When Tim Thomas decided to take next season off, he handed over the reins to Tuukka Rask, who was signed by the Boston Bruins to a one-year contract in late June worth $3.5 million. After winning the Stanley Cup two seasons ago, the Bruins had a great regular season the year after, winning 49 games and finishing with 102 points, which was second best in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Washington Capitals would spoil the party by defeating the Bruins in seven games in the first round of the postseason. Boston has now been forced back to the drawing board to see how they can match their regular season success from a year ago, but complement it with a deep run in the playoffs.
Before dissecting the potential of 25-year-old Rask, let's look into the guy that he is replacing: Tim Thomas.
Thomas has been with the Bruins full time since 2005, and transitioned himself from an adequate goaltender into a game changer in just a few seasons. He has a record of 70-30-10 over the last two seasons, and also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff MVP when the Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Even as he entered his late thirties (he's now 38), he continued to improve and was the catalyst to the Bruins' recent success; however, he wasn't as versatile as many teams would like in a starting goaltender. The most games he has played in a season since the 2007-08 campaign is 59, and this is one aspect that will be changed with a much younger Tuukka Rask in between the pipes.
Off the ice, Thomas made headlines by skipping the team's White House visit, and while he was both demonized and praised for the decision, he took a heartfelt invitation and turned it into something it shouldn't have been—political turmoil.
So now let's take a look at a few factors that will control Rask's ultimate fate:
As I mentioned before, Rask is only signed to a one-year deal, and this should motivate him to play his best hockey every time he steps onto the ice. He does not have the wiggle room to take any game for granted, and he must be at his best at all times.
A lot of times when young players are in contract years they do one of two things: They crumble completely and let the pressure get the best of them, or they stand up to the critics and fortify themselves rightful of a better and longer contract.
Rask will do the latter, and should be excited that he has finally been put in a place to succeed.
The fact of the matter is that Tuukka Rask has been put in a position that many goalies dream of—a proven roster loaded with stars. He gets to protect the cage behind the likes of Zdeno Chara, arguably the best defenseman in the NHL, and other proven guys such as Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk.
Their offense possesses even more weapons. Tyler Seguin is slowly working himself into one of the NHL's elite forwards, and with veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to mentor him, Seguin may soon be a household name for a long time.
The moral of the story is that Rask has been put in an incredible position, and he won't have to steal games very often considering he is playing behind a roster that has already shown it knows how to win.
Tuukka Rask is not expected to come in and be Tim Thomas. He simply has to be solid, and the Bruins have the talent to do the rest. Thomas was the main reason that the Bruins won the cup in 2011, but this year's roster has more talent and experience than two years ago.
In 23 games last season, Rask finished with an 11-8-3 record, .929 save percentage, and a 2.05 goals against average. If he can repeat those numbers, the Bruins could very easily compete for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and put themselves in position for a run at the Stanley Cup.
As long as he can remain injury-free, Rask can easily lead the Bruins back to the title of Stanley Cup Champions.