The big question for the Boston Bruins heading into the lockout-shortened 2013 season was how far the club could go without Tim Thomas between the pipes?
As it turned out, the Bruins didn't miss the two-time Vezina Trophy winner and 2011 Conn Smythe recipient all that much, as Boston made its second trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in three years. Still, while Thomas was able to anchor Boston to its first Stanley Cup title since the days of Bobby Orr in the spring of 2011, new starting goaltender Tuukka Rask and last year's Bruins came up short against the Chicago Blackhawks, falling in six games.
Despite losing in the end, Rask proved himself time and time again during the 2013 regular season and playoffs, leaving few left to wonder if he has what it takes to lead a team deep into the postseason.
Considering the Bruins came within two wins of claiming their second championship in three years, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli was expected to make few changes to his roster this offseason but he wound up doing the opposite. The Bruins traded away the likes of Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas and also watched as other players like Nathan Horton, Jaromir Jagr and Anton Khudobin leave for free agency.
Chiarelli did make up for the loss of Jagr by signing veteran winger Jarome Iginla to a one-year, $6 million contract over the summer. Getting another winger -- Loui Eriksson -- from Dallas in the Seguin deal also could help spark an offense that ranked 13th in the NHL in scoring during the 2013 regular season.
With Rask in net, Zdeno Chara on the blue line and head coach Claude Julien back on the bench, the Bruins expect to return to the playoffs for a seventh straight year in 2013-14, but the roster overhaul could make another trip to the Cup Finals a difficult task to repeat.
FORWARDS - Even with the roster turnover this summer the Bruins should have the makings of two extremely dangerous lines heading into this season.
Eriksson and Iginla expect to fill the right wing spots on each of the top-two lines, joining either the center/left wing duo of David Krejci and Milan Lucic or Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Krejci and Bergeron give the Bruins a pair of top-line centermen, with the former taking the bigger chunk of offensive responsibility. Bergeron, meanwhile, is capable of playing a defensive shutdown role in addition to his contributions on offense. Bergeron is so valuable to Boston that the club decided to hand the 28-year-old an eight-year, $52 million contract extension over the summer.
It should come as no surprise that both Bergeron and Krejci were a huge part of Boston's success last spring. They tied for the team lead in goals with nine during the playoffs, while Krejci led all NHLers in postseason scoring with 26 total points. However, the Bruins may have to do without Bergeron at the very start of this season, as he may not be fully recovered from numerous injures, including a separated shoulder and a punctured lung.
Boston's top left wingers -- Lucic and Marchand -- couldn't be any different from each other. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Lucic is a bruising power forward who can dominate with his combination of size and skill. Marchand, on the other hand, is best described as a "pest," but despite being only 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, he can be every bit as dangerous as Lucic.
Marchand led all Bruins with 18 goals and 36 points during the regular season, but dropped off to four goals in the playoffs. Lucic, meanwhile, had just seven goals in 46 games during the regular season before exploding for the same amount in just 22 playoff games.
The 36-year-old Iginla, who picked the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Bruins at last season's trade deadline, could fill Horton's vacated role to the right of Krejci and Lucic. The former longtime Calgary Flames captain notched 14 goals and 33 points over 44 combined games with the Flames and Pens last season and added four goals and eight assists in 15 playoff games for Pittsburgh.
With 530 career goals to his credit already, Iginla is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but it's no secret he hopes to capture an elusive Stanley Cup title in Boston.
One of the biggest surprises of the NHL offseason came with the trade of Seguin to the Dallas Stars. After all, Seguin was the second overall pick of 2010 draft and the 21-year-old forward was at one point considered to be a big part of Boston's long-term plans. However, the rumor mill suggested Seguin's hard-partying ways led Chiarelli to ship him off to Dallas along with fellow forward Rich Peverley and defensive prospect Ryan Button.
For the Bruins, Eriksson, who is signed through the 2015-16 season, is the centerpiece of a trade that also landed them a trio of prospects. The 28-year- old Swedish winger recorded four seasons of 25 goals or more during his time in Dallas and he'll be given every chance to produce somewhere on Boston's top-two lines.
The Bruins will also have third-line centerman Gregory Campbell back after he suffered a broken leg while blocking a shot during last spring's playoffs. The gritty 29-year-old had four goals and nine assists in 48 regular-season games last season and posted three goals and four helpers in 15 playoff contests before breaking his leg in the conference finals against Pittsburgh.
Boston's problem on offense is depth. The Bruins are loaded with skilled players on the top-two lines, but finding scoring from the other two units could prove difficult.
There is some hope that winger Carl Soderberg can provide some scoring on the third or fourth line. Soderberg, 27, is a veteran of Swedish professional hockey, but 2013-14 will be his first full season as an NHLer. He played in six games for the Bruins in 2012-13 and posted two assists.
Another issue for Boston on offense is the club's anemic power-play attack. The B's ranked 25th in the NHL with the man advantage last season, marking the third time in the past four years that Boston was ranked 20th or worse in that category.
DEFENSE - Although there are some questions about whether he is slowing down, Chara is still a force to be reckoned with on the blue line. Boston's 6-foot-9 captain may have been caught out of position on occasion in 2013, but he is still one of the most unique talents this sport has ever seen.
Chara, owner of the hardest slap shot ever recorded, had seven goals and 12 assists over 48 regular season games last year and added three markers and 15 total points over 22 playoff games. And at 36 years of age, the Slovakian is still a workhorse, logging an average of 29 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time during the 2013 postseason.
Led by Chara, the Bruins had the NHL's third-ranked defense in 2013 and the club's stingy side was on full display in last spring's Eastern Conference finals series against Pittsburgh. Boston held Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the high-powered Penguins to just two goals over the course of the four-game sweep.
Dennis Seidenberg, who had four goals and 13 assists for Boston in 2013, is expected to pair with Chara again this season, while Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk could make up the second grouping.
Boston also has some potential rising stars at the back end in Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Joe Morrow. Hamilton and Morrow, who was another piece received by Boston in the Seguin trade, are both former first-round picks, while Krug, an undrafted free agent, burst on the scene with four goals in 15 playoff games last spring.
GOALTENDING - Even though Rask clearly proved himself as a No. 1 goaltender last season it was still surprising to see Boston allow backup Khudobin sign with Carolina on a one-year, $800,000 contract. After all, Khudobin also performed well in 2013 with the Bruins, going 9-4-1 with a 2.32 goals against average.
With backup Chad Johnson now penciled in behind Rask, the latter is expected to get the lion's share of the starts in 2013-14. Rask, who was re-signed to an eight-year, $56 million contract following his stellar 2013 season, went 19-10-5 with a 2.00 GAA and five shutouts in 36 games last year. His GAA dropped to 1.88 in 22 playoff outings.
If Johnson stumbles in the backup role the Bruins could use prospect Niklas Svedberg to spell Rask. Johnson has seen action in just 10 NHL games over his career, including four starts with Phoenix in 2013.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Bruins are the favorites to win the realigned Atlantic Division this season, with the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators as their main rivals for the crown. Barring an unforeseen rash of injuries, Boston is headed back to the postseason in 2014, but repeating the success of last spring's playoffs, especially with the amount of turnover the club had this summer, will be a tall order.