Let’s talk about the Boston Bruins for a little bit.
Even though their postseason ended with a thud in the Second Round against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, they are clearly going to enter the 2020-21 season as one of the runaway favorites in the NHL.
Over the past two years they were a Game 7 away from winning a Stanley Cup and won a Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record. They have been close. They have been nearly the top. This is clearly one of the league’s best teams by every objective measure.
But they have not yet been able to fully break through and win another championship in the Patrice Bergeron era.
What are they still missing to get there after the way this offseason has played out?
The Torey Krug hole and the questions on defense
This is going to be the big question mark.
The Bruins’ inability to get a new contract with Krug leaves an absolutely massive hole on their blue line and, to this point, they have done nothing to remedy it.
There is no way to sugarcoat what a loss this is to the Bruins’ defense.
Over the past three seasons Krug was third on the team in ice-time (behind only Charlie McAvoy and narrowly Zdeno Chara), had 69 more points than any other defensemen on the roster during that time, had 67 more power play points than any other defensemen on the roster, was the team’s fifth overall leading scorer, and one of their best possession drivers.
That is a significant player, and it is stunning the Bruins not only did not push more to keep him, but that to this point they have not even come close to replacing him.
Chara remains unsigned, and while it still seems possible he could be back you have to accept he is not the same player he once was. He is going to turn 44 next March, an age that only a small handful of players have ever played to in the league.
That means among the Bruins’ top-three defensemen from a year ago one of them is already gone, and another is going to be in his mid-40s if he returns.
They still have McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, but with no outside additions there is going to be a lot of pressure on the likes of Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon and any other young internal options to improve from within. Asking them to fill the skates left by Krug is going to be nearly impossible on an individual level.
The forwards are even better
While the defense has taken a hit with Krug’s departure, their forward depth has managed to get even better.
They still have Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle, and Jake DeBrusk (when he gets re-signed; restricted fee agent) at the top. That is a championship caliber core. But they will also be getting a full season of Ondrej Kase. And while that trade did not pay immediate dividends, we are still talking about a ridiculously small sample size and the potential for improvement is absolutely there.
Beyond that, they also dipped into free agency and made one of the best signings of the offseason when they landed Craig Smith on a three-year contract that only counts $3.1 million against the cap.
It looks like one of the strongest signing of the free agent signing period, not only because it is a very fair deal without much long-term risk, but also because Smith is an excellent player that perfectly fits the lineup. He is a possession-driving, 20-goal forward that can impact the game all over. He is a bonafide top-six forward and adds even more depth to the lineup. Go back two years and forward depth beyond the top-line was probably one of the Bruins’ biggest question marks. But thanks to the emergence of DeBrusk and the additions of Coyle, Kase, and Smith gives the team a formidable group of forwards.
This is still going to be one of the best teams in the league if for no other reason than their forwards are elite and they still have the Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak goaltending duo for at least one more season.
Those positions are elite.
The question is going to be on defense where they have some uncertainty beyond McAvoy and Carlo.
Losing Krug is not going to make-or-break their status as contenders. They are still going to be a top team. But unless one of the lower-pairing players takes an absolutely massive step forward this season there is going to be a hole there that has to be addressed.