Burning Northeast Division questions

JEFF FRANK, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Unlike the other five divisions, in which most teams have a clear-cut number one goaltender, three of the five Northeast clubs might use the platoon system in 2010-11, and another figures to have its goalie scrutinized more than any other in the entire NHL this season.

The Sabres are the only team in the division with a solid No. 1 in Ryan Miller. Unfortunately, the most recent Vezina Trophy winner will not have Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman - Buffalo's former two longest-tenured defensemen - playing in front of him this season. So, the most pressing question in Buffalo is:

WHO WILL TAKE OVER FOR THE DEPARTED D-MEN?

It's usually not that difficult to replace a single member of a defensive unit but when two of the top four leave, management better have a contingency plan in place.

General Manager Darcy Regier brought in a pair of free agents - Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn - and the hope is for further development from youngsters Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, and Chris Butler to go along with veterans Craig Rivet and Steve Montador.

If Leopold can effectively replace Tallinder's minutes, especially on the penalty kill, and Butler can rebound from his sophomore slump, then the Sabres should have enough defensive depth to win their second straight division title.

WILL CAREY PRICE HANDLE THE PRESSURE IN MONTREAL?

If the preseason is any indication, the answer in clearly no.

Carey Price has allowed 10 goals on just 30 shots in two exhibition games and the Canadiens will be ruing the day (if they're not already) that they traded Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis.

Price has been the club's prized possession since being drafted fifth overall in the 2005 entry draft, and the weight of an entire city now rests on the 23- year-old's shoulders. He has little room for error, particularly since the backup is well-traveled journeyman Alex Auld.

A last-place finish is more likely than a return trip to the postseason.

TUUKKA RASK OR TIM THOMAS?

Rask took advantage of Thomas' injured hip last season to become the second consecutive Bruins goaltender to lead the league in both GAA and save percentage. Thomas pulled off the feat in 2008-09.

With Thomas now medically cleared to resume play, how will head coach Claude Julien keep his dynamic duo happy over the course of the long 27-week campaign?

The situation might not be as bad as one might expect, since neither netminder has played more than 60 games in a season since 2006-07. Expect an even split for most of the year with Julien going with the hot hand come playoff time.

PASCAL LECLAIRE OR BRIAN ELLIOTT?

Leclaire makes almost $3 million more than Elliott, despite having started only 72 more NHL games. The former parlayed his monster 2007-08 campaign (2.25 GAA aMond nine shutouts) into a huge contract with the Senators, while the latter took advantage of Leclaire's injury woes last season to lead Ottawa into the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

One would assume the oft-injured Leclaire would automatically inherit the No. 1 job based on salary alone. However, his health has always been an issue and Elliott has proven to be capable of handling the load.

Look for Leclaire to begin the season as the starter, but once he succumbs to the injury bug, expect Elliott to carry the Senators into the postseason once again.

JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE OR JONAS GUSTAVSSON?

The Maple Leafs invested a lot of money in Giguere when they acquired the veteran goaltender from Anaheim this past January. Giguere is owed $6 million this season but is an unrestricted free agent at year's end.

Coach Ron Wilson has already stated 'The Six Million Dollar Man' is his No. 1 goalie heading into the season. Nevertheless, what good is having a 33-year-old lame duck goaltender on a team that is building for the future?

Gustavsson finished 16-15-9 in his first NHL season, highlighted by a personal seven-game winning streak in March with a .929 save percentage. With almost $20 million tied into the team's top four defensemen, now is the time to give 'The Monster' his chance to shine so he can gain valuable experience for when the Leafs are ready to compete for the division title.


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