Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, 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 Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Hey everyone - great to be back for another weekly chat. Plenty to discuss with playoff races heating up and Radulov making it official. Let's dive in
Nate Wachter (Pittsburgh, PA)
Fleury is playing the best of his career. Letang is legitimately one of the five best defenseman in the league, our third line center (Staal) could be a first liner on some teams, and oh yeah, we have the two best players in the world. I know anything can happen in the playoffs, and that is why we love them, but would you put money on anyone beating the Pens in a seven game series?
Craig Custance (2:04 PM)
No. I really wouldn't. If the Penguins are healthy, they're clearly the favorite in the East. It's a potential matchup with a Western Conference opponent in the finals where things get interesting. Nashville has the defense to slow down the Penguins and would have the edge in goal (even with how good Fleury has been). Vancouver has been struggling but I think that has more to do with motivation than an indication they can't win in the playoffs. I think a Canucks/Penguins final would be fantastic. How about a third final between Detroit and Pittsburgh? The Red Wings need to get healthy and soon but that would be interesting.
Gerry (San Francisco, CA)
Who takes 8th in the East? Washington or Buffalo (possibly Ottawa)?
Craig Custance (2:08 PM)
Gerry - I'm going with Washington. I have some concerns about the Capitals goaltending but Alex Ovechkin is playing some inspired hockey right now. After Thursday's game in Philly, Washington has four of five at home where they play much better. That's an opportunity for the Capitals to solidify their spot in the playoffs. Sounds like we're getting some positive news on the Nicklas Backstrom front which would be huge for the Capitals. Now, I just wish they'd find a way to get Joel Ward back in the lineup. Didn't understand that one.
Jay (Denver )
Craig, I get that the league wants Radulov to play in the playoffs. I don't, however, understand why the league won't impose other penalties on Nashville for this privilege. At the end of the day, they were allowed to have 51 players under contract while the other franchises were limited to 50. Why not fine Nashville a draft pick or remove their right to match an offer sheet on Radulov?
Craig Custance (2:11 PM)
Jay - This is such a unique case and there's been a lot of debate as to whether the league handled this correctly. But I tend to side with Nashville and the NHL on this one in that I believe Nashville was the victim here not a franchise scheming to work the system. What did the Predators do wrong in this case? In the simplest terms, they had a player under contract who bailed on them. So they suspended him. That suspension was just lifted and now he can play again. I see no reason to punish Nashville.
Why the media outrage over the Devils/Rangers brawl? Did you hear the crowd before, during and after the fights? Keep in mind, those are the paying customers and not writers watching the game and eating for free in the press box. What makes the media think they know what's better for the game than it's fans and the players? You don't think that brawl set the playoff like tone for the game?
Craig Custance (2:17 PM)
John - I'm just not a fan of the staged fights, I don't think it's necessary in the sport. I can be convinced that there's room for fighting in the game if it's in the heat of the moment and a player is protecting his teammate. I understand the need for players to police each other on some level, but what exactly was that line brawl policing? Sure, it's exciting and I understand the electricity it brings to a game. But I think the people who have a problem with fighting have the safety of players in mind. On one hand, we're trying to cut down on concussions and then on the other we're cheering for guys constantly hitting each other in the head? I don't know if you can have it both ways. For me, my opinion on the subject turned drastically the night of the Beagle/Asham fight. I don't think the potential for a drastic injury is worth it.
I don't understand why Torts had to put his fighter out there to match. I understand there is a certain code for this type of thing, but what if he put is first line out there? Everyone has a choice to fight or not. If he put is first line out there, maybe they would have a good opportunity to score early against a weak 4th line.
Craig Custance (2:18 PM)
I see and understand why Torts did what he did. He has to protect his best players. Can you imagine the criticism he would have received if stars received a beat down out there?
Joey (St. Louis)
I think the only people getting wronged in this whole radulov situation is the guy on the Preds who now doesn't get to play because Radulov decided to grace us with his presence for a couple weeks before running back to russia.
Craig Custance (2:20 PM)
Joey - That's a very fair point. There has to be some concern internally about how this will affect what is a very tight team. Everyone I've spoken with on the topic though says the players are completely behind the move. There's strong leadership in that room led by Shea Weber and if they're behind it it's worth the risk.
Why does the media (or maybe it's the league) have a hard time separating "fighting" from "brawling." Two players dropping the gloves is a fight. A whole line before the opening faceoff is a brawl. Can't the league come down hard on brawls while still allowing fights? Seems pretty clear cut. Like how you get an extra penalty if you're third man in a fight, you get extra penalties if you are fighting simultaneously to another fight. 3 refs can contain a 1 on 1 fight safely. They cannot contain a brawl. Seems rather simple to me.
Craig Custance (2:22 PM)
Matt - Yeah, I don't think fighting is going anywhere although there might be a push for extra punishment for a staged fight in the first five minutes of a game. I don't think the league wanted to make a big deal out of this one incident unless it starts to become a trend.
do you see ben bishop as the starter next year for ottawa? he's been pretty good in relief of anderson.
Craig Custance (2:25 PM)
Al - That turned out to be a pretty inspired trade by Bryan Murray and the Senators. Plus, that extension looks good. Bishop will make just $650,000 next year and if I had to guess he'll go into the year as Anderson's backup and provide valuable relief to a guy who has started more than 60 games just once in his career.
Being a Leaf fan reminds me of the John Cleese quote: "It's not the despair. I can handle the despair. It's the hope I can't stand!" What changes next season? Do the Leafs make a run at a goaltender? Does Kessel stay put?
Craig Custance (2:30 PM)
Haha - I feel for you Andrew, I really do. What a trainwreck. I'm not sure I understand the push to trade Phil Kessel, who has consistently been one of the bright spots in Toronto. To me, it starts in goal. Brian Burke can't miss in his efforts to add a legit starting goalie. The problem is, there's not a great answer in free agency. Vokoun? Maybe Harding? The best options are some of the young restricted free agent backups like Schneider and Rask but there's going to be competition for them.
Stayed up till gone 4am to watch my beloved avalanche play last night against my favorite city in Canada. Do you think the avs can make the play offs and how good do you think varlamov and landeskog will be??
Craig Custance (2:32 PM)
Carl - The Avs are turning into one of the best stories of the season. Like a lot of people, I was critical of the Varlamov trade this summer and was flat out wrong. Yes, Colorado paid a steep price but you think Washington wouldn't love to have a guy like Varly in goal right now? And Landeskog is a star. It's impressive how complete his game is at such a young age. Greg Sherman deserves credit for accumulating so much young talent in his tenure. My gut says San Jose and LA get those last two spots but the fact that we're even having this discussion is impressive.
Do you think the Bruins refound their swagger the last two games? Do they hold on to the division?
Craig Custance (2:34 PM)
I do James. I spoke with a few guys when they were in Florida and got the sense they were close to righting the ship. I'll be stunned if they don't win the division. Too much talent and experience on that team not to.
what are the chances you think bishop takes over the number 1 job next year? if he does, does that make the deal into an awful one for the blues considering what they got for him?
Craig Custance (2:36 PM)
Doug Armstrong was in a tough spot with Bishop. He wasn't playing in the NHL and was going to walk after the season. The fact that he got a second rounder for him was impressive, regardless of what happens next season.
7 Game series Penguins Vs the Blues, who ya got?
Craig Custance (2:36 PM)
Penguins in 6.
Timmy G. (CA)
I'm pretty sure last night's loss killed the Sharks chances of gaining momentum and making the playoffs. What are your thoughts? Are they done for?
Craig Custance (2:37 PM)
They're puzzling for sure. I can't explain last night's loss but I just can't write the Sharks off yet. I'm willing to admit it could be a complete blind spot on my part.
Hey Craig, do you know where I can find an article that says the Penguins are better when one of the best players in the league is in the lineup? I haven't been able to find one on any websites...
Craig Custance (2:38 PM)
Haha - I'll look for one.
can you say something to make my day better, something positive about the devils, this tebow to the jets news sucks, i need something.................kovy got 400 last night
Craig Custance (2:40 PM)
Thought this might be a Tebow free zone but should have known better. How about this: If playoffs started today, Devils would be playing the Panthers which is a nice matchup for New Jersey. Think they win that one.
JOEY NO-NO (LA LA LAND)
Why is last night's LA vs SJ recap how bad the Sharks played vs how well the KINGS played? They deserve credit there!
Craig Custance (2:42 PM)
You're right Joey. That's now five in a row for the Kings. That's the run they desperately needed and at the exact right time. They're showing much more heart than the Sharks, a credit to that leadership group in LA.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Craig, are the Wings better off dropping down to the 6 seed? They would avoid Chicago/Nashville in the first round, which would be huge considering how well those teams are playing.
Craig Custance (2:44 PM)
Yeah GBK, we were debating that on the podcast a couple days ago. It's a tricky thing, you never want to back into the playoffs and I can tell from Mike Babcock's frustration level that he certainly doesn't want to drop any games for the sake of seeding. But Detroit's chances of advancing would jump dramatically if they got the Stars in the first round rather than Nashville. For sure.
Why isn't there an NHL playoff bracket?
Craig Custance (2:46 PM)
Can't do a bracket because the top advancing seed plays the lowest seed in the next round. It'd certainly make office pools easier if that weren't the case.
Are the Blackhawks where the Pens were a few weeks ago? They are finding their stride, no one wants to play them and potentially have a top 5 player returning to them?
Craig Custance (2:47 PM)
That's a good comparison, although the Penguins have a little more stability in goal even though Crawford has upped his game lately. If Chicago keeps winning and Toews gets healthy, that's a terrible draw in the first round or a team like the Pacific winner or Nashville.
Do you think Howson is gone for sure at the end of the year? To be honest, everyone thought he'd made some strong additions at the beginning of the season, and when he saw Carter was a mistake he turned him around for a nice asset. Does he get a reprieve? And where do you see Nash playing next year? I wouldn't be shocked if he's still a Blue Jacket
Craig Custance (2:50 PM)
Joseph - I asked Scott Howson if he had any sense of the plans beyond this year and he said he's operating like he's going to be the GM next year. Adding Craig Patrick's voice into the mix was a strong move by Columbus and even if they retain Howson I wouldn't be surprised if they further beefed up the front office. I still see Nash getting traded this summer. If San Jose doesn't make the playoffs, the Sharks immediately become my front-runner to add Nash at the draft.
Craig, have you met Dejan Kovacevic?
Craig Custance (2:50 PM)
I have not.
Craig, who is your Stanley Cup matchup at this moment?
Craig Custance (2:51 PM)
Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver - but I'm watching closely how Radulov fits in with Nashville.
Travesty in the East that some combination of Flyers/Rangers/Pens are going to play in the first round, clearly the best three teams in the East
Craig Custance (2:53 PM)
Yeah, I agree. And same thing in the West. That 4-5 matchup is going to be brutal with Nashville, Detroit and Chicago in the mix for what will be a grueling first round.
Hey Craig, why don't you watch closely how Steen, D'Agostini, Russell, and McDonald will fit once they come back? Blues vs Pens
Craig Custance (2:54 PM)
I know. I don't give the Blues enough credit. They're definitely getting healthy at the right time, I just want to see them win a playoff series before I start picking them to play for a Stanley Cup.
Marc (Malden, MA )
Why do people still think Brian Burke is an elite GM? How many years does Toronto have to suck before he's gone?
Craig Custance (2:57 PM)
When you have Burke's track record you get the benefit of the doubt a little longer than other GMs. I certainly understand the frustration from fans in Toronto and the lack of progress shown this season is concerning. This is, no doubt, a big off-season for him.
ted (cape cod)
Do you feel as if the staged fighting saga between NJ-NYR is overblown?
Craig Custance (2:58 PM)
That fight probably was worth a one-day news cycle. The comments from DeBoer and Tortorella after gave it some extra fuel. But yeah, one incident doesn't make me want to re-write the rulebook.
Craig Custance (3:00 PM)
Alright everyone - great questions as always. Really appreciate you jumping in. Enjoy the games tonight!