In recent years, the annual question with the Bruins had been whether they’d be able to get past the second round and win another title.
This year, there’s another question you’ve got to ask before even worrying about championships: Are they still as good?
David Krejci is gone, Tuukka Rask is seemingly standing by and the defense may or may not have been properly addressed.
Speaking literally, the most important Bruins are obviously Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. They’re all going to have big seasons as long as they’re healthy.
When it comes to the Bruins actually having a good season, however, a lot is riding on these individuals:
Taylor Hall, LW
Having just gotten a big contract and now playing with lesser support, the risk of Hall underwhelming is very realistic.
That’s not because Hall stinks -- he’s a great player -- but because he’s had such an up-and-down few seasons, and because the aforementioned variables have yielded underwhelming results with tons of players before.
With Krejci gone, Hall has to be the second-line anchor. He needs to make his center -- whoever it is -- better the way that Krejci carried lesser linemates. If that can’t happen, the Bruins are in trouble.
Charlie Coyle, C
Coyle had a down year last season, producing only 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 51 games. Not only did that represent horrible bang for the Bruins’ buck (it was the first-year of a six-year deal with a $5.25 million cap hit), it probably gave the Bruins very little confidence he could take over for Krejci if and when No. 46 departed.
Now Krejci is out of the picture and short of someone overachieving (see below), Coyle will likely need to be the team’s second line center. Coyle underwent knee surgery in the offseason, so perhaps he’ll be better when fully healthy. Having Hall as a left wing will certainly help his cause.
Linus Ullmark, G
Why is Linus Ullmark on this list and not Jeremy Swayman? There’s less pressure on Swayman. The 22-year-old can still be a year or two away from stardom -- something the Bruins suggested by signing Ullmark -- and that would be OK. If he’s a good NHL goaltender, that’s gravy.
Ullmark, on the other hand? He needs to be good. The Bruins gave him a four-year deal that carries a $5 million cap hit. He’s stunk in the preseason -- which obviously doesn’t matter -- but it serves as a reminder of how important he is to the Bruins’ season.
In two games, he’s had an .813 save percentage. He also had a very rough giveaway in overtime Saturday to essentially hand the Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere the game-winning goal.
This is a good player we’re talking about. He had a .916 save percentage over the last two seasons for the freaking Sabres. Him being at his best would go a long way.
Derek Forbort, D
Defense figured to eventually be a shortcoming for the Bruins last season and it was. Then the team lost Jeremy Lauzon, a developing potential top-four blueliner to the expansion draft.
Keeping Mike Reilly helped -- he can handle third or second-pairing responsibilities if needed -- but the most interesting move on defense was signing Derek Forbort to a three-year contract at $3 million per. Forbort is big (6-foot-4, 219 pounds), doesn’t move particularly well and is much closer to a shutdown defender than he is any sort of offensive dynamo.
Pairing Forbort with Charlie McAvoy would be interesting in that it would allow Matt Grzelcyk to face lesser competition, but is Forbort -- who served as a second and-third-pairing player on a one-year, $1 million deal with the Jets last season -- actually a top pairing defenseman? History says no, but a strong performance from Forbort would make for a balanced first pairing.
Jack Studnicka, C
With all due respect to whoever will fill the position, I’m nearly positive the Bruins will be set at third line center, whether it’s Erik Haula or if Charlie Coyle is bumped down to that spot.
But what if Jack Studnicka forces his way into the conversation, unlikely as it may be? The 2017 second-round pick has been knocking on the door for a couple of years. If he could somehow be a suitable Krejci replacement -- which doesn’t mean he’d be Krejci, but that he’d just be the OK second-line center they need -- the Bruins would suddenly be both deep and good down the middle.
Jake DeBrusk deserves some honorable mention status on this list, but at this point I think we know what he is. A return to a goal total in the high 20s would be a massive (but very pleasant) surprise.