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 1 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Hey everyone! The countdown to training camp is officially on. Let's talk a little hockey.
what do you think of the changes the leafs have made to the bottom 6? do you think this better balance, will stop guys like jvr, kessel, phaneuf from tiring?? possibly playoff team?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Dan - I really like what Toronto did with the bottom six. In today's NHL you have to have skill throughout the lineup and that's not necessarily something the Leafs have embraced in the past. It'll be interesting if there are any systematic changes that come with the roster adjustments, that will be the key to taking the next step in Toronto.
Kevin (Long Island )
What do you think of the Metro division? How do you see the teams stacking up? Favorite to win it? Sleeper to win it? Favorite to be in last?!Also, do you see the Islanders taking the next step this year? Do they need another defenseman or can they win now?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
Kevin - Man, you really worked a lot of questions in there. I like it. Let's break it down. 1. I think there's incredible balance in the Metro, will be a logjam from start to finish. 2. Penguins are my favorite to win it. 3. Washington is my sleeper to win it. 4. Carolina is my favorite to finish last. 5. I'm bullish on the Islanders. I think they get back in the playoffs. Would love to see them add another defensemen, but not if it blocks the path of some of their younger guys who should be ready to make the jump. I like the Islanders.
Quinn (Ann Arbor, MI)
Craig, obviously Richards was brought in with the idea that he'll center the 2nd line, but I like what the Kaner/Shaw/Saad line did in the playoffs. Any chance Richards falls to the 3rd line and those guys stay together this upcoming season?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Quinn - As you know, Q isn't afraid to mix things up so I think we'll see a lot of experimenting with the lines during the regular season before the Blackhawks settle on playoff lines. That said, it will also come down to matchups. The Kings gave Richards trouble in the SCF, he spent a lot of time in the defensive zone. That can't happen with Chicago. But for the money they spent, I like the Richards signing.
Are you surprised it took so long for Del Zotto to be signed? At 1 year/1.3mil, that seems pretty low risk for any team with enough space to have taken him.
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Yeah, I talked to a couple people about MDZ when he was available and they didn't seem real excited about him but at the price Philly paid, you're right, it's a low risk addition. I would just temper your expectations. Teams don't just let 24 year old defensemen hang around the market if there aren't any red flags.
Tony Chicago [via mobile]
Hey Craig, which Hawk do you think gets traded to get under the cap??
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
I'm leaning towards Leddy.
Bruce (Pittsburgh) [via mobile]
No chance Bobby Ryan signs in ottawa Right? Would love him on Sid or Genos wing.
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Yeah, I have a feeling we're going to hear a lot about Bobby Ryan this year, much in the way we did Thomas Vanek last year. Ottawa ownership isn't flush with money and he's going to get paid. He's not the fleetest of foot so you want to be careful with term for him if you're a team that likes him, guys don't tend to get any faster as they age. But he's a big, 30-goal winger. There's a lot to like there.
Realistic expectations for the Lightning this year? Especially in regards to Bishop, Drouin, Stamkos, and the revamped blue line. Thanks.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
I like Tampa. They've been patient with their young players and the payoff is coming now. There will be competition for spots among some really, good talented players. Drouin is a guy I expect to challenge for the Calder. I think it's asking a lot for Bishop to repeat last year's success, so I'd expect a little downgrade there. But there's so much good young talent there in Tampa that they can make up for it. They're definitely headed in the right direction.
If there were a redraft of the 2008 draft, what would be the order of the top 3? Doughty, Stamkos and Karlsson?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Love these questions. You can't go wrong with Stamkos or Doughty. It's a coin toss. And don't forget Pietrangelo is in that draft. He's in the top three conversation. I'd probably take Doughty No. 1 in a hair over Stamkos just because I'd like to build around my D. And you can't deny the wild success he's already been a part of internationally and with the Kings. Then Stamkos. Then there's a debate to be had between Karlsson and Pietrangelo.
CC.... What's your outlook on the ducks this season? How does their goaltending situation shake out? Do they have enough to take home the cup? Thanks!
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Bob Murray is taking a pretty calculated risk in going young with his goalies but it allowed him to bolster his team elsewhere. Plus, if it goes sideways, he's left himself enough flexibility to add a goalie later if need be. But Gibson is a stud, I would have made the same decision. If Kesler is healthy come playoff time, I like the Ducks a lot. The West is ridiculous so it will come down to matchups but they're in that group of teams capable of winning it all.
Pip (hockeytown usa)
Craig, what is the outlook for the young guns of Detroit? Can they hang in there in the East?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Pip - Detroit is in that group of second tier teams in the East that will be fighting for a playoff spot all year. It's going to be a fun race. I like the young talent in Detroit but as always, it's going to come down to a healthy Datsyuk and Zetterberg along with better play from Jimmy Howard. I'd like to see Ken Holland add another defenseman at some point before the season gets too far.
Skip Noodlemaker (Michigan)
Is Connor McDavid a slam dunk to go No. 1 in the 2015 draft? Or can Jack Eichel go No. 1? Might we have another situation like we did in 2010 with Hall and Seguin?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
I'd put Connor McDavid as the favorite but I don't think it's a lock he goes No. 1. Eichel is in the conversation and if he continues to progress it'll be close. They're both high high end talents that will help change the franchises that land them. And don't sleep on American defenseman Noah Hanifin either.
Morris (Pgh, PA)
Craig, Mike Smith has had one really good year in an 8-year career. Seems to me the seven years of mediocrity are more indicative of how good he is than the one outlier year. So why do analysts assume he can return to 2011-12 form? Arizona is going to regret that contract, if they don't already.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
HOld on guys - gotta take a call.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Okay, I'm back.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
I think it's asking a lot of Mike Smith to be a .930 goalie and I agree, that year definitely jumps out at you. But his style of play, the way he plays the puck so well, fits what Phoenix does. It's such a weapon to have when your goalie can be such a part of the puck retrieval process. That, to me, is what makes Mike Smith special. Signing any goalie to term is risky, especially one who doesn't have a long track record.
More goals next year: Patrik Hornqvist or James Neal?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Great question. I really want to say Hornqvist because of who he'll be playing with but Neal's historical production gives him the edge. Put me down for Neal.
Who is the best candidate to get shipped out of Chicago to get down to the cap? Do you think the King's will really miss Willie Mitchell?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Leddy. And yes. But they couldn't sign Mitchell to anything close to what he got from Florida. He was instrumental in helping the young defensemen in LA grown and mature. Now it's time for Doughty, Voynov and Muzzin to grow as leaders. They'll be fine.
Hey Craig, can we lay out the facts on Joe Thornton a bit? He's not a leader, he's not a scorer, pretty good passer, limited physical play for a big guy....bottom line, just doesn't have "it". Didn't regret Bruins trading him for a moment, since I always considered him an empty-stat (hockey A-Rod!) who turned it on for too-brief stretches. Now he has the Sharks in a tough spot, since they seem to finally view him as Not The Answer.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
John - We disagree on Joe. I think calling him a "pretty good passer" is a heck of an understatement. I don't pin the Sharks lack of success on him, he's shown some growth in the way he plays during the postseason. And if you look at his production, it's there in the playoffs. What we don't know is what goes in behind closed doors in that room. I'd agree with you if you're suggesting it's time for a leadership change in SJ.
How likely is it we see another Hawks vs Kings in the WCF?
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Jason - The Blackhawks are going to be my Stanley CUp pick when we get around to making them. I absolutely love the Kings but I look at all the mileage on them and think, of the two, they're the candidate to get knocked out earlier than they'd want. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it's Kings/Blackhawks but if I'm picking right now, I'm saying it's Chicago and someone else.
How far away are the Blue Jackets from being able to make a serious playoff run (conference finals or SC finals)? Is the expectation for them to win a playoff series this season or are they able to do more as constructed currently?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
I'm not ready to put the Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup finals or even a conference final. That said, I think it's realistic for them to continue their growth under Jarmo Kekalainen and return to the playoffs and win a round. That team battles every night, they have a true blue collar identity and still have their Western Conference DNA. I like that team, just not ready to anoint them Cup worthy just yet.
You mentioned earlier the Ducks being a team you think could win it all so I'm curious; who are all the teams on your list of those you think have a shot at the cup?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Adam - Okay, let me think on this a minute. It would be pretty West heavy. I'm not sure I'd pick anybody besides Boston to beat whoever comes out of the West. To me, the legit Stanley Cup winner group consists of: Chicago, LA, Anaheim, St. Louis and Boston. Obviously, it's a long way to June but that's where I'd start.
Are the Islander now a playoff team with the moves they have made?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Yup. There's work to be done on defense but if one of their young defensemen like Griffin Reinhart can be significant contributors, that's less of a concern. Halak needs to stay healthy and motivated but he's a nice upgrade for the Islanders in goal.
i know its early, but what are some of the top story lines you will be watching this season?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
In no particular order: 1. Trotz in Washington 2. How the reshuffling in Pittsburgh plays out 3. Whether or not Colorado can build off their success or if there will be a step back 4. The future of Thornton/Marleau in SJ 5. The race for the No. 1 pick -- among, many, many others.
Joe (Cubicle Hell)
Craig... 2 questions for you.. 1. If you are Ken Holland do you sign Alfie or stick with the young guns and use the money for a Dman? 2. How do you see Hockey Spartie doing this year?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Hey Joe - If Alfie is healthy and wants to play, I bring him back. No doubt. There's still room to work with the D. 2. I can't weigh in on Michigan State without my bias showing through, haha.
Tony Jessup, PA [via mobile]
Craig, what's your take on what Lou did this offseason with NJ? Do you see Schneids being able to shoulder 65 games? Think we make it back to the dance?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Tony - Devils are a fascinating team to me. I'm a Cory Schneider guy, I think he's going to have great season. More than capable of handling the increased workload. That alone will help in the standings. Factor in some better luck in the shootout and their good young D and they could be a strong sleeper candidate in the East.
Who is the next CBJ Dean Lombardi trades for to make another cup run?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Haha - I'm not sure Dean Lombardi will be going back to that well. If he does, Jarmo might not want to pick up the phone.
Willie (Va Beach)
Do you like the Blues choices putting all their attention to offense? I feel they could've done better with a more defensive pick or two. *cough* Bryzgalov
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Sorry Willie, I don't think Bryz is the answer. Yes, Miller could have played better but they lose because they didn't score enough. They have to get through Chicago to win a Cup and that means matching up with the firepower that Kane, Toews, Hossa and Sharp provide. Doug Armstrong did the right thing this off-season.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Alright everyone - Thanks for joining. Have a great Wednesday!