Bruins banking on a bounce-back season for Joonas Korpisalo

Bruins

“I have a great opportunity here with Boston, and couldn’t be more excited.”

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 16: Joonas Korpisalo #70 of the Ottawa Senators warms up prior to a game against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on April 16, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Joonas Korpisalo is looking for a fresh start in Boston. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

Joonas Korpisalo was in desperate need of a reset.

A quick glance at the stat sheet is enough to glean just how troubled his lone season with the Ottawa Senators was.

The 30-year-old netminder was arguably the league’s worst starting goalie during the 2023-24 campaign, posting a 21-26-4 record last season in Ottawa with an .890 save percentage. Of 98 eligible goalies in the NHL last season, Korpisalo ranked 97th in goals saved above expected at -16.7, per MoneyPuck.

The goalie he’s expected to replace on Boston’s depth chart, Linus Ullmark, ranked seventh in the same metric at 14.8 goals saved above average.

Of course, there were other factors at play in Ottawa that sapped any momentum that Korpisalo generated during his successful stint with the Kings (.921 save percentage in 11 games in 2023).

But with a spot behind Jeremy Swayman on the depth chart up for grabs this fall, Korpisalo took accountability for his struggles last season — and stressed that a change in scenery should benefit him in Boston.

“Last year was a tough year for everyone in Ottawa. Change in the GM, the owner, all the coaches,” Korpisalo. “It’s a long season when it goes that way. And for me, individually, and I think the whole team, we did underperform all year. That’s that.

“It’s behind me, and I look back and obviously learn some things about it, and now it’s a nice time to look forward and I have a great opportunity here with Boston, and couldn’t be more excited.”

Don Sweeney and the Bruins are operating with some risk when it comes to potentially carving out a regular role for Korpisalo on their depth chart.

His overall body of work between the pipes has not been consistent, while his contract ($3 million per season through the 2027-28 season) could become burdensome if he does not right the ship and establish himself as a steady No. 2 option behind Swayman moving forward.

Still, the Bruins are moving forward with the belief that Korpisalo has more to give, especially on a team like Boston.

Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa and the rest of Boston’s development and skills staff have compiled an impressive track record when it comes to both crafting reclamation projects in net and elevating already talented goalies to new heights.

Korpisalo might be one of Essensa’s most daunting projects yet, but the Bruins are holding firm on the belief that they can draw more out of his game moving forward.

“I think we feel very comfortable with him as a compliment and a guy that can push, because we feel that there’s more ground for him to get back to when he played his best hockey,” Sweeney said at the NHL Draft of Korpisalo’s game. “We did that in years past when Jaro [Halak] came onto our team. … Again, it’s a projection.

“But I think we feel comfortable in terms of stylistically, the competitiveness of the goaltender and Bob doing his work on how he projects into our lineup.”

Even though Korpisalo struggled to find his footing last season in Ottawa, he also doesn’t believe that he necessarily needs to go back to square one when it comes to his mechanics in order to rebound in Boston.

“I don’t see an overhaul. There’s always things to work on,” Korpisalo said. “And I think the big picture comes from little details. And those are the things you work on every day. And even now, I’m working on those little details, and I won’t think there’s anything major change on my game, and it’s just on me to be on my level, and that’s fairly enough to win games in that league.”

The Bruins have contingency plans in place to put more pressure on Korpisalo to perform, namely in the form of 26-year-old Providence netminder Brandon Bussi.

The former Western Michigan goalie has been knocking at the door for NHL reps after two strong seasons in Providence, with Sweeney stressing that the undrafted college free agent will also get a chance to compete for the backup job this fall — especially considering he needs to pass through waivers if he’s sent back down to the AHL next season.

“I don’t want to lose sight of Brandon in the sense that he’s paid his dues, and he wants his opportunity to be in the National Hockey League. If he beats out, in this case, all likelihood Joonas, then we’ll have to give him the opportunity,” Sweeney said. “He requires waivers, so it’s part of the cycle of all the players, and when they start to mature and an opportunity presents, then yeah, we have to make a tough decision.”

If Korpisalo labors in preseason action and Bussi leapfrogs him, the Bruins could decide to keep Bussi as Swayman’s backup and avoid exposing him to the waiver wire — opting instead to send Korpisalo down to Providence.

Boston would only shave $1.15 million off of Korpisalo’s $3 million cap hit by keeping him down in Providence, but those minimal savings would still trump the alternative of rolling with a lackluster backup goalie — and potentially losing a promising young prospect like Bussi to waivers in the process.

Korpisalo is staring at an uphill climb when it comes to proving that his promising stretch in 2023 with the Kings was not an outlier. But the Finnish netminder is eager to prove many wrong this fall in a black-and-gold sweater.

“It’s a shock,” Korpisalo said of getting traded after just one season with Ottawa. “Always it’s a shock, whether you expected it or not. It’s a shock. And throughout the day, I started processing and trusting it.

And my excitement went through the roof, and having a talk with Bob, he’s done his research, which is a great thing for me. … I’m super excited to get to work with him as well.”


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