Can B's still make noise in playoffs without Krug, Chara? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
* With the Bruins set to drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season Thursday night in New Jersey, NBC Sports Boston is looking ahead to how the defending Presidents' Trophy winners could fare in their first season without Zdeno Chara since 2005-06.
DJ Bean: The Bruins are going to start the season strong thanks to the fact that they're... playing the Devils for the first two games.
I wouldn't get too carried away with those results. The B's are a good team and likely a playoff team, but they aren't the shoo-ins they've been in seasons past. This division has five playoff teams -- Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh and the Islanders -- and only four spots. Philadelphia and Washington should be better than them, but the Bruins could catch a break if first-year starter Ilya Samsonov struggles in net for the Capitals.
Take the competition out of it: The Bruins are just worse than they were last season. They're more balanced, but that was achieved by getting a little better up front (adding Craig Smith) and a lot worse on the back end (losing Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara).
That said, goaltending is going to be so important this season, and the Bruins have that. Tuukka Rask was a Vezina finalist last season and is in a walk year, so he'll be plenty motivated to turn in one of his better seasons despite the lack of sure things in front of him. Jaroslav Halak is as good a No. 2 as there is in the league.
The Bruins will need some combination of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie to be really good in order for them to be the Cup contender Vegas views them to be. That's a big ask, which is why I think the B's make the playoffs but don't go far from there.
Nick Goss: The Boston Bruins will have another tremendous regular season. They will finish No. 1 or No. 2 in a tough East division because they have the best line in the NHL (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak), the best goaltending tandem in the league led by Tuukka Rask and strong special teams.
But just like last season, the team's biggest flaw -- not enough secondary scoring -- will rear its ugly head and prevent Boston from returning to the Stanley Cup Final.
The biggest unknown for the B's is how their young defensemen perform. They chose not to acquire a legit top-four defenseman in the offseason to replace Krug and Chara. It's up to the young guys to fill the void, most notably Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen and Matt Grzelcyk.
The Bruins will have a chance to make a deep playoff run if these d-men step up and excel in their roles. If they do not, the B's will be in real trouble. They don't have many quality assets to make a blockbuster trade, and acquiring players in a COVID-19 world already is a challenge for a lot of reasons.
The Bruins will earn a playoff spot and win their first-round playoff series. However, it's hard to see them advancing past the second round given the secondary scoring issues and weaknesses on the left side of the blue line.
The championship window has closed for Boston's veteran core. The 2019 Stanley Cup Final was its last chance for a title.