Updated: January 16, 2013, 1:03 PM ET
AP Photo/Elise Amendola It's Tuukka Rask's time to prove he is ready to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

Bruins: Five Things You Need To Know

By Pierre LeBrun

A first-round exit to the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals was not the way the Boston Bruins envisioned finishing the 2011-12 season, but, in many ways, it was a fitting end to a frustrating Cup hangover year.

The Bruins predictably stumbled out of the gate like many Cup champions do, at 3-7-0 last October, then took off and played their best hockey of the season, going 29-7-2 November through January -- looking very much like the champs they were -- then slumped in February/March before entering the playoffs not playing their best.

Perhaps not by coincidence, Tim Thomas and his famous decision to skip the team's White House visit Jan. 23 proved to be a distraction for the team.

Now the polarizing veteran goalie and Conn Smythe Trophy winner is at home in semiretirement, so that distraction is gone.

This remains a very good hockey club capable of winning a championship, the Bruins' Cup hangover year now fully behind them.

1. Step Right Up, Tuukka The 25-year-old Tuukka Rask gets the keys to the Bruins' net, and I don't see him messing up his opportunity. He's been groomed for this moment, has put in his time, and I think he's ready to become one of the NHL's elite netminders. All of which is why I believe Rask's agent, Bill Zito, was brilliant in negotiating just a one-year, $3.5-million deal for his client ahead of this season. A big year in the shortened season will help Rask get rewarded as a No. 1 starter gets paid.

2. The Core Is Back I may be proved completely wrong, but one of my early theories about the short season, which is preceded by almost no preparation, just a five-day camp, is that teams that had quiet offseasons in terms of roster change will have a leg up early because there will be less adjustment. That certainly applies to the Bruins, who lost the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Greg Zanon and Joe Corvo, but no one from their real core. To me, that's significant and gives the Bruins a chance to create some early momentum.

3. Thomas Is Gone, But ... Tim Thomas is physically out of Boston, but his $5 million cap hit remains on the Bruins' books. It will be interesting to see what GM Peter Chiarelli does with his rights, if anything. Certainly if a team is struggling at some point this year in staying above the cap floor (remember Dallas last year needing to pick up Eric Nystrom just to get over the floor?), then perhaps Boston can dangle Thomas's contract and cap hit. Here's a question, though: What if the 38-year-old netminder -- who is full of surprises -- decides he wants to return and play this season? I doubt it, but one never knows with Thomas.

4. It's Tyler Time Third-year forward Tyler Seguin looks poised to take the next step in his NHL career. The 20-year-old was sensational in Switzerland during the lockout, putting up 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games and was dynamite in helping Canada capture the Spengler Cup during the holidays. The sky's the limit for this kid and his offensive abilities. Take him high in your fantasy drafts!

5. The GM Touch Peter Chiarelli will have some cap room to play with once he parks Marc Savard's $4 million cap hit on LTIR. And if he's able to move Thomas' cap hit, he'll be swimming in cap space. Chiarelli has never been shy about making additions and, if the Bruins contend as expected, look for the Bruins GM to be active on the trade market before the deadline.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


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