Earlier this week, we examined several NHL teams expected to make big leaps forward this season. Now, the focus shifts toward those that could disappoint in 2021-22.

Some of the clubs on this list, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, were Stanley Cup champions within the past five years. Others, like the Boston Bruins, were Cup finalists during the same period.

Various factors could prove their undoing this season. A lack of depth at a key position, aging rosters or departures of notable players via trade or free agency could contribute to their decline.

 

Boston Bruins

Two years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final and a year after winning the Presidents' Trophy, the Boston Bruins finished 10th in last season's overall standings with 73 points in 56 games. For the second straight year, they were bounced from the second round of the playoffs. This season could be a bigger disappointment if three key problem areas aren't addressed.

Goaltending remains a big question mark. Longtime starter Tuukka Rask is sidelined until at least late December recovering from offseason hip surgery. The 34-year-old remains an unrestricted free agent but indicated his preference to rejoin the Bruins on a cheaper contract.

Jeremy Swayman and free-agent signing Linus Ullmark will be expected to hold the fort until Rask returns. If they struggle, however, Rask's return might not come in time to save the season.

The Bruins kept trade-deadline acquisition Taylor Hall off the free-agent market by signing him to a four-year, $24 million contract. However, they suffered a big setback when longtime second-line center David Krejci opted to return to the Czech Republic.

Charlie Coyle looks to be the likely candidate to fill that spot, and the team could also try free-agent additions Nick Foligno or Erik Haula in that role. However, they lack Krejci's savvy playmaking talent. The Bruins could be forced into the trade market for help, but finding a suitable second-line center could be difficult and expensive.

First-line forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak accounted for most of the Bruins' production over the past three years. They'll need more from secondary scorers like Hall, Coyle and Craig Smith. Bergeron, 36, and the 33-year-old Marchand have shown little sign of slowing down. A significant drop-off in production by either of them, however, could hurt the Bruins' offensive attack.

The absence of a longtime starting goaltender, the departure of a skilled second-line center or the lack of reliable secondary scoring is a difficult issue for any team to address. Combine all three, and the Bruins face a daunting challenge remaining among this season's Stanley Cup contenders.

 

Dallas Stars

Expectations were high for the Dallas Stars entering 2020-21 following their surprising march to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. A COVID-19 outbreak during training camp followed by a rash of injuries to several key players scuttled their playoff hopes.

The questions for this season begin between the pipes. Starter Ben Bishop missed all of last season recovering from offseason knee surgery. On Sep. 4, the Dallas Morning News' Matthew DeFranks reported the club is uncertain if the 34-year-old goalie will be available or even play at all.

Veteran backup Anton Khudobin and promising youngster Jake Oettinger carried the load last season. General manager Jim Nill added a twist by signing veteran Braden Holtby to a one-year contract, creating more uncertainty over the status of the team's goaltending.

Having lost big defenseman Jamie Oleksiak to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion round, the Stars found a replacement in former Minnesota Wild rearguard Ryan Suter. Now 36, Suter won't log the big minutes he once did but should fit in on their second defense pairing with Miro Heiskanen. If age should catch up to him, however, the Stars could be scrambling to fill that spot.

The fate of their season could depend upon their top-six forwards. Tyler Seguin played only three games last season after having hip surgery. Core muscle surgery limited winger Alexander Radulov, 35, to 11 games. The Stars will need both in top form to power their offensive attack.

Team captain Jamie Benn and winger Joe Pavelski will also be worth monitoring. The 32-year-old Benn's production has been dropping in recent years, with him tallying 35 points in 52 games last season. After netting just 31 points in his first season with the Stars, Pavelski enjoyed a fine bounce-back effort last season to lead them with 51 points. Now 37, however, age could start affecting his performance.

Young forwards Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson could be taking on larger roles. A groin injury last season that required offseason surgery hampered the 24-year-old Hintz. Robertson, 22, was a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy but will face heightened expectations in his sophomore season.

A healthy roster with veteran forwards playing well, a solid top-four defense and a reliable starting goaltender could make the Stars a playoff contender again. Given the number of questions hovering over the club, however, this season could also end in disappointment.