The keys to a successful 2021-22 Boston Bruins season

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Bean: The keys to a successful and deep Bruins season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If there’s any silver lining of the Bruins having to wait all week to play their first game, it’s that it gives us more time to try to guess what this team is.

The B’s have lost core players in consecutive years, yet they still have a roster that should keep them competitive. How competitive, though? What’s realistic vs. wishful thinking? Let’s try to sort through it. 

The biggest key to the Bruins’ season is: Replacing the star players who departed (for now?) in the offseason. David Krejci is in the Czech Republic and Tuukka Rask is recovering from hip surgery.

Between the two, Krejci may honestly be the bigger absence given that they didn’t replace him in the offseason. Charlie Coyle is being tasked with being the Bruins’ second-line pivot after a down year as the No. 3 center. Don Sweeney spent to fill out Boston’s bottom six with good depth, but that will only make a major difference if the team has a consistent second line.

Five bold predictions for the 2021-22 Boston Bruins

As for replacing Rask, Jeremy Swayman had a strong finish to last season and a good preseason. The more pressing question is whether Linus Ullmark was a wise investment at $5 million a year for four seasons. Confidence probably didn’t matter as much when he was with the Sabres -- you’ve got to assume everyone just feels terrible all the time over there -- but the Bruins should do whatever they can to help Ullmark establish himself as a star in Boston. 

One thing we’re not talking about enough is: The Bruins’ second pair. Signing Derek Forbort to be a top-pairing defenseman might prove to be ambitious, but any pair with Charlie McAvoy is going to be good. What about the second pairing?

Mike Reilly had his moments as a top-four guy with the B’s last season and was brought back for $3 million a year. Is he the guy who flashed after the trade deadline or the guy who was traded three times in four years?

More importantly, how will Brandon Carlo fare after missing the last three games of the playoffs with a concussion? Carlo will do the heavy lifting on that pairing, but his injury history -- two concussions last season and four known to date in his NHL career -- is concerning.

If Reilly is consistent and Carlo stays healthy, playing Matt Grzelcyk on the third pairing would be quite the luxury, but if that second pair fails for whatever reason, the B’s would be in trouble given that they only have one star on their back end. 

Projected lines and defense pairings for the season opener Saturday night

If they underperform, it’s probably because: They aren’t good enough in the middle six and left side of the defense. Depth beyond Boston’s stars has been an issue for quite some time. They’ve got more depth now, but the quality of it is questionable. 

In a perfect world: Coyle doesn’t just become a No. 2 center, he becomes the 73-point guy Krejci was in his last full NHL season. Linus Ullmark proves to be worth every penny the Bruins spent, though detractors note it’s just because he’s playing behind the season’s Norris Trophy winner in Charlie McAvoy. Jake DeBrusk scores 25-plus goals, the left side of the defense is fine and the team goes on a run, convincing Patrice Bergeron to stick around on a multi-year extension. 

Realistic prediction: The Bruins are a very good regular season team that can cruise when the stakes are low. We know this. They’ll finish top two in the Atlantic -- a commendable example of overachieving -- but won’t last more than a round or two unless Krejci returns.

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