Boston Bruins, 44-31-7, lost in first round, $2.6 million in cap space
Biggest changes: It's not a very good summer when the biggest move you make as a general manager is re-signing someone you couldn't afford to lose. That's exactly what happened with Don Sweeney and the Bruins this offseason, which ended with David Pastrnak agreeing to a six-year, $40 million contract just before the start of training camp. While re-signing Pastrnak was an absolute must -- he finished behind only Brad Marchand in goals (34) and points (70) last season -- the Bruins did little else in the way of improvement. In fact, the only new faces in camp are forward Kenny Agostino (who was named the AHL MVP last season, after posting 24 goals and a league-high 83 points in 65 games with the Chicago Wolves) and defenseman Paul Postma (who had a goal and 13 assists in a career-high 65 games with the Winnipeg Jets). "We made offers to players that signed elsewhere for different reasons," Sweeney said. "That's entirely up to the players themselves, whether the term wasn't right or the dollars weren't right or the location wasn't right." Sweeney might have been a little gun-shy after overpaying for David Backes ($6 million cap hit) last summer and Matt Beleskey ($3.8 million) the summer before. In all fairness, Sweeney entered the offseason with less than $10 million in cap space, and Pastrnak ate up $6.6 million of it with his new deal. As a result, the Bruins -- who reached the playoffs for the first time in three years last season but were bounced in six games by the Ottawa Senators -- will lean heavily on first- and second-year players to stay competitive in the Atlantic.
Case for: The Bruins clearly were a different team after head coach Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien in early February, going 18-8-1 and securing the third playoff spot in the Atlantic with 95 points, one more than the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Marchand, Pastrnak, Backes, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci playing a full season in Cassidy's aggressive system, the Bruins' top two lines should be dangerous. And if young forwards Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson prove they can handle increased responsibility, the Bruins should be OK in the goal-scoring department. On the back end, defenseman Charlie McAvoy is out to prove he can be just as good in his first full season as he looked as a late-season call-up. If McAvoy can take some of the load off captain Zdeno Chara and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin can take a few more games off the plate of Tuukka Rask, the Bruins can build on the foundation laid by Cassidy in the second half of last season.
Case against: While the Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens all made moves that should improve their standing in the Atlantic, the Bruins simply treaded water this summer. It's entirely possible they missed on a few free agents because they are not in a position to make a playoff run and were a less attractive option. With 17 goals and 38 points, Backes did not deliver as much bang for the buck as anticipated last season; and at 33, he might start feeling the effects of playing a hard, physical game. The same can already be said for Chara, who at 40 should probably be home watching the New England Patriots on Sundays. Even Bergeron, 32, is starting to slow down: His 53 points last season were his lowest full-season total in seven years. And the Bruins will start the season without first-pairing defenseman Torey Krug, who broke his jaw in the preseason and will be out three weeks. Krug and Chara are the only left-shooting defensemen among the starting six, so youngsters Rob O'Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril and Tommy Cross should get longer looks in the preseason. It all adds up to the Bruins having to take a couple of steps back before they climb back up the standings.
Trade bait: The Bruins are financially committed to Krejci, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Marchand, Backes and Rask through 2021, so those guys aren't going anywhere. Beleskey had three goals in 49 games last season, so his $3.8 million salary is staying put too, unless the Bruins are willing to eat a big portion in a salary dump. If the B's are out of playoff contention, would they consider moving Chara before he becomes a 41-year-old free agent? The Bruins hope they never have to cross that road.
Goalie situation rating: 7. Rask should be entering his prime at the age of 30, but his numbers have leveled off in recent seasons. Rask set a career high with 37 wins last season, and he lowered his goals-against average from 2.56 to 2.23. But his save percentage has been on a steady decline, from .930 in 2013-14 to .915 over the past two seasons. Cassidy will look to use Khudobin more liberally this season in an effort to lighten the load on Rask.
Scout's take: "Boston's an interesting team in terms of how they want to play. From the days of Claude Julien to now, you see a whole new approach with Cassidy. The addition of a guy like McAvoy to their D group, getting Krug healthy and having a guy like Rask, who has proven to be a real difference-maker, they might sneak up on some teams."
Prediction: 4th in Atlantic