Boston Bruins Next Moves and Goaltender Decisions
NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Florida Panthers
May 14, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) and goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) celebrate after winning against the Florida Panthers in game five of the second round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins faced significant challenges in the 2023-24 NHL season. After losing key players Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to retirement, many predicted a struggle for the team, expecting them to either miss the playoffs or sneak in as a wild-card team. Contrary to these expectations, the Bruins had a solid regular season, contending with top teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Carolina Hurricanes for Eastern Conference dominance. They ultimately finished second in the Atlantic Division, just behind the Panthers.

The Bruins’ postseason was marked by a dramatic first-round victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs, secured by David Pastrnak’s overtime goal in Game 7. However, their journey ended in the second round. Unable to win a home game, where they were eliminated in six games by the Panthers, echoing their previous year’s elimination.

Despite the playoff exit, the Bruins showed more promise than many expected. According to Best Casino NZ, the Bruins opened this season at +1500 to win the Stanley Cup and finished amongst the favorites at +800 at the start of this year’s playoffs.

However, for the 2024-25 season, general manager Don Sweeney will need to make strategic moves to position the Bruins as genuine Stanley Cup contenders.

Key Move #1: Find a First-Line Pivot

Following the retirements of Bergeron and Krejci, the Bruins leaned on Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha as their top centers, two second and third-line pivots for most of their careers. While both performed admirably during the regular season, they fell short in the playoffs. The Bruins must explore the free-agent market for a top-tier center to enhance their competitiveness.

Potential candidates include veterans Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski, though Stamkos is likely to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Pavelski’s age raises concerns. A more viable option could be 29-year-old Sean Monahan from the Winnipeg Jets. Last season, Monahan tallied 26 goals and 33 assists, making him a promising fit for the Bruins. Monahan signed a one-year deal with Montreal last season before being traded to the Jets and will likely be looking for a 4-5 year deal.

Elias Lindholm could be another possibility, though his performance has dipped since his trade to Vancouver. Lindholm managed 12 points and had a minus-6 rating over 26 regular-season games with his new team. With Vancouver securing Elias Pettersson long-term, Lindholm appears to be a temporary option.

There were even rumors at the trade deadline about Lindholm being involved in a three-way deal that would have sent Jake Guentzel to the Canucks and Lindholm to Boston.

Key Move #2: Add a Scoring Winger

The Bruins’ inability to score crucial goals in the playoffs highlighted the need for a consistent scoring winger. While David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand remain vital assets, Jake DeBrusk’s inconsistency is a concern. Wingers like Trent Frederic, James van Riemsdyk, and Danton Heinen fulfill specific roles but lack top-tier scoring ability.

The Bruins should target free agents such as Sam Reinhart, Jake Guentzel, Tyler Toffoli, or Jonathan Marchessault to address this. If these players are unavailable, trading for a star like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Edmonton Oilers could be a strategic move.

Goaltender Decision

The most crucial decision facing Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney this offseason is addressing the goaltending situation. This is a positive dilemma, as their success in the 2023-24 season was significantly supported by the impressive performances of their goaltending duo, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. Ullmark, who won last year’s Vezina Trophy, and Swayman played vital roles. Swayman excelled in the playoffs, prompting the team to rely on him over their regular rotation.

Jeremy Swayman’s Future

Swayman, a standout performer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, can become a restricted free agent. He has expressed a strong desire to sign a long-term deal with Boston following a season in which he posted impressive stats: 25-10-8 with a 2.53 goals-against average, .916 save percentage, and three shutouts in the regular season and 6-6 with a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage in the playoffs. His consistent performance guarantees an increase in his salary, and negotiations are expected to be smoother this summer.

Linus Ullmark’s Uncertainty

Ullmark, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, was in a backup role during the critical playoff games. This transition was challenging; he had to navigate the mental ups and downs while supporting Swayman. Despite this, Ullmark remained professional and supportive, a sentiment Swayman appreciated.

With one year remaining on his four-year, $20 million contract, Ullmark faces an uncertain future. The Bruins, needing to manage their salary cap effectively, might consider trading Ullmark, a move they explored before the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline. Ullmark, though content in Boston, acknowledges the unpredictable nature of professional sports.

Beantown Outlook for 2024-25

The Bruins have significant salary cap space for the upcoming season, which they plan to use to re-sign Swayman and upgrade their roster, particularly at the center and winger positions. While the team faces tough decisions, including the potential trade of Ullmark, their strategic moves in the off-season will be crucial for building a team capable of contending for the Stanley Cup in 2024-25.