(Photo Credit: Bob Frid / USA TODAY Sports)

By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn

Finally, the wait is over for Bruins fans. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have both signed contracts for one more run at the Stanley Cup. This is the news fans were longing for, refreshing their Twitter feeds endlessly in the hopes that the two franchise cornerstones over the past ten years would return. The deals seem to fill the first and second-line center roles for the upcoming season, answering two of the biggest questions in the Bruins’ lineup, but in my eyes, the Bruins are still far from contenders.

The lineup is definitely stronger than last year. Pavel Zacha on the third line will hopefully add some depth scoring and provide a physical presence that the Bruins lacked at times last season. He is being brought in to provide support, at least for this season. He is not expected to slot into the lineup and score 30 goals or be a dynamic scorer that is a force in the playoffs.

The other advantage the Bruins may have is desperation. Bergeron and Krejci both know this may be their final shot. Especially in the NHL, desperation can be a great motivator. We have seen teams fight off elimination, make deep playoff runs, or even claw themselves out of last place because they are desperate and have nothing to lose. The problem with that, though, is that the Bruins (and specifically Bergeron and Krejci) have everything to lose.

The best way to think about this team, I believe, is by comparing them to the 2020/2021 team. That is the last time Bergeron and Krejci were together, making the comparison the easiest. The comparison is still not perfect, but it will make my point well enough.

The Bruins have upgraded in a few areas compared to that season. The main spot is left defense. In 2020, the Bruins were rolling with Matt Grzelcyk as their first-line partner for Charlie McAvoy. It is safe to say that Hampus Lindholm is a significant upgrade in that department. Lindholm is one of the premier left-handed defensemen in the league, and once McAvoy is healthy, it will be a treat to watch them together again.

Unfortunately, though, that is where the defensive improvement stops. I still think the Bruins need an upgrade for Grzelcyk on the second pairing, and they have a lot of dead weight on their books, with Gryz, Derek Forbort, and Mike Reilly all earning at least $3 million per year. If the Bruins are serious about making a push, they need to move at least one of those contracts and bring in a bona fide second-line player.

Up front, things are mostly the same personnel-wise, but they are much different regarding how they will line up. Jake DeBrusk is now showing signs of potentially working on the first line with Bergeron and Marchand (who will also be missing the start of the season due to injury). If he can play well on the top line, that will let David Pastrnak slide down to the second line with Krejci and Taylor Hall. On one line, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Taylor Hall sound like music to my ears.

I think the bottom-six has improved as well. Pavel Zacha will hopefully be an improvement on Nick Ritchie, and a third-line of Zacha, Craig Smith, and Charlie Coyle is extremely solid. Their top three lines will be very good when the Bruins are at full strength.

In the net, the Bruins have downgraded slightly from Tuukka Rask. I do not want to disrespect Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, but Tuukka is the winningest goalie in Bruins history. After a nearly 100-year record of wins and losses, Tuukka is at the top. With that said, I am not worried at all about goaltending.

With all that analysis done, I think the more interesting comparison is between the Bruins and other teams in the NHL. For the sake of time, we can just look at the Atlantic Division because it indicates where the Bruins are. There are probably at least three teams that are better on paper than the Bruins.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are only getting better. Most of their talent is still remarkably young for how much they produce. Auston Matthews scored 60 goals, won the MVP award, and is only 24 years old. They just acquired Matt Murray, a former Stanley Cup champion goaltender who has had some troubles recently. I would not be surprised if he had a strong year with a good offensive team in front of him to allow him to relax and play carefree.

Then there is the small matter of the two Florida teams. Tampa has gone to the Cup Final three years in a row, winning two of them and coming up just two wins short last year. On the other hand, the Panthers achieved the small success of winning the Presidents’ trophy last season, finishing first in the NHL in the regular season. Neither of them will be easy to beat this season, and the Bruins will have to play them frequently.

As if that were not enough, the Senators and Red Wings made significant improvements this season and could challenge for a wild card spot in the playoffs. Last season, the Bruins were able to coast into the playoffs a bit, as there was a massive gap between the wild-card teams and the teams that missed out. That will not be the case this season, and there will be pressure from both sides of the standings.

I am not an expert statistician nor a prophet, so I cannot accurately predict how things will turn out this year with any certainty. I do think that the Bruins need more reinforcement if they are serious about winning the Cup this year, but if I had to predict how things will shake out as they stand right now, I would guess that the Bruins will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and earn themselves a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. If they will win the Cup one more time, why not make the Leafs miserable too?