Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN.com NHL Insider Craig Custance stops by to chat about the latest news from the ice.
Custance joined ESPN in September 2011 as an NHL reporter for ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN following a stint with the Sporting News. A graduate of Michigan State University, he lived for nearly a decade in Georgia working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he spent time covering the late Atlanta Thrashers.
Send your questions now and join Custance Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (2:59 PM)
Greetings from Coral Springs Florida where I've just left the GM meetings to get ready to cover the Bruins/Panthers game on Thursday. Lots going on right now - GMs, CBA, Crosby's return, playoff races. Let's dive in!
Craig, my Sharks have been a really disappointing bunch this season. I almost hope they just miss the playoffs because they will get smoked in the first round anyways. What sort of changes do you see Doug Wilson and co. making this summer.
Craig Custance (3:01 PM)
Neil - Maybe I'm a complete Sharks slappy but I don't see San Jose as an automatic exit if they make the playoffs. There's just too much experience on that roster to expect them to bow out quietly in the first round. When I spoke to Doug Wilson here in Florida about San Jose's struggles, he thought Havlat's return was really going to help. San Jose tends to go through these tough stretches and historically they find a way to right the ship before the playoffs. I realize time is running out, but don't give up just yet. If they miss the playoffs (or underachieve) don't be surprised to see San Jose get right back in the hunt for Rick Nash.
What do you think about the Red Wings recent troubles? Do you think they should have done more at the trade deadline?
Craig Custance (3:04 PM)
Jeremy - I liked the Quincey move by Ken Holland and would have liked to see Detroit pick up a guy like Paul Gaustad, but they just didn't have the ammunition to do it. Buffalo wasn't budging on the demand for a first-round pick. I think their struggles are simply health related and Holland sounded optimistic he'd get all the important pieces back in place for the playoffs. If Detroit is healthy, or mostly healthy, they're still one of the league's most dangerous teams. The one positive to the injuries has been Detroit's ability to get a look at Brendan Smith. Smith has opened some eyes with his play and if Babcock thinks he gives Detroit the best chance to win, he'll be in the lineup when the playoffs start.
Hello Craig. I'm a Leaf fan that needs to be talked off the ledge. Obviously this year has fallen apart, but from a dispassionate perspective, is there the basis in Toronto for a contender? Or should I be buckling down for another decade or so of mediocrity?
Craig Custance (3:07 PM)
Andrew - I thought we'd see Toronto in the playoffs this season so maybe I'm more optimistic about the Leafs than most. I look at the major pieces Brian Burke has acquired and am impressed. But he has to get the goalie situation sorted out, something he hasn't done in his tenure with Maple Leafs. He can't afford another mistake in goal this off-season. Toronto will be really helped by a full training camp under Randy Carlyle whose track record indicates that mediocrity won't be accepted.
Pierre (New York)
Hi Craig - I know we're not doctors, but something in my gut says that it would be good to have Sidney Crosby sit out the season and start fresh next year, to be 1,000% safe. Why risk him during the hurly burly of the playoff run-in? The league needs him! (and I'm a Caps fan!!!!)
Craig Custance (3:11 PM)
Hey Pierre - I disagree. I think Sidney Crosby has been extremely cautious this time around in his concussion recovery. I think identifying the neck injury helped pin down some of the problems. But if he feels he's ready to come back, I have no issue with him coming back. I agree, it's going to be hard for him to jump into the middle of the action as the playoffs close in, but he was remarkable after his long absence last time around and I think he's one of the few players capable of doing it this time of year. Like you said, we're not doctors, and I have no sense if holding him out even longer would lower the chances of another concussion.
Mr. Custance, the future of NHL hockey outwardly looks bright, with all the new stars. Do you see a larger turnover of veterans in the upcoming off-season? Thank you, sir.
Craig Custance (3:14 PM)
So formal, Skipper - This is a casual chat. Feel free to call me Craig.No doubt the league is a young man's game and we've seen some great young players make a major impact. The interesting thing for me will be watching CBA negotiations. If there's an extended lockout we might see even more turnover than usual, which happened last time around. Ray Whitney has already said he's not sure he's ready to sit out months of a regular season and jump back into action. I have to imagine guys like Selanne, Brodeur and even Nick Lidstrom feel the same way. It's another reason it'd be great to see both sides get a new deal before it goes that far.
with vancouver and detroit looking human these days, would you say that if the predators add radulov, they are the team to beat in the west?
Craig Custance (3:17 PM)
Al - that's a tough one. I still like Vancouver but boy, Nashville would look pretty darn good. They'd have the best top pair in Suter/Weber. They'd have the best goalie in Pekka Rinne and then you'd have a potential star up front in Radulov. There's always the risk of chemistry issues when a guy like Radulov shows up at this point in the season, so we can't assume it would be a flawless transition. But Nashville sure would be a tough out if they got him.
Nervous Rangers fan (MSG)
Will the Pens be unstoppable?
Craig Custance (3:20 PM)
Interesting to hear Glen Sather call the Penguins the best team in the league today with Sidney Crosby back in the lineup. Now we might be seeing a little posturing from a GM looking to ease the pressure on his team, but it's hard to argue against it. I wouldn't go as far as to say the Penguins will be unstoppable. Even the best teams need a break or two along the way in the playoffs to win a Cup, as Ray Shero pointed out yesterday. But a healthy Penguins team immediately becomes the favorite to emerge from the East.
Kyle (St Louis)
What team is the worst match up in the playoffs for the Blues?
Craig Custance (3:24 PM)
That's a fun question Kyle. I like it. I think St. Louis could handle Calgary, Dallas and Phoenix. Los Angeles would be a little harder. To me, right now, the worst case scenario would be San Jose. That's a group that knows how to win a playoff series and I'd probably pick them in 7. The one thing Doug Armstrong told me that I found very interesting is that the Blues have the advantage of having a coach in Ken Hitchcock who is as good as anyone in the league in drawing up a winning gameplan. And he said his team has absolutely bought into everything Hitch is teaching, so they would execute it perfectly. That makes St. Louis, despite their inexperience, dangerous in the playoffs.
With the whole khl season being over do you see teams trying to do what Nashville is doing. For example is it possible for st Louis to try and sign tarasenko like they did signing jaden Schwartz for a deep roster for the playoffs.
Craig Custance (3:26 PM)
Wit - While there were concerns about the league setting precedent with the Radulov case, his situation is completely unique. He was looked at as a suspended player, not one under contract. That's why he's able to come back without clearing waivers and why he's allowed to play in the playoffs despite the playoff deadline passing. It was clearly a unique case that probably won't be duplicated anytime soon.
Do you think the Bruins are in danger of having their playoff run end early after this latest run?
Craig Custance (3:29 PM)
John - Peter Chiarelli wasn't a happy camper today. He said he's not seeing the necessary fight in his team right now. He's not thrilled with his players approach to games and said they're cheating offensively and defensively. He's definitely concerned and history shows that it's tough to make a long playoff run coming off a Stanley Cup win. SO yeah, factor all that in along with Crosby's return and I think there is a danger of a short playoff run in Boston this spring.
Matt Mac Isaac (Poughkeepsie,NY)
How far do you see the Flyers making a run in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:31 PM)
If Ilyz Bryzgalov is going to continue playing the way he has been, Philly is in a small group that includes Pittsburgh, New York and Boston (despite everything I just wrote) as teams I think are capable of a nice run. Philadelphia needs to get healthy defensively though. Those injuries on defense have actually hurt the team offensively. You don't want to place too much of a burden on winning in the playoffs on Bryz. It'll come down to matchups, but I wouldn't be stunned to see the Flyers in the conference finals.
So what does Sid coming back mean for Malkin? Obviously they both can't play with Kunitz. If Sid comes back and is at full strength, does Malkin end up on the second line? Hard to fathom, but when you're that deep...
Craig Custance (3:34 PM)
I can't imagine Dan Bylsma would break up that Malkin line. It's been way too good right now, even if Kunitz and Crosby have had success in the past. Ray Shero indicated yesterday we'd see Crosby skate with Cooke and Kennedy. Plus, you don't want to put too much of a burden on Crosby right away as he's getting his game back.
Brian (Washington D.C.)
the caps have won 4 in a row and seem to be getting their act together finally, now that backstrom has skated for 3 straight days can this team finally be in position to make a deep postseason run or is their just to much talent in th east?
Craig Custance (3:36 PM)
I'm down on the Caps right now. Their only hope of doing anything in the playoffs is if Backstrom returns and is at the top of his game. THat's a lot to ask. I certainly think that Washington is more than capable of winning that division and probably is the favorite right now but that team struggled to get out of the first round when they were good. I don't see them doing much this postseason.
Ben (San Jose)
Would Phoenix winning a first round series (maybe more?) increase their chances at staying in AZ?
Craig Custance (3:38 PM)
Ben - I'm afraid it may not matter what they do on the ice. Time is running out in Phoenix and Gary Bettman said today they still hope to find a solution in the desert. He refused to put a timetable on it but their chances of staying have more to do with finding someone not only willing to pay the asking price but also willing to lose some money in operating expenses before things turn around rather than playoff success.
I don't get to see them play that often, so can you tell me how the Flames are still in this thing? Their roster wasn't that impressive to begin with, and with all those injuries...what's keeping them in the hunt?
Craig Custance (3:43 PM)
Miikka Kiprusoff has been great for the Flames, so that's a good place to start. Curtis Glencross seems to score every game and guys like Jokinen and Tanguay have been better than a lot of us imagined they would be this year. I still don't see that team doing anything if they make the playoffs but Calgary has surprised in the postseason in the past. Give Jay Feaster credit - he refused to change course on making the playoffs this year and it could still pay off.
With NHL and hockey in general growing in popularity, do you see perhaps in the future KHL and SEL games being televised in the US. I think it would be very interesting to watch hockey from other leagues.
Craig Custance (3:44 PM)
I don't know Mike. NHL ratings are definitely up but they're still not at the same levels as other professional sports. I can't imagine KHL games would move the needle ratings-wise, that would be a pretty niche audience. Although I'm with you, I'd definitely watch on occasion.
Everyone in Pitt is arguing to either keep the 3-center model that makes the Pens hard to beat, or placing Staal on Crosby's win. Why not do both? Keep the Malkin line in place and put Staal with Crosby, then just double shift the three of them in a rotation to center the third line. Would this work?
Craig Custance (3:47 PM)
Why put that extra burden on Staal and Crosby when you can spread out the icetime among three lines? Part of the success the Penguins have had in the past during the playoffs was based on Staal's ability to center a line that often shut down opposing team's top lines. He's so good defensively that I'd make that his major responsibility in the postseason rather than have the additional burden of trying to score on Crosby's wing.
Who is your favorite to win the East, West, and Cup?
Craig Custance (3:47 PM)
Can I wait until Radulov makes a decision?
I'm worried the GM's will make the bad decision to put the 2 line pass rule back in effect (or a similar rule). This just seems like a weak arguement by the teams who didn't adjust to the faster game so they can go back to the boring trap game style of play.
Craig Custance (3:49 PM)
Jim - I think the GMs will come to their senses with the red line. They're going to give the ringette line a try at the AHL level but it didn't sound like there was much momentum to go back to the red line. I'm with you, I think it'd be a step back.
Semin will be a free agent this offseason with a bad rep and a big cap hit to sign. Which teams make the decision to pursue Semin? Is he even worth it?
Craig Custance (3:51 PM)
He's worth it for the right number. I'm certainly not paying him 6.7 million to play for my team next season. He has the leverage of playing in the KHL but for the right price I'd give him a look. He's still a remarkable talent, even if he's been frustrating for Caps fans.
Ben (San Jose)
Are GMs averse to removing the trapezoid because they don't want to give their goaltenders freedom to play the puck in more areas (and increase the chance they mess up and the opponent scores)?
Craig Custance (3:53 PM)
I honestly don't understand the reluctance to get rid of the trapezoid. I think it would help protect d-men and I don't like removing an entire skill set from goalies who are good at handling the puck. Your GM, Doug Wilson, is a fan of getting rid of it and will keep pushing for it.
Frank (State College)
Pens get Crosby/Letand and are rolling, Flyers rediscovered the goalie they wanted from last year, Rangers are strong, and Devil have shown great play the last 2 months. Can we now say firmly that thanks to slumping teams in the central that the atlantic can rule supreme as the best division? PS...you don't get to just discount Columbus or NY Isles
Craig Custance (3:56 PM)
Frank - I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the Western Conference, so I'd still put the Central ahead by a hair. If Nashville gets Radulov, they'd be a Cup favorite. Detroit is going to get healthy and is capable of making a Cup run. Chicago has been curiously inconsistent this year, but would you be shocked if they put it together in the playoffs? Oh yeah, and St. Louis has the best record in the league. I still think the Central is the toughest.
Tony (Denver, CO)
Wouldn't a bigger following of college hockey create a bigger following for the NHL, as NCAA Football and NCAAB do for the NFL and NBA respectively. It seems as if we like to follow players' careers and when new people come in and are drafted from outside the US a lot of people are "Who?", and are really disinterested until they become a star player. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (3:58 PM)
I wish there was more of a connection between NHL players and where they went to college. Why aren't NHL players introduced by where they went to college (or junior hockey) like other sports? There seems to be a disconnect between the college system and the NHL. Maybe more televised games will help that.
If you could have 2 of your dream matchups this year from the East and West, which would they be? Why those picks?
Craig Custance (4:03 PM)
The picks of a sports writer have less to do with hockey and everything to do with ease of travel, logistics in covering practices/games, hotels and best places to go eat and unwind after a game. So based on that and the teams in the playoff mix, the ideal for me would be -- East final: Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia; West final: Nashville vs. Chicago.
Craig Custance (4:03 PM)
Alright everyone - it's been fun! Thanks for jumping in with great questions. Have a great week!