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 1 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (1:13 PM)
Hi gang! We're having some log-in issues that are preventing Craig from getting online. We're working on it. Keep your questions coming!
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Hey everyone! Sorry about the delay, had some trouble logging in. But here we are. Let's dive into these questions!
Craig, Can they save the Winter Classic with a deal this week? If they can't do it in MI, is there any chance of doing it somewhere else? Last year, even without the winter classic, they had the ice at Fenway and had some college games there. If the ice will already be scheduled for Fenway, would they consider putting it there just to keep it going this year?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Mark - Even with a deal, there's no doing the game in Michigan this year. It's just too big an event with the sites (Ann Arbor and Detroit) to rush through it. I suggested in a blog last week that they should consider an alternate destination to keep the Winter Classic streak alive, one that would take less preparation but I haven't heard any indication that it's a possibility. We may just have to live without a Winter Classic for one year.
Are the owners united on the contracting and HRR issues, or are their differing consituencies in the ownership ranks, with differing ideas and beliefs in the format of the CBA. I feel like Detriot & Toronto have stepped up the pressure on Bettman/Daly to meet with the PA after the cancellation of the Winter Classic and that those 2 teams make significant profits from hockey operations.
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Mark - It's tough to speculate where individual teams are in regards to their position in these negotiations. The league has done a good job keeping its ownership publicly united. But I think it's safe to assume that with 29 different ownership groups with a wide variety of needs and positions, there are owners speaking up and voicing their displeasure with the lockout. There are teams that want to play just as badly as the players. But one of Gary Bettman's strengths is his communication to his constituency and I wouldn't anticipate any private gripes surfacing anytime soon.
What do you think of a 12/1/2012 start date? And with that start date how many games do you think they will squeeze into the season?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
My over/under remains January 1. I think Dec. 1 is pretty optimistic. I think you can still get in a solid 65 game schedule and I really believe the league and the players will try to cram in as many games as possible once a deal is struck. There's just too much revenue at stake not to. But you also don't want to do anything to put health and safety at risk. That will be the balancing act.
Why do the owners care so much about the player contract changes? I understand wanting to get rid of front loaded deals, but after that, why do they care? They are going to play the players 50% of the revenue. Why do they care so much about the value of second contracts, free agent age, etc?
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Mike - That's a very valid question. Once the slice of the pie is determined, then it becomes about the allocation of revenue. The league wants to get rid of the front-loaded deals because that's one way to sneak more money into the system. They want to close that loophole. The second contract issue is less clear cut. I think there are a lot of GMs who want to see less leverage for players in that second deal and ultimately, if you're the PA, it's not an issue worth losing time over because then it would just mean veteran gets the money rather than young players.
Barry (Isles COuntry)
Craig,With games cancelled until the end of November is it possible that the owners never wanted to start the season before December 1 and that next Friday would be when a deal finally gets done
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Oh, I know there are plenty of owners that wanted to start this season well before December 1. I think this has gone on much longer than many people are comfortable with. Yes, there are some owners willing to lose this time if it ultimately means a better long term deal financially for them, but I think it'd be hard to find any who wanted to wait until Dec. 1 to start the season.
Craig, can anyone stop Boston College this year?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Jay - This lockout has allowed me to delve deeper into the lower levels. I've been to junior games in Windsor, spent several days at the Four Nations tournament and spent the weekend in Sarnia for the Super Series. But I have yet to take in any college hockey and that's inexcusable. It's time. So I can't give much insight on this one, anyone have suggestions for Jay?
Mike (Lee's Summit, MO)
Over the past few seasons, the Nashville Predators have experienced a rise in revenue, attendance, and overall interest in Middle Tennessee. Talks of relocation have subsided, and for once it seems as though the city can potentially be a viable home to a NHL franchise. As a result of the lockout, do you believe there will be a significant impact on the momentum the Nashville Predators have generated both on and off the ice?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Mike - I'm not as concerned about Nashville as I am some other markets. There are great fans in Nashville and that franchise has done a great job investing itself in that community. As Barry Trotz likes to say, the Predators have become part of the fabric in Nashville. If the lockout results in a more robust revenue sharing system that Nashville can dip into, this may work out okay for them. I'd be more worried about how they're going to replace Ryan Suter than any lost momentum.
Jon (Flint, MI)
Where does this all put re-allignment at. I realize that the East Coast teams don't like it and why, but who can argue with fairness in travel burdens? Will we see any teams moving in the near future (say 4 years)?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Jon - I wrote that they should immediately implement realignment as soon as the lockout is over, in part to alleviate travel concerns during a condensed schedule. I think we'll see realignment no later than next season (2013-14), assuming there is a next season and new CBA is done at some point here. You can't keep Winnipeg in the SE and there's too large an appetite among some important franchises to get realignment done. This issue will get cleared up at some point in these negotiations.
Matthew (Columbus, OH)
Craig, which teams benefit the most/least from a lockout. As a Blue Jackets fan I am not completely convinced this work stoppage is hurting Columbus...
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Matthew - Yeah, Columbus is probably okay with this lockout. The Blue Jackets would benefit greatly from a more owner-friendly system and more revenue sharing. It's not like they were ready to be a playoff team this year anyway. The lockout is tough for JD though because how does he evaluate his coaching staff and front office without games? And Columbus has three first-round picks. If there's a season, the Blue Jackets are probably going to finish in the lottery. If there isn't and the draft order is randomly drawn, CBJ could be out of luck. And we know Columbus doesn't have much luck when it comes to draft lotteries.
When Tom Wilson is NHL ready what present day player do you think he'll most compare to?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
It usually takes awhile for those big power forwards to develop into NHL players but he's the one player I left Sarnia most impressed with last night. He was a force out there, hitting everything that moves. You guys are going to love him. THe player comparable might be a guy like Milan Lucic, although I'm not sure Wilson is a 30-goal NHL guy. He is a wrecking ball though. Fun to watch.
Justin (Long Island)
Hey Craig, Hockey or No Hockey?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Hockey. Maybe not as much as we want. But hockey.
Justin (Not Nashville)
Forget how the Preds can Replace Ryan Sutter, How do they plan to pay Shea Webber if a season is indeed lost. 26 mill will 0 dollars coming in isnt great for a small market
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Yeah, that's a big blow financially to them. The Flyers didn't do Nashville any favors there. Weber and Suter were smart to get the signing bonuses they did.
Mike (Mission Viejo, CA)
When the season does finally start, who do you have in the finals? Back to back cups for the Kings?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Penguins vs. Canucks. I think it's too tough to repeat in the NHL, although the lockout gives LA plenty of time to recover from the Cup hangover. The Stanley Cup finals suddenly feel like a lifetime ago.
How concerned should the Flyers be about Ilya Bryzgalov? I was one of his supporters last years as I've seen other players chafe under the pressure of Broad Street, but he continues to struggle this year in the KHL. Bryz loved to blame the Philly media last year, but it seems his relations with the Russian press isn't much better. If there is a buy-out clause in the CBA, do the Flyers give it to Bryz? I know they made their bed by trading away Bobrovsky and thus having no alternative- but Bryz looks like he's having a breakdown!
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Norm - Yeah, I'd be concerned about Bryz if I were the Flyers. First, let me say that I'm a Bryzgalov fan. He's one of my favorite players to deal with from a media perspective. But the ideal situation for Philly would be some sort of NBA-like amnesty where they have a few years to use a one-time buyout. I'm not sure they could buy him out before this season because there aren't a ton of great alternatives at this point and that's a team that wants to contend right now. Maybe you give him a year to recover and evaluate after that. But don't forget, the cap is probably going to come down pretty dramatically next year which makes that contract even more daunting.
Marc (Malden, MA)
If the Bruins offered Milan Lucic for Johan Franzen, would Detroit accept?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
I'd say yes. Why would Boston do that?
Hey Craig, I only make 5.5 million a year. Can you please help me figure out a way to make ends meet on such a meager paycheck? The way it looks, my grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren may actually have to get jobs, and that's just not right.
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
I agree. Nobody ever thinks of the grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren. Keep truckin' Chris!
How do you think the Stars will fair this year? I feel like losing Ott loses a lot of energy for us
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Nick - Tough to get a bead on the Stars. This time off can't be good for a guy like Ray Whitney, who will need time to get his legs back. Not to oversimplify but when Kari Lehtonen is on, that team is a playoff team. The short season will be such a crapshoot that a hot goalie is going to get at least one team into the playoffs that might otherwise be a bubble team. The Stars are a pretty good candidate if Kari is healthy and playing well.
How does Bettman keep his position when there have been so many stoppages on his watch? Are the owners so blind that they think he is doing a good job?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Mark - It's not like Gary Bettman is acting alone here. He's carrying out a mandate to get a better deal for the owners.
Jordan (Springfield, MO)
I heard a former NHL player make a comment that St. Louis doesn't have hockey fans, they have Blues fans. Without the Blues, there's not much interest in the sport. What do you think the league will do to generate more interest in the sport after the lockout? and how does the lockout impact the smaller markets?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
That's an interesting point of view, although there's such a strong youth hockey program in the St. Louis area that I think you're selling fans in St. Louis short by saying they're not hockey fans. But you raise a good point - the league is going to have to do something to get fans excited about the game again once it returns. Last time you had Crosby/Ovechkin. You had new rules and a salary cap. This time, you're just opening the doors. That's why I like the idea of realignment and a new playoff system right off the hop. I think that would generate a lot of interest in a lot of markets.
Jeremy Jacobs (Boston)
I don't know what gives!!! I don't go to a few meetings last week and I hear everything is going great, then I come to a meeting again and everything goes KABLOEY. It can't be me, right?! It's got to be everybody else. Please answer promptly, I'm trying to light a Cuban with a C-note and it keeps going out.
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Haha - thanks for stopping by Mr. Jacobs. Now let's get a deal done.
Mikail Girigorenko is putting up about 2 points per game in the Q and is coming off a 4 goal performance just last night. Are 11 teams kicking them selves for passing a stud.
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Oh it's early yet, but that's looking like a heck of a pick for the Sabres, eh? Might have been some over analysis going on by a few teams that passed.
Why does the league need to limit contracts to 5 years? Wouldn't having the 5% variance restriction & counting against the cap after a player retires enough to stop those back-diving contracts? PS, thank heaven for Jeremy Jacobs, just one more reason to hate the Bruins.
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Bill - The league just wants to ban those front-loaded deals. I think ultimately they'll move on the contract limits if there's a variance restriction. I agree, you don't need both.
Lonny (Blaine, Mn)
Boston College goes to Minnesota Dec 30th. If they can beat the Gophers on there ice I think they are the team to beat.
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
There we go. Thanks Lonny.
George (Atlantic City, NJ)
What are your thoughts on the Rangers trading for Rick Nash in the offseason? Do you think he will compliment their blue collar style, now that he doesn't have play as many roles as he did in Columbus? That offense is looking pretty scary..
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Loved that trade for the Rangers. New York has that good mix of blue collar homegrown talent and high end star power with guys like Nash, Gaborik and Richards. Not to mention the best goalie in the East. I know I've said this in here before, but I think the Rangers are one of the teams hurt the most by a lockout. They're right in the middle of that Stanley Cup window and theirs is smaller than a few other teams because the age of their forward group.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Since we got a late jump on this chat, I'll keep answering questions after 2 p.m. if you guys have them. Love talking hockey!
Marc (Malden, MA)
Loved your idea of having the Center Ice package free for this shortened season.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Thanks Marc! I also really want the Power Play channel (like the NFL's Red Zone channel) to happen.
I read your story about things the league can do to win back fans. I was especially intrigued by the idea of a Power Play Channel, like NFL RedZone. Absolute Genius. The League needs to jump all over that idea. Just one more revenue stream to add to the pie right?
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
There we go. Thanks Justin. I also volunteer to be the guy that calls all the action for the channel, flipping from game to game. How much fun would that be?
What's your take - Sidney Crosby is not playing overseas because he wants to partake in CBA talks, or because it's financially beneficial to simply sit out (i.e. insuring himself at a high $ value would cost more than he might make in salary)?
Craig Custance (2:03 PM)
Crosby to his credit has been vocal and a very visible part of the negotiations. But I think insurance costs play a huge part in him sticking around. It just doesn't make financial sense for him to risk injury to play in Europe, not with his history and a huge contract to protect. But at the same time, he needs to start playing at some point. He's missed so much time the last couple years.
When do you see the two sides getting back to the negotiation table?
Craig Custance (2:04 PM)
Katie Strang reported around noon today that there were no plans to talk but I'd be surprised if this silence extended all week. They need to get back at it.
Are there any statistics on scoring longevity in hockey over the years? It seems like the game has become so physical that by the time a goal-scorer establishes himself and can make the big money that he deserves his career is already in decline due to nagging injuries. I don't blame the union for bucking against longer entry levels contracts and free agency restrictions given the climate
Craig Custance (2:06 PM)
Yeah, I think there's definitely a disconnect between the assumed prime age of a player and what it really is. It used to be that a high-scoring forward hit his prime around 27 or 28 and now, for whatever reason, I'd argue that the prime age for a forward is 24 or 25. I don't know if that's because of injuries, the speed of the game. But yeah, if I'm a player, I'm trying to get my money as soon as possible. You put your career at risk every time you take the ice.
Hey Craig - you mentioned that the lockout hurts the Rangers. But doesn't it also rest their older players that play a grinding style? It's easier to play that way for 60 games than 82, evident when they looked exhausted in the ECF. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (2:08 PM)
Frey - Oooh, that's a good point. They can grind it out Tortorella-style over a shorter period of time which helps them. Let me rephrase this - I think the Rangers are hurt the most by an entire lost season, more than other teams. They may actually benefit from a shortened season. Great point Frey.
George (Atlantic City, NJ)
Do you think Brendan Shanahan should finally be a lock for the 2013 Hall inductions? The dude changed his style of play (power forward early in his career) and became a tough, gritty checking forward in order to adapt to the "new" NHL after the '04 lockout; and he still put up career numbers.. The guy is a stud
Craig Custance (2:09 PM)
George - I can't believe Shanahan didn't get in last year. We were asked to pick our Class of 2013 and my four votes went to Chelios, Shanahan, Niedermayer and Lindros. I know the Lindros one isn't a popular opinion, but I think he deserves to be in. Here's the link: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8610886/2012-hockey-hall-fame-predictions-class-2013
Just want to say i can't stand reading about the lockout issues onESPN but the one thing i look forward to are these chats! I have 1 lockout related and 1 non lockout.....with whatever new CBA they put in place the cap will be inevitably lowered, with that do you think we'll see an end to the "dynasty teams" and more dismantling of teams like the 2010 hawks? .....non lockout related: i remember watching the joe sakic vs. doug gilmour fight, whats your most memorable "out of character" act by a player?
Craig Custance (2:13 PM)
Will - As far as the dynasty question goes, it will all come down to what transition rules are put into place. If the only transition rule is that teams can exceed the cap this year, we may see some pretty significant player movement next summer. Yeah, that Sakic fight was a great one, eh? I spoke to a few of his former teammates about it and they said he wasn't afraid to bring that fight up as proof he could drop the gloves. Sakic has a great and underappreciated sense of humor. I remember watching Pavel Datsyuk fight early on last year and being convinced he just did it so he wouldn't win another Lady Byng.
John (New jersey)
I make $56,000 a year.Both sides suck ! They ALL make to much money. I could care less about owners and players.Hell with hockey.
Craig Custance (2:14 PM)
I think both sides have lost touch a little with people like yourself. It's like they're operating in some CBA negotiation bubble where they forget about fans and workers who depend on the game. It's too bad. I feel your frustration.
Craig Custance (2:16 PM)
Alright everyone, I've put off the hours of interview transcribing I have to do this afternoon long enough. Thanks so much for joining in here. Always a blast.