There isn’t much argument that, right now, the Boston Bruins aren’t as good as they were when their bubble playoff run ended vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto.
The B’s have lost top offensive defenseman Torey Krug in free agency to the St. Louis Blues, they haven’t re-signed Zdeno Chara as of yet and both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will be coming back from significant September surgeries at the start of next season. Clearly, they are still looking like a playoff caliber team that’s coming off a President’s Trophy-level performance last year, and they did upgrade their third line depth with the signing of free agent winger Craig Smith.
But the Boston Bruins also surrounded by a group of Atlantic Division rivals that have significantly improved this offseason as well. Part of it is about bigger, stronger players going to places like Tampa, Montreal, Buffalo and Toronto among others, a fact that the Boston Bruins front office acknowledged at the beginning of NHL free agency. It was striking when compared to the very average offseason for the Boston Bruins to date.
“I think that to get through the playoffs, a team that gets in and get through and that’s the ultimate goal, you have to have the ability to survive the war of attrition. Years that we’ve had success in that regard, sometimes it’s being fortuitous that you don’t get the catastrophic injuries. And other times, it’s just what happens in the course of the game,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “I do believe you have to have that fortitude and that strength and the ability to tap into, from a size and strength standpoint.
“But it’s awfully hard to take the will of a really competitive player and Brad Marchand has that in spades. I think you can win a Stanley Cup if you had 21 to 23 Brads on your team. But those are hard to come by.”
But the odds makers in Vegas still believe that the Bruins are a Stanley Cup contender based on the odds still on the board at this point.
The Bruins have the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup among Eastern Conference teams, according to betonline.ag, with a 14-to-1 chance to win the Cup. That’s markedly worse than the 9-to-1 odds the Bruins enjoyed back in August entering the bubble playoffs in Toronto, but still better than everybody else aside from the Colorado Avalanche, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Colorado and Tampa Bay have the best odds at 15-to-2 in the eyes of the bookmakers in Vegas, and that sounds about right given their talent level and the way things played out in the Stanley Cup playoffs over the summer. It’s a little surprising the Bruins are still so high up among the NHL Cup odds given that they’ve been flat or worse with their offseason roster improvement plan, but it’s a testament to what Cam Neely, Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy have built over the last handful of years.
Perhaps, though, the odds are due more to what the Boston Bruins have done in the recent past than what the forecasts might be for them next season with an older group that still faces some roster depth challenges.
The good news: There are still chances for the Bruins to still improve based on the $7 million in cap space, some possible trade pieces and a few solid impact players still available in free agency at this late date on the hockey calendar.