The pieces could fall perfectly in place for the Edmonton Oilers to finally put an end to that goaltender search, and it could come sometime this year. It may even be able to be pulled off before the trade deadline which is what would be the most beneficial for the Oilers. Linus Ullmark could be the perfect goalie that they need to push them to the next level.
The head coach of the Boston Bruins, Bruce Cassidy, said that Tuukka Rask could be ready to play in three weeks. He has been skating and practicing with the team, so at this point, it is all but confirmed that Rask is going to sign with the Bruins.
Ullmark or Swayman: Who’s the Future in Boston?
There are questions that will have to be addressed in the Bruins’ organization in regards to their goaltenders. If Rask is able to play at the same level he has for his entire career, they can’t carry three goalies. They can for this season, but past that, Jeremy Swayman would be wasting away in the minors when he is ready to be an NHL goalie.
Do they trade Swayman? The more likely solution is to move on from Ullmark if Rask is brought back for multiple seasons at a cheap price. Sure, they could have an experienced one-two punch in net, but allowing Swayman to learn under Rask could do wonders for his career.
Who do the Bruins see being their No. 1 of the future? Who has the potential to be a better goaltender? Swayman started off very hot and cooled a bit before playing some good hockey again, while Ullmark struggled at the start of his tenure with his new team but has settled down nicely for them.
Age could be a factor moving forward. Though the NHL is getting younger and we’re seeing more and more young goaltenders come in and perform in their early 20s, there is still that time period where it is expected when goalies reach their primes. This is the late 20s, and Ullmark is right in that sweet spot at 28. He is a stellar goalie and has adjusted to the Bruins, but Swayman has shown signs of brilliance at five years younger. This would allow him the room to get even better as he learns the NHL more and gains experience.
How Much Money Will Rask Ask For From Bruins?
Another possible problem that hasn’t come up is the question of what Rask will actually sign for. He has stated that he’s not looking for a big-money contract anymore, but does that mean he’s going to take a $750k contract? I don’t believe he is. He is willing to do whatever it takes to end his career in Boston, but it would be pretty disrespectful of the Bruins to ask him to take league minimum money to play.
Of course, Rask wants a Stanley Cup, and he wants it in Boston, but he would probably have to bring up that he is willing to settle for that little amount of money to play. In whatever condition he’s in, he would be a steal for any salary that is low.
Ullmark Could Make Up For the Oilers Defensive Game
Whether the Oilers can trade for Ullmark before the trade deadline or in the offseason, he would be one of the best options for them in net (“Could the Oilers Go Shopping for a Goaltender?”, The Hockey News, 11/2/21). He is used to making a ton of saves and being left out to dry from his time in Buffalo. That’s not saying the Oilers will leave him out to dry in their crease, but their team does allow the eighth-most shots against per game this season. That can be partly attributed to a number of their top defencemen missing time.
The Oilers aren’t a team that is known for solid defensive play every night. Maybe their outlook can change in the future, as they are a top-10 team on the penalty kill already. But for now, Ullmark has proven on the Buffalo Sabres in past years that he can keep the team in games despite being outshot and dominated, so with a little goal support in Edmonton, why can’t that continue?
Just to show how much Ullmark was able to win games for the Sabres, he ended his time in Buffalo with a positive win/loss record and no help from the team. He was 50-47-13 while having a .563 quality start percentage, above the league average of .53 percent. This was all done on a team that consistently finished at the bottom of the standings in points, goals for, and goals against.
I mentioned Ullmark’s age above, but 28 is the perfect age to be able to give his team quality starts on a nightly basis for a number of years. He is old enough and has been around long enough to be experienced and have reached his prime. Even if the Bruins were willing to take calls on either Ullmark or Swayman, the best window to win for the Oilers is now, so trusting in a mostly unproven goaltender in Swayman would be the wrong choice.
Ullmark is an actual starting goaltender and isn’t overpaid for the work he puts in. The most games he’s played in a season has been 37, taking into account that the last couple of years have been affected by the pandemic. There have also been a few injury concerns throughout his career so far. But if he stays healthy and works his way to playing 50-plus games, having Mike Smith as a backup or a 1B goaltender to take the load off until the end of next season would help.
Ullmark makes just $500k per year more than Mikko Koskinen right now, so there wouldn’t be an issue with paying him or needing to find a solution in goal for at least another three years. That will also give plenty of time to allow the goaltending prospects of Stuart Skinner, Ilya Konovalov, and Oliver Rodrigue to emerge as options. Koskinen is not a bad backup option since it allows him to get rest, so the Bruins could take him back in a return along with the enticing part of a deal.
After falling short in acquiring Darcy Kuemper or signing Jacob Markstrom, the Oilers should go full force at this opportunity. Though it should be seen as a good thing to have too many assets, so they have to sell one off, the decision will be a tough one for the Bruins, and Edmonton more than any other team should be there to take advantage.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.