Early Tuesday, Brandon Carlo locked himself in for the next two seasons with the Boston Bruins.
He’s a steady shutdown defender who doesn’t do much else but is good enough at 5-on-5 that he doesn’t really need to. And following Charlie McAvoy’s inevitable acquiescence on a plussed-up bridge deal following the Zach Werenski contract, Carlo’s return means pretty much everyone the Bruins had in the fold last year is back and ready for another crack at Cup contention.
They basically didn’t have the cap flexibility to add anyone of note this summer, and so they didn’t. They tinkered around the edges, but mostly seemed content to stick with one of the guys they acquired at the deadline last year (Charlie Coyle) as the big addition and let some possibly overripe young AHLers compete for a small number at spots on the bottom of the roster.
There are positives and negatives to this approach, however. The Bruins were one of the best defensive teams in the league last season, both in the quality and quantity of shots they allowed, and the number of goals they actually conceded. To basically return the entire group is solid enough. While you’re obviously going to be concerned that Zdeno Chara at some point realizes he’s 42 and starts playing like it, most of the rest of the D corps is comfortably under 30, and “Torey Krug in a contract year” must strike a bit of fear into opposing players.
Improved play from McAvoy (21), Carlo (22), Connor Clifton (24), and Matt Grzelcyk (25) can be expected to one extent or another, and Bruce Cassidy is a good enough coach that he can hide the problems that might arise from having to play John Moore and Kevan Miller — and maybe Chara but probably not — regular minutes. That is, if they don’t healthy-scratch any of those players in favor of an Urho Vaakanainen type.
Up front, you have a similar situation. Cassidy will have to work around The David Backes Situation, both strategically and politically. But otherwise you can count on that top line to continue to produce, the second line to be something of a mixed bag (especially if you’re of the belief that David Krejci’s productive season was an outlier for a player who’s now 33), and the you’ll take what you can get from depth guys. Again, some call-ups might be in order, but basically what you see on CapFriendly is what you’re going to get.
As far as the goaltending situation, they’re rolling with the Tuukka Rask/Jaro Halak battery that proved pretty effective last year, but then again, you never know with goalies - especially these goalies, the last few years at least. If they’re even average versus their expected-goals-against totals, the team should be in decent enough shape.
Many of the best players are a year older, sure, but let’s not persuade ourselves that a huge collapse for any of them is imminent. Even in that division, even with the Leafs likely to be better than they were last year.
It’s easy to forget in the wake of their run to Game 7 of the Cup Final, this team got crushed by injuries last season: Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak had games-played numbers in the mid-60s. Jake DeBrusk wasn’t much more involved. The entire defense was a rotating infirmary ward; Carlo missed 10 games and he led the blue line in games played. Grzelcyk, Krug, Chara, Moore, and McAvoy all played between 54 and 66 games.
The accumulated wins above replacement lost when you dress 37(!) skaters in a season is sizeable, and this club still finished with a plus-45 goal difference in the division that was certainly the top-heaviest in the league, even if it wasn’t the actual toughest.
You never want to count on health from a team with most of its best forwards over 30, but it’s also hard to envision another year with a few hundred man-games lost to injury from the team’s ideal lineup. Even adding 10 games to those lost totals for half the beat-up players probably tacks another three or four points onto the Bruins’ total from last year, at least. So maybe that’s what you expect this season as long as the goaltending holds up?
The 107 points they collected last season despite their circumstances would be difficult for anyone to match, save for the current iteration of the Lightning. The idea that they’d land in the same area, however, is not far-fetched. In fact, it should be expected.
What that doesn’t get into is the vagaries of the playoffs: Can you really beat Toronto in the first round again? Can you really expect to not have to face Tampa in the second round again? Tough to say.
People in Boston are talking about the likelihood of another approach at the Cup Final, and it’s easy to see why, but as we saw with Tampa and Calgary last year, even great — all-time great — regular seasons aren’t necessarily enough to get you back where you want to be.
More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports