As the Boston Bruins look towards the start of the 2014-15 season, there are more roster uncertainties than in most years past. While there is still plenty of time — including a full training camp — to sort them out, the picture is a little clearer between the pipes.
On the first day of free agency, the Bruins watched Chad Johnson sign with the New York Islanders for two years and $2.6 million. The wheels had been in motion for Johnson to depart when, nine days earlier, the Bruins signed Providence Bruins goaltender Niklas Svedberg to a one-year, one way deal worth $600,000. That’s a cap value less than half of Johnson’s $1.3 million, and according to CapGeek.com, it’s his first one-way NHL contract after his two-year entry level deal with the Bruins expired at the end of last season.
This is the perfect time to bring Svedberg up into the NHL for two reasons. First, the Bruins face a daunting challenge of tightly managing salaries over the next few seasons. Second, Tuukka Rask has now proven he can handle a full NHL season after starting 58 games and earning the Vezina Trophy for his 2013-14 performance. With Malcolm Subban ready for more responsibility in the AHL, it’s time to showcase Svedberg in the NHL.
The $69 million salary cap has not given the Bruins much room to maneuver and make deals — undoubtedly a factor in Johnson’s departure and solely the reason they weren’t capable of retaining Jarome Iginla. The B’s are clearly looking within the organization for cheaper players to not only be compliant with the cap but to be in a position to keep some of their core after their contracts expire. They will have a long list of unrestricted free agents after the 2014-15 season, including David Krejci, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Carl Söderberg and Adam McQuaid — not to mention a key restricted free agent in Dougie Hamilton.
Svedberg played in 45 games for the Providence Bruins during the 2013-14 season and posted a 25-15-4 record. His .910 save percentage was not as good as the .925 he sported in his 2012-13 rookie year for the P-Bruins, in which he won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award, given to the best goaltender in the league. This award was further earned by his 37 wins — second most for a rookie in the AHL’s history — and 2.17 goals-against average.
For the 2013-14 season, that number ticked up to 2.63, but Svedberg won his first NHL start in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators. He faced 35 shots during the game and turned away 33 for a .970 save percentage. Svedberg may have shown inconsistencies in his two AHL seasons, but the Bruins have seen enough to put him in a position to join the roster.
That being said, Svedberg still needs to officially win his roster spot, which will come with hard work in training camp. Joe McDonald reported for ESPN Boston that Svedberg will be expected to demonstrate his ability to take on the backup job behind Rask. McDonald quotes Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli as saying, “I think he’s almost ready, if not ready. It doesn’t mean he gets the job. It doesn’t mean we won’t add somebody at some point to challenge him.”
That somebody could be an inexpensive, veteran free agent, or perhaps Svedberg’s fellow prospect, Subban, if he gives an exceptional performance in training camp. As of now, it appears the job is Svedberg’s, barring an exceptionally bad performance during camp.
Although Svedberg may have shown a small decline in his second AHL season, his workload should be comparable to Johnson’s, who finished 2013-14 with a 17-4-3 record, 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage. The Bruins should expect to see some growing pains as Svedberg adjusts to life in the NHL, but he is an outstanding prospect and the scenario is a perfect storm of cap and player development needs bringing the 24-year-old Swede to the top of the list to back up Rask.
Svedberg should have the support he needs to transition, and the Bruins’ defense-first system is designed to keep pucks away from their goaltenders. If Rask has a season similar to his performance last year, the pressure is even further reduced for a young rookie backup.
Once Svedberg earns his spot, the Bruins — and the rest of the NHL — will have a chance to see the true talent Svedberg possesses. The fact that Svedberg’s contract was only for one year before restricted free agency could give the B’s flexibility to qualify him cheap for additional years, or see how Subban has progressed as the starter in Providence and move on, perhaps even including Svedberg in a trade that clears more cap space. Given the Bruins’ cap situation, I think Svedberg is unlikely to be the only Bruins player in that position come opening night.
For now, all that matters is that Svedberg’s getting a full-fledged opportunity to shine in what will be his third season in the organization. If he makes the most of it, he’ll prove he is an NHL-caliber goaltender and secure a role at the game’s highest level.