There are some pretty big similarities and differences that come to mind when looking at how the Bruins entered training camp last season vs. how they will do so this month (September 17). The biggest similarity isn’t too hard to find, as the team is coming off a Game 7 defeat in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second time in as many years.
Some things, though, are just the opposite of what they were a year ago. Last season, the biggest question regarded what would happen to the team’s hotshot youngster in Phil Kessel . Five days into camp, Kessel was a Maple Leaf and a much richer man. This season, with Tyler Seguin , the team enters camp with the excitement that surrounds a new young star (refraining from overusing “wunderkind”).
Last year, it was calculating whether the offense would still be elite without Kessel (it wasn’t). This season, it’s a matter of how much better it becomes with Seguin and Nathan Horton .
Last year carried the excitement of a re-signed Vezina winner in Tim Thomas . This year, the team will enter camp with a goalie who was forced to hear his name in trade speculation.
The Bruins have made the moves and non-moves that they’ve made and haven’t made, and now it appears they are ready to go for camp. General manager Peter Chiarelli caught up with Matt Kalman of the Bruins Blog  (always a good read) Tuesday and said that the squad you see now is likely the one you’ll see in just over two weeks.
‘I’m happy where we’re at,” Chiarelli told Kalman. I know there’s been some stuff in the summer with Tim [Thomas] and Marc [Savard ], and that has blown by, and we’ve got those two players on our roster, we’ve got some young blood coming and that’s where we’re at.’
The question now is whether the team has done enough to consider themselves a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference given their offseason. Here are a few of the positives:
– Tuukka Rask  is a year older and led the league last season in GAA and save percentage while splitting time with Thomas.
– Horton may be in the best situation he’s been in thus far in his career.
– The roster looks strong enough to perhaps be considered favorites in the Northeast division.
– The team could be a puck-moving blueliner away from having the defensive group it needs.
– It may not get the same attention as the Tom Brady  situation, but Zdeno Chara , Patrice Bergeron , and Mark Stuart  are among those entering the final year of their contracts. This means 2010-11 could be the final season with the current core of players, which certainly includes Chara and Bergeron.
– The salary cap is going to be a headache that could last into the season. If a move isn’t made before the season, expect speculation to continue until the team makes a move or Marco Sturm  returns.
Is this a team that will go to an offensive extreme for the third year in a row (second in the league in scoring in 2008-09, dead last a year ago)? Very unlikely. Will the offense, when put in front of a good defense and top goaltending duo, be good enough to still make them one of the more difficult teams to face next season? There isn’t much that would suggest the contrary. This is a team that finished sixth in the East in the regular season. There’s plenty to improve on, but it seems they’ve done plenty to do so.
The guess would have to be that the Bruins will be a better team September 17 than they were after dealing Kessel away last September. Whether it’s good enough remains to be seen, but any buzz surrounding this club as it gears up for a new season seems warranted.