ln the summer of 2021, signing a new goaltender wasn’t anticipated to be on the Bruins’ offseason checklist.
Despite stalwart netminder Tuukka Rask undergoing offseason hip surgery, he was set to return midseason. In the interim, young goalies Jeremy Swayman and Dan Vladar were expected to share the crease. Swayman had impressed in ten starts the previous year, and Vladar had spent the previous three seasons in Providence.
However the Bruins’ brass chose to look elsewhere for help, and signed former Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark to a four year deal. Ullmark had been solid in net for Buffalo, putting up respectable numbers behind some very poor Sabres teams since debuting in 2015.
The signing was initially met with confusion because of the already crowded net, other needs in the lineup and the money committed to a cap-strapped roster.
Ullmark proved to be an above-average starter behind a much stronger defense in his first year in Black and Gold. Rask’s comeback only lasted four games before he chose to retire and Ullmark and Swayman took over the net full-time.
Ullmark won 26 of 39 starts and finished top ten in both Save Percentage and Goals Against Average. His numbers also noticeably improved following the trade deadline acquisition of fellow Swede Hampus Lindholm.
He has been a valuable veteran mentor to Swayman and quickly grew into a cult hero among Bruins fans. Their postgame victory “Goalie Hug” celebration went viral throughout the fanbase early in his tenure.
This season, he has taken his game to another level. Through twenty-three starts, he’s posting a 20-1-1 record with a 1.90 Goals Against and a .938 Save %, all of which lead the league. According to @JFreshHockey on Twitter, Ullmark currently ranks second in Goals Saved Above Expected with 17.8.
That $5 million cap hit that everyone hated at first is looking like a bargain right now.
Early season awards polling by ESPN tab Ullmark as a Vezina Finalist alongside Ilya Sorokin and Connor Hellebuyck. Should he be able to maintain his dominant form, he may well be the sixth Bruin to claim the honor.
Photo: Bill Kostroun / AP