As a result of Tim Thomas' sabbatical, Tuukka Rask is set to inherit the starting role in Boston's crease. Over three seasons in Boston, Rask has proven that he is capable of being an elite starting goalie. But now that Thomas has left the building, who takes over the Bruins' net if Rask goes down long term?
Rask last claimed the Bruins starting role in 2009-10, before Tim Thomas' Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup-winning renaissance the following year. Starting 45 games in 2009-10, Rask lead the NHL in goals against average and save percentage.
For the past two seasons, Rask has played well behind Thomas, averaging a solid 2.36 goals against per game while saving 92.35 percent of shots.
Rask is currently spending the lockout with HC Plzen, who are currently atop the Czech Extraliga standings. In that time, he has been nothing short of spectacular. He is 10-2 in 12 starts and leads the league with a 1.75 goals against average.
The Bruins should thrive so long as Rask stays healthy. However, he missed the final six weeks of last season due to a groin injury and suffered a minor groin tweak in October while playing in the Czech Republic. If injury strikes again, the Bruins will need to find a viable goalie, or risk wasting a great opportunity to win another Stanley Cup.
Anton Khudobin will start the season as Rask's backup and is therefore the heir-apparent in the case of injury.
Khudobin has only played in seven NHL games, but he has been surprisingly excellent in all of them. In those games split between Minnesota and Boston, he is 5-1-1 with a 1.32 goals against average and .961 save percentage. In his lone Bruins start, Khudobin defeated the Ottawa Senators with a 44-save effort last spring.
The 26-year-old Kazakhstani goaltender spent last season in Providence, where he posted a respectable 2.61 goals against average while saving 91.9 percent of shots.
He is currently spending the lockout in Russia's KHL with Atlant Moscow Oblast. Khudobin has struggled in Russia, partially resulting from the bad team playing in front of him. Atlant sits in 12th place in the 14-team league.
As of November 5, Khudobin has a 3.02 goals against average in 15 starts, and he has saved 90.8 percent of shots. His numbers are somewhat disappointing and may cause doubts over his ability to cover for Rask in Boston.
Khudobin has shown sufficient flashes of excellence to deserve Boston's No. 2 goaltending spot. However, his lack of experience makes it unlikely that the Bruins would start him long term without bringing in another option.
He is perfectly capable of starting a handful of games, but he will have to impress early in the season in order to earn the Bruins' trust. If Rask is hurt, Khudobin will likely be the first one to get an opportunity, but the Bruins would likely make a move to find a veteran backup.
If Rask goes down, fans could begin begging for the unlikely return of Tim Thomas. Following last season's first round playoff exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals, Thomas announced that he would sit out this season.
The 38-year-old goaltender was a late-bloomer in the NHL. After being drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, Thomas did not find a stable role in the NHL until 2005.
In seven seasons with Boston, Thomas has been arguably the best goalie in the National Hockey League. For his career, he is just four wins shy of 200 and he has won the Vezina Trophy twice.
His best season came in 2010-11 when he backstopped Boston to the Stanley Cup. That year, Thomas led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage. After winning three Game 7s, earning shutouts in two, Thomas was honored with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Despite his advanced age, Thomas clearly still has the ability to dominate at the NHL level. He also could be tempted by another championship opportunity in a lockout-shortened season. Perhaps a delayed start to the season could give him the time off he desires and still allow him to play the game he loves.
Thomas may also be tempted by another opportunity to compete for Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. If he sits out the entire season, it is highly unlikely that he will be chosen in favor of goalies like Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick.
If Thomas is willing to return, Boston will welcome him back with open arms. However, the clock may be ticking. Following the lockout, Boston will likely attempt to trade Thomas to a team looking to reach the salary cap floor. If Boston deals Thomas' contract to avoid his heavy cap hit, then they will have to look elsewhere in the case of an injury to Rask.
Even if the Bruins retain his rights, Thomas does not seem likely to return. The outspoken goalie seemed sincere in his decision to take the year off, and he cannot be relied on as an option moving forward.
Veteran free-agent Dwayne Roloson could be an attractive option to fill in, if Rask goes down.
The 43-year-old struggled last year, but Bruins fans certainly remember his superb playoff run in 2011. Roloson led the Tampa Bay Lightning within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals before losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Bruins.
Roloson's .924 save percentage in the 2011 playoffs was extraordinary and gave the Lightning hope that he could be a viable starter in 2011-12. However, Roloson dropped off last season, seeing his goals against average increase by more than a goal per game from the previous year.
If he signed with the Bruins, Roloson would be the NHL's oldest player. He has played in more than 600 career games, but has only managed 227 victories.
Roloson failed to find a team before the lockout began in September, but he will likely be available if the phone rings this winter.
Roloson would be a cheap option to fill in on a one-year deal. A shortened season could benefit the grey-haired goalie.
The UMass-Lowell graduate will likely attract interest from the Bruins, but he has clearly passed his prime, much like Marty Turco who briefly joined the Bruins last season.
Turco, who had once been a top netminder in Dallas, was woeful in five games with Boston. If Roloson is the best option available, the Bruins might be in severe trouble.
Former first-round pick Jonathan Bernier has become expendable in L.A., following the Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup victory. Quick has cemented his position in the King's net for years to come.
As a result, the talented Bernier could be looking for a starting role elsewhere. Boston could be a perfect landing spot for the 24-year-old, if Rask gets injured.
In 48 NHL starts, Bernier has a solid 2.50 goal against average and .910 save percentage. Bernier has all the makings of a starter but is unfortunately buried behind the 26-year-old Quick, who has rapidly become an elite goaltender while winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Bernier will be a restricted free agent next summer and the Kings may struggle to keep him in L.A. long term. Although they value the insurance he provides, they could be willing to move him for the right price.
The price would likely be the major stumbling block in a trade for Bernier. The Kings will demand quality prospects, if not current NHL players, if they are to let their backup goalie go.
The Bruins do have prospects available, although young defenseman Dougie Hamilton would be untouchable. A handful of draft picks and one or two high-level prospects could get the deal done.
Peter Chiarelli has shown a definite willingness to make trades in his six years as Bruins GM and he would not be shy when it comes to inquiring about Bernier. However, if a bidding war includes teams like Toronto looking for a long-term starter, Boston will probably not be desperate enough to match other offers.
On the other hand, if the Bruins were to complete the deal, they could once again boast one of the league's best goaltending tandems.
If Rask is injured, the Bruins might make the shocking move of calling up 47-year-old Dominik Hasek.
The sure-fire hall-of-famer is one of the greatest goalies of all time. In 16 seasons with Chicago, Buffalo, Ottawa and Detroit, the Dominator won two Hart Trophies, six Vezina trophies and two Stanley Cups.
He last played in the NHL with Detroit in 2007-08. That year, he started 41 games, winning 27 of them, while allowing just 2.14 goals against per game.
After taking a year off, Hasek returned in 2009-10 with the Czech Extraliga's HC Pardubice, who currently employ Bruins center David Krejci. He led Pardubice to a championship, with a season save percentage of .921.
The following season he joined HC Spartak Moscow of Russia's KHL. After a strong season, Hasek retired from hockey for the second time.
According to the IIHF's Szymon Szemberg, Hasek sought an NHL comeback this fall. However, when he failed to receive an NHL contract offer, he once again officially announced his retirement.
Despite the fact that Hasek has supposedly stopped seeking NHL employment, he clearly remains interested. If the Bruins happen to call the Czech legend part way through an abbreviated season, it is very plausible that he might consider a comeback.
Hasek would not have attempted to make a return if he was not confident in his ability. If he believes that he can still play at a high level, despite being 47 years old, then he very well may be worth the risk for a desperate Boston team.
In May of 2012, the Boston Bruins signed Swedish goaltender Niklas Svedberg. Svedberg has impressed this season in Providence and is currently the third best goaltender in the Bruins organization, behind Rask and Khudobin.
Since 2007, Svedberg has spent most of his time playing in the Swedish Elitserien. In 2011-12, Svedberg had a strong season with Brynäs IF, managing a 2.47 goals against average and a .912 save percentage in 29 games.
Svedberg took his game to another level in the Elitserien playoffs. In 13 postseason games, he led all goaltenders with a 1.70 goals against average and a spectacular .947 save percentage, as he led Brynäs IF to their 13th championship.
Just a month into the AHL season, Svedberg has wrestled Providence's starting job away from Michael Hutchinson. As of November 5, Svedberg is 3-1 with the P-Bruins, posting a 2.01 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
If he keeps up the good work in Rhode Island, Svedberg could put pressure on Khudobin. At the very least, he could earn the occasional call up to the big club.
Providence coach Bruce Cassidy has called Svedberg "a winner" and "a battler." Although the 23-year-old is a long way from being an NHL starter, he is a sleeper option to fill in for the Bruins.
Svedberg has the ability to turn heads in the National Hockey League, if given the opportunity. He could earn that opportunity if he continues to produce in Providence.
When the Boston Bruins selected Malcolm Subban in the first round of the 2012 draft, they expected to wait a number of years before deploying him at the NHL level. However, if the need arises, there is a slight chance that Subban could see NHL ice this season.
The gifted netminder has been impressive with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League. The little brother of Montreal's P.K. Subban, Malcolm is currently ranked fourth in the OHL in both goals against average (2.21) and save percentage (.929).
Subban has the highest upside of any goalie in the Bruins system after Rask and projects to be an NHL starter down the road. However, despite tremendous athleticism and lightning quick reflexes, Subban still needs quite a bit of seasoning.
Subban did not begin playing goalie until he was 14 years old. Although he has taken to the position surprisingly fast, he lacks the experience of most top-goaltending prospects.
The 18-year-old could earn an invite to Bruins camp, but he is not expected to make the team this season. He will undoubtedly be one to watch moving forward, as he could be the Bruins' future in net.
If Subban were to make the team as a teenager, it would be a major shock. If he were to succeed in Boston this season, it would be a miracle.