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.