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Five questions about the NHL's Eastern Conference

Sidney Crosby's health and the New York Islanders' status as a lame-duck team in Long Island are among the bigger issues in the conference.

January 15, 2013
  • Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby participates in practice.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby participates in practice. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated…)

Five questions

1 How is Sidney Crosby's head? The Penguins' superstar center played only 22 games last season because of concussion-related problems, and every time he takes a hit to the head it's impossible to avoid holding your breath for a half-second to see if he's OK. Crosby came back for the second time in mid-March and played in Pittsburgh's no-defense, first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. During the lockout he participated in some collective bargaining sessions and worked out and said he was ready to go.

2 Where is Ilya Bryzgalov's head? This is tougher to answer than question No. 1. The Flyers' flaky goaltender had a nightmarish start to his nine-year, $51-million contract last season. Bryzgalov's playoff numbers (3.46 goals-against, .887 save percentage) were horrible. Unless he pulls off a dramatic turnaround, the Flyers could buy out his contract after the season as one of the two compliance buyouts allowed in the new collective bargaining agreement. Did Ron Hextall curse them when he left?

3 Will Tuukka Rask be able to thrive as the No. 1 goalie in Boston? Goaltender Tim Thomas' decision to retire despite a year left on his contract created a golden opportunity for Rask, who played only 23 games last season after suffering a groin/abdomen injury in early March. Rask has been a starter before, but this time there's no experienced backup as an alternative. No. 2 goalie Anton Khudboin has seven games on his resume over the last three seasons, leaving Rask to sink or swim.

4 How will the New York Islanders draw as lame ducks at the Nassau Coliseum? The Islanders announced in October they will leave Long Island for Brooklyn's Barclays Center starting with the 2015-16 season. That's one very long goodbye. And they'll probably still be paying goalie Rick DiPietro when the Barclays Center is condemned for being ancient. The Islanders have some exceptional young players, but teams with one foot out the door don't usually attract huge crowds.

5 Will the Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs in our lifetime? An ownership change led to the surprise dismissal of General Manager Brian Burke a week before opening night. He made some progress, but his bombastic style made the buttoned-up corporate suits unhappy. The Leafs will sell out no matter how bad the team is, but it's about time for a turnaround for the NHL's most valuable but least efficient franchise. Dave Nonis, Burke's protégé in Vancouver and now his successor in Toronto, gets the unenviable task of engineering the rebirth.

— Helene Elliott

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