Nick Goss

Why it would be a mistake for Bruins to trade Ullmark amid hot start

The Oilers need a goalie, but trading a Vezina winner doesn't make sense for the B's right now.

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The Edmonton Oilers are a disaster right now, and that's probably being kind.

Not only is Connor McDavid injured and out of the lineup, the team's defense and goaltending have been atrocious. The Oilers have allowed the third-most goals (47) and own a .860 save percentage, which is the worst in the league.

Stuart Skinner, who was an All-Star a season ago, is 1-4-1 with a .856 save percentage and a 3.99 GAA. Jack Campbell was placed on waivers Tuesday. He is 1-4-0 with a .873 save percentage and a 4.50 GAA.

The Oilers, who have a 2-8-1 record and sit eight points out of a playoff spot, badly need a goalie upgrade. They can't give up on this season. McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are in the primes of their careers at age 26 and 28, respectively. McDavid is signed for two more seasons. Draisaitl is signed for one more after this year. It's now or never for the Oilers with this group. Firing the head coach is one option for Edmonton, but this team's issues are more roster-based.

Oilers fans have looked at the Bruins as a team that can help solve their problems. Boston is one of the few teams with two starting-caliber goalies. Jeremy Swayman is arguably the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Linus Ullmark won the award last season and has played quite well to start the current campaign.

Would the Bruins really trade Ullmark to the Oilers?

It wouldn't make a lot of sense for the Bruins.

The primary reason the Bruins are leading the Eastern Conference at 10-1-1 is their goaltending. Swayman and Ullmark are both playing like top-five goaltenders right now. Boston owns a league-best .939 save percentage with the fewest goals against (23), even though it ranks 18th in scoring chances allowed. The B's also rank 20th in shot attempts allowed and 17th in shots on net allowed. They aren't defending at an elite level, but it hasn't hurt them because the goaltending has been so strong.

The Bruins easily would have a few more losses -- Nov. 2 vs. Toronto and Nov. 6 vs. Dallas come to mind -- if it weren't for the brilliance of Swayman and Ullmark. Trading a No. 1 goalie and Vezina winner doesn't make much sense unless the return is for a top-tier player, and the Oilers aren't giving up McDavid or Draisaitl.

One hypothetical trade package involving the Bruins and Oilers that's been debated on social media consists of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going to the Bruins and Ullmark heading to the Oilers. Nugent-Hopkins is a good center/left wing and tallied 104 points last season. He also has a manageable $5.125 million salary cap hit. But he's 30 years old and signed through his age 36 season (2028-29).

Before 2022-23, he had never tallied more than 69 points in a season despite playing in a loaded Oilers forward group and being featured on an elite power play. He has posted more than 60 points just three times in 12 seasons, so his 104 points seem like a huge outlier.

Nugent-Hopkins also is a much different player without McDavid. When he plays with McDavid, the Oilers have had a plus-142 goal differential since the start of the 2021-22 season. Over that same span, the Oilers have a minus-13 goal differential when Nugent-Hopkins is on the ice without McDavid, per Natural Stat Trick. RNH doesn't have great size, he's a below average defensive player, he doesn't play a physical game and he's horrible on faceoffs (44.1 percent since 2020-21). Does that sound like a forward who would excel in Boston's system? I don't think so.

Nugent-Hopkins simply isn't worth taking a sledgehammer to your roster's strongest position group.

If the Bruins traded Ullmark, they'd likely call up Brandon Bussi from the AHL's Providence Bruins to be Swayman's backup. Bussi had a fantastic 2022-23 rookie season in Providence, but he's taken a bit of a step back this year with a .915 save percentage and a 2.65 GAA in six games (a small sample size, in fairness). He's never played in an NHL game. Is he really ready to be a full-time backup for a contender? It's hard to say yes right now. Many of the people advocating for an Ullmark trade are just assuming Bussi will come up to Boston and be really good.

What if Swayman couldn't handle a 50- to 55-game workload as the undisputed No. 1? What if he got injured? What if he struggles to carry his elite performance into the playoffs? He hasn't been a bad playoff goalie, but his stats -- .901 save percentage and 2.79 GAA in eight games -- aren't amazing, either. Having Ullmark is the ultimate insurance policy against injury or a dip in performance from Swayman. Having a top-tier tandem allows both goalies to play a manageable amount of games and stay fresh for the playoffs.

The biggest potential factor here might be Ullmark's no-trade clause. Why would he waive it to go to Edmonton? There's a very real chance the Oilers miss the playoffs. Ullmark, by all accounts, enjoys playing in Boston. The Bruins look like a top contender. He's getting regular playing time. The blue line in front of him in Boston is far, far better than what he'd play with in Edmonton.

If Swayman continues to play at a Vezina level and injuries or performance create a massive need on the Bruins' roster before the trade deadline, then maybe an Ullmark deal of some kind would make sense. But given the present situation, there's no need to decimate the team's biggest strength. Sorry, Oilers.

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