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 3 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (3:14 PM)
Hey guys - after a little technical glitch we're ready to go. The best time of the year, let's talk playoffs!
What's preventing the Rangers from taking home the title?
Craig Custance (3:16 PM)
There's a lot to like about the Rangers, although they're not perfect. I'm a little concerned about their scoring depth beyond their big names like Gaborik and Richards. I don't know if it'll come into play in the first round, but you wonder if they have the horses to put up goals if a team scores a few early. I'd like to see some more depth on defense which is an absolute necessity this time of year. But overall, that's as good a team as any in East and can see them making a run.
Craig, is goaltending the key to the Hawks' title hopes?
Craig Custance (3:18 PM)
Steve - I'm actually less concerned about the Blackhawks goaltending than it seems like fans in Chicago are. I like Crawford's confidence and he was outstanding in the playoffs last year. To me, the key is Toews. When I saw him in Detroit over the weekend, he seemed frustrated and a bit down about his recovery. I'm in Nashville on this series but there are reports that he's a gametime decision for Game 1 against the Coyotes. The Blackhawks need him out there.
David (San Diego)
Biggest playoff team surprise?
Craig Custance (3:20 PM)
David - My pick is the Kings. I mentally decided that I was picking them to win in the first round regardless of their opponent and almost reconsidered when they drew the Canucks, but I'm sticking by them as my biggest upset pick. They have all the ingredients - defense, goaltending and depth down the middle. If Jeff Carter can contribute, that's a lot for Vancouver to handle.
When it's all said and done, the Red Wings are back in the playoffs....are they a legit threat?
Craig Custance (3:21 PM)
They are a legit threat. That's a huge first-round in the West, with a good team headed home one way or the other but the Red Wings are getting healthy and when you talk to players on the team, they're confident they can quickly regain the style of play they had when things were clicking at midseason. Darren Helm is a player to watch. If he can get back in the lineup for Game 1 or 2, that's big for Detroit's bottom six. Should be a great series, I can definitely see the winner making a long run.
How crazy is the West? There was a team that scored 90 points but didn't even make the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:23 PM)
Yeah, the West is crazy but I truly believe the eight best teams made it, and I mean that with all due respect to Colorado and Dallas. You can make a case for every single WC team to make a run to at least the conference finals. I'm not sure that's the case in the East. Like every year, you wonder how much it's going to take out of a team to get out of the west.
hottest goalie going into the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:24 PM)
My vote goes for Mike Smith. He's been Hasek-like down the stretch for the Coyotes, showing off his mix of size and athleticism. His confidence has to be high but the Coyotes have to do a better job in front of them. They've been very un-Coyote-like down the stretch in giving up scoring chances. Dave Tippett will get it fixed.
Do you like how they seed for the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:26 PM)
Yeah, I'm not crazy about it. It definitely seems a bit unfair that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are playing each other while Florida has home ice. Somebody in a chat suggested that the top seeds should get to pick their opponent in a true Selection Sunday. I love that idea, can you imagine how compelling that would be to watch?
It seems like home ice advantage is least important in the NHL playoffs out of the major sports. Is that true?
Craig Custance (3:28 PM)
Derrick - I don't have a great sense of how important it is in other sports, but I wouldn't shortchange it in hockey, simply because of last change. Just look at the finals last year between Boston and Vancouver. The games were totally different depending on where they were played. Although, in the end, Boston won on the road. You're from Detroit, and that's a team that hasn't been great on the road. Starting with two in Nashville isn't an easy assignment.
Chicago has more points than Phoenix, yet the Yotes have home ice....that ain't right!
Craig Custance (3:28 PM)
I hear ya. I think the realignment that's coming in 2013-14 will help solve a lot of these issues.
Who wins the Selke?
Craig Custance (3:29 PM)
Turning my ballot in today and I went with Bergeron. There's lots of great contenders (Backes, Callahan, etc) but I think it's Bergeron's to lose.
Jordie (St. Louis)
How great is it to see the Blues organization turning it around? They're back in the playoffs and hockey fever is taking hold here in St. Louis. How good can they be?
Craig Custance (3:31 PM)
Some interesting news coming out of St. Louis today from colleague Pierre LeBrun who reported that Brian Elliott is day-to-day with an upper body injury. I guess that makes the goalie decision easy for Hitch. I love that the Blues are good again. That's a great market and that team has the ability and the coach to go on a run. I don't like that draw for them though. I think San Jose's experience and talent (when they decide to play, which they did at the end of the season) may be too much for the Blues.
Craig Custance (3:31 PM)
Lundqvist will win. But I'm starting to wonder if it should be Quick. I put Quick No. 2 on my Hart ballot.
Can Halak hold up over the long haul?
Craig Custance (3:32 PM)
Yeah, he's not a guy who you want to be your work horse during the regular season but he's more than capable of carrying the load in the playoffs. We've seen it in the past with his performance for the Canadiens.
Which team most needs strong performances by their starting goalie to make a deep playoff run?
Craig Custance (3:34 PM)
There aren't many teams in the playoffs who would be able to survive bad goaltending. The parity is just too close. But it's the teams that don't have that scoring depth - the Kings, Rangers, Coyotes, - who really need their goalies to be exceptional. And Lundqvist, Smith and Quick have been up to the task all season long.
With the first pick in the 2012 NHL draft the Columbus Blue Jackets select ____________?
Craig Custance (3:35 PM)
Nail Yakupov. But it might just be in their best interests to lose this lottery and ease some of the pressure that comes with that top pick. There's no Sidney Crosby in this draft and the player who goes 2 or 3 has just as good a chance of being a star as who goes No. 1.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Do you think that the New York Rangers will be the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Champions?
Craig Custance (3:36 PM)
Nope. I don't. I'd bet on the Penguins before the Rangers.
I refuse to believe in the Sharks, after being burned too many times....wll this be the year?
Craig Custance (3:37 PM)
They've gone to two consecutive conference finals, so it's not like they've been complete flops. I actually think they might be ready to make a run here if they have finally decided to assert themselves. It was almost like they've been waiting all season for this time of year and now they're into it. It's so hard to call the West but I'm starting to think the Sharks make a run.
Mike (Mission Viejo, CA)
Speaking of the Kings lack of scoring depth...Why do you think it is that they do not score more? They have talent all over the roster but they normally do not score more than one or two goals, even in games they dominate.
Craig Custance (3:39 PM)
Believe me Mike, they're wondering the same thing in LA. I've spoken with Dean Lombardi about it and he didn't project his team to be an offensive powerhouse but he figured they'd be able to score in the middle of the pack. They were a little better at the end of the year but you're right there's no reason they should be at the bottom of the league in scoring. They do everything right but score goals. You can't help but wonder how much of it is mental.
the west is loaded, no? What's the difference between the 1 and 8 seed out there?
Craig Custance (3:39 PM)
No difference. It's hard to characterize any of those teams as favorites or underdogs. It's crazy.
What do the Habs need to do to turn thigns around?
Craig Custance (3:42 PM)
Greg - I don't think they're that far off. There's good young talent in Price and Subban. I love Pacioretty. This is a big draft for them, they need to pump in some more young talent but if they can add a little more size and scoring, they could be right back in the mix. Big coaching hire there too.
If the Hawks get great goaltending and have an early round exit, do you think it's time to shake up "the core?"
Craig Custance (3:44 PM)
I don't. Who would you move? Kane? Toews? Hossa? Sharp? Keith? I wouldn't touch any of those guys. They're still just two years removed from winning a Stanley Cup and all these guys are relatively young. They've put themselves in the mix again and there's a lot of young players on that supporting cast that will get better. I know expectations are high, but wouldn't blow things up even after another first-round exit.
Who is the player that means the most to a team in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:46 PM)
The temptation is to go with a goalie. If Quick is good, the Kings have a shot to upset the Canucks. If he's not they're in trouble. Mike Smith is the same way. The Flyers need a big series from a guy like Claude Giroux, who has had some incredible playoff moments already in his young career, if they want to keep up with the Penguins centers. Defensively, that top pair in Nashville (Suter and Weber) have their work cut out in trying to contain Datsyuk who was starting to play pretty well at the end of the season.
who you got in the DET/NAS matchup?
Craig Custance (3:47 PM)
I picked Nashville in 7. This is going to be a long series and if it gets to the seventh game, it'll be in Nashville. Detroit has been average on the road this season. But it truly is a coin toss. I know the Detroit players weren't upset to get the Predators in the first round. They're thrilled that their first-round travel is reasonable rather than going to California or Arizona.
Patrick (New York)
Dear Marian Gaborik: Please actually show up for the playoffs this season
Craig Custance (3:48 PM)
Yeah, they can't afford a no-show from Gaborik. I like that matchup for him though, he may be in for a big first round.
Chances that Sid the Kid has an impact on the playoffs?
Craig Custance (3:49 PM)
Pretty darn good. I think the Penguins win the Stanley Cup and he'll be a big part of that. The thing with Crosby is that you're holding your breath every time he gets hit but if he can stay healthy, he'll be great. Especially with the way Malkin is playing. They're a beast to try and match up with.
How about hawks-yotes? i got chicago in 5.
Craig Custance (3:51 PM)
I struggled with that one Dennis. I can easily see the Coyotes winning behind a huge series from Mike Smith. But Chicago was playing well down the stretch even without Toews. If Toews can play I think that the Blackhawks will be too much for Coyotes. But I don't think it's over in five. More like six or seven.
Which offense is the least playoff ready?
Craig Custance (3:52 PM)
I could see Washington struggle to score against the Bruins. Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara are a tough duo to stop. You can just send out Chara every time Ovechkin's line is on the ice which makes life miserable for Alex. Then if you get a scoring chance, you still have to beat Thomas.
Mike (Mission Viejo, CA)
Your picks to play for the cup are.....
Craig Custance (3:54 PM)
My preseason picks were Pittsburgh and San Jose and I think I'm going to stick with that matchup rather than change directions at this point. Pittsburgh, to me, is the best team in the East and the West is an absolute crapshoot. San Jose has just as good a chance as anyone and they've proven they're capable. I have changed my winner though.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Craig, the Mule and Zetterberg have been starting to heat up over the last month. Which line do you think sees the Weber/Suter pairing? The Datsyuk line or the Zetterberg line?
Craig Custance (3:57 PM)
Yeah, those two have been playing well. Franzen is such an X-factor in the playoffs. You've seen him absolutely dominate a series. He can be such a force. All that said, I'd still make stopping Datsyuk my priority if I'm Barry Trotz. Hal Gill didn't practice today, so that's a concern for the Predators. If he plays and he's healthy, he's capable of containing the Zetterberg line. If he doesn't play, and Trotz said it's a gametime decision, that changes things pretty dramatically for Nashville.
Fred (St. Louis)
Any chance Chicago can advance without Toews?
Craig Custance (3:58 PM)
There's still a chance. They've actually played well without him but he's still the heart and soul of that team. They're still deeper that the Coyotes up front without Toews so I wouldn't count them out. But it certainly makes life much more difficult without him.
Ok, then who's your winner?
Craig Custance (4:01 PM)
Alright, we'll end it with the Cup pick. I think Gary Bettman will be handing the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby when these playoffs are all said and done. The Penguins have given up a lot of goals lately but I think they'll tighten that up in the playoffs. They have the best centers in the NHL in Crosby, Malkin and Staal and a playoff tested team. Marc-Andre Fleury can play with any other goalie in the league and Dan Bylsma is one of the three best coaches. That's a lot to beat.
Craig Custance (4:01 PM)
Enjoy the playoffs everyone, thanks for stopping in!