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!
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
The eve before the playoffs! Can't wait to get this started. Have an early AM flight to Denver to cover a series between the Avs and Wild I can't wait to witness. Let's dive right in!
Matchups you are most looking forward to in rd 1 from each conference?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
There are so many good matchups in the postseason. Naturally, I'm biased towards the one I'll be covering but I can't wait to see how Patrick Roy's team responds as the favorite against a more experienced Minnesota Wild team. I have a feeling the winner of the Kings/Sharks series is going to represent the West in the STanley Cup final and the East is wide open.
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
After Boston, of course.
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
I think that New York / Philadelphia series is going to be a blast in the East but I like the Rangers in that one.
Hey Craig, this could arguably be the "worst" UFA class in recent years. Do you see a lot more big trades happening this summer, particularly at the draft? If so, who?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Yeah Brett, they seem to get thinner and thinner every year. Just look at what it took to get MacDonald signed in Philly. It's so hard to add a defenseman in free agency. SO yeah, I see trades as being a route teams take to improve their team. The big get for me is Ryan Kesler. It's hard to predict what the Canucks are going to do without knowing exactly what the front office will look like but they'd get a huge return for Kesler.
Andrew (St. Louis)
Who do you think are the best captains in the league? In my opinion, your captain has to stand for what your team believes in. Any one better than David Backes in that respect?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
I love Backes as a captain. Hard to argue him but there are some great captains around the league - guys like Shane Doan, Jonathan Toews, Crosby, Zetterberg, Chara just to name a few.
Mark (Ottawa) [via mobile]
What first round upsets are possible?
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Mark - Once the dance starts, anything is possible. In making my picks, the biggest upset I made was picking the Stars over the Ducks. It won't be easy because the Ducks are the more complete team but in making that pick, I see a top line in Dallas that could do some damage against the Ducks. There is goaltending uncertainty with the Ducks, which is something you don't want this time of year. I like Kari Lehtonen in that series. And trading Penner upset the balance a little up front for the Ducks. Where they have the big advantage though is on defense.
Most likely targets for Tallon in the offseason?
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
He's going to have a lot of money to spend so I wouldn't count him out for anything. If Dave Bolland doesn't sign with the Leafs, I can see Dale Tallon making a run at him as a veteran winner to help mold his young players. He loves his former Blackhawks. They can afford to make a run at Vanek since they need help on the wing. Hemsky would be a cheaper option there. They're going to be active though.
Where do you see the Caps going forward?I think Benning or Howson are good candidates for GM. Benning brings the winning mentality from Boston. Howson built Columbus into what it is today and has the courage to trade "core" players (if the owner will let him). As far as coach, they need experience and Laviolette and Trotz are the only two that make any sense. Any combination of those 4 and I'd be thrilled for the Caps organization. Rumors still persist that Ted might hire Gretzky though and I do not want that.Your thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
DC is a fascinating team right now because something has to change. IT's not working. If McPhee is fired, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ted Leonsis follow the current trend to bring in a high profile team president. You're right about Scott Howson, he was a big part of building that team, he deserves credit but you almost get the sense with him that he's better suited as an assistant GM. Benning is a good call. He's ready. I like Brad Treliving in Phoenix, Paul Fenton in Nashville, Julien BriseBois in Tampa among the assistant GMs also ready for a job. Regardless of who is running the team, hiring Trotz as the coach would be an awesome hire if the Oates era is over.
Can you name a handful of players from the various teams that you would put into the following sentence "If (blank) wins the Conn Smyth then (Team X) could win the Cup"? Example: If Miller wins the Smyth than Blues win it all...
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Interesting question Jason! But couldn't you say that for every single goalie playing right now. Like, if Anders Lindback wins the Conn Smythe, the Lightning win it all? I see what you're saying though. Here are a few non-goalie candidates I'd put in that sentence --- Marian Gaborik, Patrice Bergeron, Alex Pietrangelo, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf...
If Ryan Miller can't get it done in the playoffs this year, do you think the Blues will even try to sign him in the off-season or just move on to Jake Allen?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Jeff - They showed interest in signing him after the trade but considering performance down the stretch, if they struggle in the playoffs, I'm not sure that's a great idea. It's going to cost a lot of money and they have to send another pick to the Sabres if they sign him. At that point, it might be better to cut your losses and look at other short-term veteran options and have Allen ready to go. It's about performing in the high pressure situations, that's what they got him for.
Who do you see the Wild playing in goal if Bryz, Kuemper, and Harding all are available?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
The goaltending situation is one I'll be watching closely when I get to Denver. Harding may be the best of the group but I don't know how you play him in the playoffs at this point with all the time he's missed. I'm starting with Bryzgalov and going from there.
So Detroit took 3 of 4 from Boston in the regular season (including the late season win by Detroit). How much does that mean in the first round? Can Detroit pull off the series win?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Dan - I wouldn't put a lot of stock in it. Yes, Detroit is capable of beating Boston in the playoffs but not because they succeeded during the regular season. That said, I picked the Bruins in six, I think they have the edge in just about every significant category. Liked Detroit's chances a lot better if they got Pittsburgh.
As a Blackhawks fan, am I even allowed to root for the Red Wings to beat Boston? It's a conundrum...
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Hmmmm. I'd say no. Any Blackhawks fans want to help Mickey out?
Do you think the the Islanders will keep this years 1st round pick based on what happens with tonight's draft lottery? They have close to a 10% chance of getting the first overall pick.
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
It will certainly play a factor. You can't send the No. 1 pick if they get it. But that said, next year's draft is the better draft. Either McDavid or Eichel will be better than any of the players taken this year according to scouts I've chatted with. It's such a tough call for Garth Snow. If you send a high pick this year, what are you telling your fans about next year? That it's potentially going to get even worse?
Sean (Orange County)
Craig, You just don't like Anaheim. I get it, the Stars could upset the Ducks absolutely, but your notion of the goaltending being the issue I'm not buying. Yea, Hiller has been way off since the Olympic break, but Andersen is fine after the hit to the head and played great against the Kings. And Gibson has been flat out unbelievablly good for such a youngster. I don't think your giving enough credit to the Ducks. I think the winner of Kings-SJ series will play Anaheim in the second round and I'm hoping for a Kings/Ducks series. It just has to happen finally!
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Sean - I know it looks like that. I picked against them last year too. But I DO like Anaheim. I think John Gibson is going to be an absolute stud. I think they'll be better in the playoffs next year than this year. But Hiller has been shaky and I wouldn't want to put all the playoff hopes on the shoulders of a 20-year-old like Gibson. And I'm a believer in possession stats, and the numbers for the Ducks don't put them in the same category as the other heavyweights in the West.
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
I honestly wouldn't mind if I'm wrong. I'd love a Kings/Ducks second round series.
Marc (Malden, MA)
We all know Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world, who do you think is #2? My vote...Patrice Bergeron.
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Oh man, hard to argue. I love Bergeron. I'd lean towards Toews though.
Is there anything that can happen during the Habs playoff run that gets Vanek to stay instead of bolting (pun intended) for Minny?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Greg - Everyone thinks Vanek to Minny is a done deal and I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to play there. But what if the Wild make a run and Matt Moulson is a part of it? Or what if another team backs up the Brinks truck for him. I think there's a ceiling to what the Wild are willing to pay Vanek.
How big of an impact will a healthy Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres be for the Sharks against the Kings?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Absolutely huge. Torres maybe even bigger than Hertl because of what he brings to the table. Somebody needs to make those Kings defensemen think twice about going and getting the puck. Torres will most certainly do that. If I hadn't picked the Kings to win the Cup before the year and wanted to stick with it, I think I'd pick the Sharks to win this round. They're healthy, motivated and nobody seems to want to give them a chance against a team they're very evenly matched up against. I like the Sharks a lot.
Who's your pick to be the next coach in Nashville and why? Also, where do you see Trotz landing next season?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Peter Laviolette. Best available coach plus all the USA Hockey ties to David Poile. I want to see what openings there are before making a call on Trotz but he'll definitely be coaching in the NHL next season.
Stu (Newport Beach)
Why do analysts feel obligated to stick with their preseason picks when it comes to picking playoff series? Teams change over the course of the season, I always see people "sticking" with their picks.
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
It's a great question. I don't know. I just feel obligated for some reason to stick with the Kings, plus they've given me no reason to abandon ship other than a brutal first-round matchup. I guess we don't want to be seen as flip floppers.
Chad (New Jersey)
Honestly, what type of argument can be made that the Flyers would or could beat the Rangers?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
I like the Rangers to win but the Flyers depth up front would be the argument I'd make if I were arguing the other side. Every line is dangerous.
Andy (Costa Mesa)
Craig, the Ducks don't bite, you do not have to be afraid to pick them, or acknowledge their strengths.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Haha, love you Ducks fans. I think the entire hockey world would love to see Teemu Selanne go on a long run in his last year. What an awesome story that would be.
Blackhawks season ticket holder and D-troit sucks enthusiast, no Mickey you may not cheer for D-troit under any circumstances. Have some respect for tradition.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Sorry Mickey, Mark has spoken.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Absolutely not. As a Red Wings fan living in Chicago, there hasn't been a single day that I've rooted for the Blackhawks, even if it benefits the Wings.
Tim Irvin (So Cal)
Dallas over the Ducks! You have been off the Ducks bus all season! No need for you to hop on now! FYI did you see Selanne and Jiggy parade around the ice on Sunday! An instant So Cal sports classic!
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Tim - I thought that moment was spectacular. One of the best moments of the year. And you know who is driving the Ducks bus? Scott Burnside. So you guys have Scotty on your side.
Picking the Stars over the Ducks! What are the keys to success for the Stars to pull it off? Key Player?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
A couple things would have to happen for me to look smart in this case, which is hard to do. Kari Lehtonen is going to have to be lights out for the Stars. Having covered his one and only playoff appearance, I know that's not a sure thing. But I like Kari a lot as a goalie and give the Stars and edge there. The Seguin/Benn line is going to have to be dominant and Goligoski/Daley pair will have to somehow contain Getzlaf/Perry and not get warn down in the process.
I'm really surprised that so many experts are still picking the Blues to win in the first round and the vegas odds on the Blues winning it all are very surprising too. Can you explain this? Is everyone thinking because its the playoffs, its a fresh start for everyone, or do getting guys back from injury play a bigger role?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
I picked the Blues to beat the Blackhawks for a couple reasons. You don't want to put too much stock in the play that last week or so when guys are being rested. I know players are banged up but I expect most of them back against the Blackhawks. I like Miller better than I like Crawford and I think there's a sense of urgency in St. Louis to win now. The Blackhawks are a great team that's going to win another Cup in the next few years, but it's asking a lot to come off a short summer, play in the Olympics then go through the grueling West.
As a workaround, can Garth Snow trade his first-round pick for a lower first-round pick and still satisfy the trade requirements? He could potentially get a late first-round pick and a third-round pick for his first-round pick.
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
It has to be his first-round pick. It can't be ANY first-round pick. But maybe there's a deal to be struck with the Sabres, I don't know.
When you look at man games missed and salary missing from the line up this season the Wings were decimated. Why doesn't Babs get more love for the Jack Adams? Seems like the trophy goes to the coach whose goalie had a career year or the coach that's around when top end draft talent matures.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Brendan - I think Babcock has gotten a lot of Jack Adams love. In fact, I think he'll be a finalist. I'd still give a slight edge to Patrick Roy for what he did overall in Colorado, but Babcock would be No. 2 for me.
Mike (Los Angeles)
Hey Craig. What's the over/under on the number of games before Torres gets suspended? I'm thinking it happens in game 2 or 3.
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
I'm an optimist Mike. I'm going to say Game 6.
A Dreamer (Boston)
I know its wishful thinking, but Boston going through Wings, Habs, Rangers, and redeeming themselves vs. the Hawks would be an epic original six victory story coming out of the east. Based on existing rivalries and history, what do you think would be the most inspiring run for any team in the west?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
How about this path? Sharks beat California rival LA in round one. Then get and beat another California team in Anaheim in round two. Then they get Chicago and pay them back for sweeping them a couple years ago. Then you get the Joe Thornton Stanley Cup finals between the Sharks and the Bruins. That would be awesome.
Steve (San jose)
Craig, I cant implore Todd Mclellan enough to move joe pavelski "down" to third line center and hertl back to the top line to give the sharks balanced scoring. I know Pavelski has been on fire playing with Burns and Thornton, but in the playoffs you need scoring from everywhere and I think a healthy Hertl provides them that opportunity. You like him on line 1 or line 3??
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Pavelski has been great with Joe Thornton, it's hard to mess with that but you're right. Teams win in the playoffs with depth at forward. I've talked w/people in SJ organization who have been really impressed with the season James Sheppard has had. But if you can plug Pavelski in at No. 3 center, Hertl on line one, I'd do it. Maybe not immediately but at some point.
Gerry (San Francisco, CA)
What's your over/under on how many first round series go to seven games?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Gerry - I think TB/MTL go 7 in the East and in the West Ducks/Stars, Kings/Sharks, Blues/Blackhawks go 7. So I'll set it at 4.
Troy (Sixburgh) [via mobile]
What do the Penguins need to focus on to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Troy - They're getting their bodies back on defense which is huge. If your bottom pair is Maatta and Niskanen that's pretty darn good. So the focus has to be to play strong positional hockey defensively and remain structured, playing as a team. Because you know the Blue Jackets will do just that.
Eric (Kansas City)
Is there anyone more valuable to their teams playoff success than the potential return of Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Evgeni Malkin and Ben Bishop. That might be it. Tarasenko's return and effective play would be huge for St. Louis. They're a different team when he's in the lineup.
There's a report that the flu is taking over the bruins locker room, is this anything to be worried about?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Gregory Campbell skated on a broken leg. Patrice Bergeron played with a collapsed lung and separated shoulder. You think flu is going to slow these guys down?
Let's talk about your favorite team... What do the Coyotes do with Mike Ribeiro? Not sure I've seen a player quit on his team quite like he did... Doesn't seem to fit the "Coyotes culture".
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
No, he doesn't, does he? I figured that Dave Tippett knew what he was getting in Ribeiro and was willing to take that risk. And that front office doesn't make a lot of mistakes, this might be one of them.
Paul H. (Chelmsford, MA)
Why would a Blackhawks fan have trouble rooting for the Bruins (and against the Red Wings)? As a Bruins fan, I developed no hatred towards the Blackhawks last year, and the Bruins lost! Now the Canuks on the other hand, still hate them!
Jason (Los Angeles) [via mobile]
Craig, could the young guys like Toffoli and Pearson be key in the series against the Sharks? They give more speed and scoring than Nolan and Fraser. Thanks
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
I hear ya, but the Kings are successful when they're playing that big, heavy game wearing teams down. There's a balance there in LA that has to be struck.
Weighing in on the rivalry discussion. Huge Wings and Hawks fan. Have been and always will be.
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
I didn't think that was possible.
Stan (Edison, NJ)
Its unfortunate that the Sharks have the best playoff team they have ever had in terms of skaters, but are going to be held back by the worst goalie in the playoffs. And I bet Joe and Marleau get blamed.
Craig Custance (2:03 PM)
Stan - I don't think they have the worst goalie but you're right about your second point. If they lose to the Kings, anybody who blames Thornton and Marleau needs to put a cork in it.
Will Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Valeri Nichushkin be consider one of the top 3 lines in the NHL? If so, how soon do you think?
Craig Custance (2:05 PM)
They're knocking on the door and I just realized I've blown past my 2 pm deadline. So many great questions, can feel the excitement. Enjoy the games everyone!