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How the Boston Bruins can leverage scarcity in the goaltending market

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Photo credit:Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
20 days ago
In a broad economic sense, the idea of leveraging a scarce asset is the very definition of cruelty under global capitalism. When it comes to the National Hockey League, it’s not remotely as evil, but the Boston Bruins can dictate this year’s trade market because the vast majority of the league suffers from a paucity of goaltending.
Linus Ullmark is two years removed from a Vezina-winning season, where he morphed from a league-average starter into an impeneterable wall for the Bruins. Despite the accolades and another elite year in goal, Ullmark was effectively usurped by Jeremy Swayman entering the postseason, although both goaltenders have celebrated their strong friendship and mutual success in a true tandem setup. Swayman wildly outperformed his one-year, $3.475 million contract awarded to him in arbitration, while Ullmark enters the 2024-25 season on the final year of his contract, carrying a $5 million cap hit and a 15-team no-trade list for the upcoming campaign.
Any notion of Ullmark crashing down from space after a sublime 2022-23 season is a complete misnomer operating in bad faith. Ullmark ranked 3rd in the NHL with 16.04 goals saved above expected (GSAA) at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick, while posting a .930 save percentage and 66 goals allowed at 5-on-5 in 41 starts. These are elite numbers and based off a terrific two-year sample, the Bruins can command a return for a No. 1 goaltender, all the while trying to strike a long-term extension for their presumptive No. 1 — or if they reverse course, the Bruins can shop Swayman in what could be the most lucrative sign-and-trade in recent history. It’s already difficult enough to secure one elite goalie and the Bruins have two. They’re operating from a position of strength and don’t have to make a trade for the sake of it.
Ullmark, for what it’s worth, spoke candidly about being placed on the trade block during an exclusive interview with Nick Alberga and Carter Hutton on Friday’s edition of Leafs Morning Take.
“I think that’s one of the things I had to learn by a trial-and-error type of thing and it’s about experience because this was my first time actually being on the trade block,” Ullmark said. “With that comes certain expectations and there’s a lot of feelings. There’s a lot of emotions going into every single game. You know there’s a certain date for when the trading deadline is over and for us, for example, we had a rotation when we played every other game. So I knew coming in that these were going to be my starts going into the final day.
“For me, it was really hard just because I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t know what to do with it. Because at the same time, you face the logical side of it and there’s the emotional side of it, the personal one. So you understand why the team are doing it but at the same time it’s like ‘am I not enough?’ that sort of thing. So you kind of make the most out of it. Playing these games, obviously, you want to win and at that point I thought I was playing really well but I couldn’t get the result to back it up. It would be overtime losses or something like that, scrambling to always get that point. If you ended up being traded, you didn’t want that last game being a loss. You wanted to be at the top of your game and leave as a winner.”
Boston’s identity — as currently presented — is clearly laid out: under Jim Montgomery, the Bruins excel as a counterattacking team with sound defensive principles, while riding elite goaltending to offset subpar offensive possession — David Pastrnak often plays overflow minutes to augment the team’s unbalanced attack. During the regular season, Boston finished T12th in 5-on-5 goals for (172) while ranking third in 5-on-5 goals allowed (135) so the Bruins could try to swing for a superstar forward, while offering Ullmark as a known quantity between the pipes.

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The idea of trading Ullmark — or Swayman — is ultimately a luxury for the Bruins. They’re not exactly forced to give up an elite goaltender for the sake of balance, but given that Jacob Markstrom was already dealt to the New Jersey Devils this week to cover up a glaring need for a young, high-octane club, the league-wide demand for a quality keeper must be skyrocketing. From a process-of-elimination standpoint, both Stanley Cup entrants must feel pretty great about their goaltending, while Dallas, Winnipeg, Nashville and both New York teams must feel pretty confident ahead of next fall. As for the rest of the league, the Bruins should, at least in theory, become one of the league’s most attractive trade partners, while the Bruins look to extend their championship window during a stellar decade-plus run.
Leveraging scarcity in the global economy is the modus operandi of despots. As for Boston, it can wield its star goaltenders over the league, with the idea of reshaping of its roster to suit whatever need it prioritizes: whether it’s an elite forward, more depth scoring, further balance among the defense corps in a tightly-run system, or running it back, Ullmark and the Bruins command a ton of leverage this summer.

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