to this as Carter Hart, a goalie who came into the NHL with a monumental amount of hype, has seemingly gotten worse each and every season of his career thus far. While the blame shouldn’t rest solely on Hart’s shoulders, he’s the one who fans see in the crease each and every night and he’s the one who has to feel the dismay of the fanbase.
Rask, to this day, still gets an unfair amount of hate from a portion of the fanbase in Boston despite being a pillar for the team for a decade. While criticisms and critiques are fair and part of the business, the expectations of some fans far exceed what’s realistic from a goalie in the NHL.
Swayman will undoubtedly make plays worthy of critique and that deserve to be analyzed and corrected. There isn’t a single player in the NHL or in any professional sport, for that matter, who falls outside of this scope. That doesn’t mean that fans should look at every single mistake he makes this season and jump to conclusions so early in his career.
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Perhaps Swayman produces exactly the same way he did during his first 10 games in the NHL. Maybe this whole discussion will all be for not. Either way, though, it should serve as a good general rule of thumb that high expectations and public perception shouldn’t cloud realistic judgment. Not everything is clear-cut and there’s a process to everything in life. Developing into a full-time NHL starting goaltender is no different.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.