Every NHL offseason the league’s teams try to improve. For those teams that didn’t do particularly well the year before, this often means that drastic change is in the works. For an example of this, see the Florida Panthers.

However, for teams that were competitive the year before, fewer changes are needed. This especially holds true for the Stanley Cup Champion. In the case of the Boston Bruins, they didn’t have a number of expiring contacts heading into this offseason. In 2009, Pittsburgh Penguins were forced to say goodbye to their shutdown defensive pairing of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi just after winning the Cup. In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks began dismantling their team shortly after claiming Lord Stanley. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Antti Niemi and others were shipped out of town in order to get the team under the Cap.

The Bruins are in a much better situation. According to CapGeek, they have 20 players signed and $8.7 million in cap space right now. But are they still a Stanley Cup favourite?

A few players are no longer with the Bruins. Michael Ryder is now in Dallas, Tomas Kaberle is in Carolina and Mark Recchi is retired. All of those players are talented and they would definitely help a hockey team, but the Bruins will certainly be able to carry on without them.

Take a look at Boston’s line combinations for game seven against Vancouver:

Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Rich Peverley
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Mark Recchi
Michael Ryder – Chris Kelly – Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille – Gregory Campbell – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference – Johnny Boychuk
Tomas Kaberle – Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask

Recchi won’t be there next year, but you have to assume that Nathan Horton will be back in the line-up. That means the team will only need to replace Michael Ryder’s spot. While Thomas Kaberle is gone, Joe Corvo is now a Bruin and he should complete that third pairing quite well.

There’s also the Marc Savard factor. Right now a return seems unlikely, but you never know.

Just looking at the Bruins line-up, it’s obviously good news for the team that most of their roster is coming back. It’s very impressive that they have been able  to structure their team so that they fit well under the cap and remain among the league’s elite. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has done a great job in this respect.

However, the Bruins line-up isn’t the most talented group of players in the NHL. On paper, the Vancouver Canucks were a better team, but the Stanley Cup isn’t won on paper.

The Bruins were a hardworking, tough to play against, dedicated team in the 2011 playoffs. While other teams had more explosive players and more talented forward lines, Boston was the team that prevailed. Will the Bruins have the same drive now that they’ve won the Cup?

The fact that Tim Thomas will be 38 by the end of the regular season cannot be ignored either. He was a huge part of Boston’s Cup victory but can he do it again? The good news on that front is that Tuukka Rask is certainly capable of being a starting goaltender if he needs to be.

The Bruins are built very well and their future remains incredibly bright. They were certainly smart to make only minor changes to their line-up and doing so has put them in a position to be a contending team for years to come. However, the rest of the league is improving around them. If they weren’t the favourite going into the 2010-2011 season (and they weren’t) are they a favourite now? And, if they’re not, who is?

Winning the back-to-back Stanley Cups is a very difficult feat. Only two teams have done so in the last 20 years (Pittsburgh in 91 and 92, Detroit in 97 and 98.) Can the Bruins be the first team to do so since 1998? They’ll certainly be a contender, but a second-straight Stanley Cup will be tough.

Comments (9)

  1. If there’s one thing that post-lockout hockey has taught us, it’s that the best thing in the league to have is a minute-hogging defender. Usually this means “Chris Pronger” – what with his three Cup finals appearances since the lockout – but Chara and Keith will do in a pinch (we’ll ignore the Pens and Wings for the moment). The Bs have their key player locked up, and as long as Chara’s there, they’re going to be amongst the elite.

    But… I don’t think the Bruins are the favourite. They’re helped by a weakened and very uncertain Eastern conference; even assuming Tampa gets Stamkos back, they’re still not a club that I’d favour to repeat the success they had this year (in fact, they seem more like Carolina, in that they’ll take a year off to re-tool and come back). The Pens are… well, who the heck knows. Philly’s in that same boat of uncertainty. Only the Caps, amongst all the contenders, have definitively improved… but they’re still a team that cracks under pressure. Beyond that top five, I’m not impressed by any other Eastern team, although the Rangers are intriguing if Richards and Gaborik mesh since Lundqvist can swing a series.

    Which leaves the Bruins as the preseason favourite to come out of the East. I still don’t know if they’d finish in the top half of the Western playoff teams (shit, I’d gladly take my chances with a healthy Kings roster in a cup final against those lines), but they can beat anyone over seven games.

  2. I predict that the canucks and the bruins will both make it back to the finals, with THE CANUCKS Finally winning their first Stanley Cup! I predict a Canucks- Kings Western Final and a Bruins- Capitals Eastern Final. GO CANUCKS,GO!

  3. I don’t see the Bruins repeating; a lot of their championship was won on grit and determination. Once you’ve won it once, there’s a little less motivation to win it again. There’s a hungrier team out there now.
    However, that’s not to say it can’t be done. Of course it can be. Don’t be shocked if this core manages another Cup sometime in the next few years.

  4. Re: @CanuckWolfBruin
    Your whiny, diving, douchey team doesn’t get by the Blackhawks next year.
    You won’t win crap.
    That’s my prediction.

  5. Not happening people seem to forget they limped by the habs who were short three of their top players
    Would the bruins be that tough without their top two defence and a top six forward??
    Dont count the habs out of anything they have showed a lot of grit the last two seasons and if cole plays well gomez rebounds even by 50% and Max resumes where he left off add to that georges and markov healthy for a season
    This could be a dark horse contender for the east

  6. Without a doubt the Bruins are going to be major contenders, but I would be extremely surprised if they repeated. My reasoning: there were so many motivating factors for the Bruins last year that likely won’t exist this year 1) the Savard-factor 2) times two with Horton 3) the embarrasment that was their loss to Philly the year before 4) Thomas wanting to prove himself 5) Luongo running his mouth 6) Recchi old-man strength-ing his way to one more cup 7) a severely weakened Canucks squad that was rather soft to begin with.

    Chiarelli needs to be commended for the squad be put together and the fact that most of the team is still super young bodes well in his favour. With the bulk of the Stanley Cup winning team coming back you have to think they are well placed to compete once again but those other variables were huge contributing factors to the hunger the 10/11 Bruins had to win.

  7. What Mike said. :)

  8. I hate hearing how they wouldn’t do this or do that if they were in the West. THEY BEAT THE WEST! NUF SAID.

  9. Horton’s return means that Recchi, NOT Ryder, needs to be replaced. Horton takes back his spot on the fist line, and Peverley moves back down to the third line, leaving the second line with an open wing.

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