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 (1:00 PM)
Hey everyone - Hope you all had a great summer, so excited to be back in the routine of weekly hockey chats. That just means we're getting closer to the season starting. Let's jump in.
Thanks for doing this, Craig. First, should the fans of the Canucks be worried that their new general manager has managed to position his team as the perfect number nine - not good enough to win and not good enough to secure a high draft pick? Secondly, a fantasy queston - who's a better long-term keeper in a points only pool; Justin Faulk, Slava Voynov or T.J. Brodie?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
That's a fair concern for a team that needs an infusion of young talent. Trading Ryan Kesler but also signing Ryan Miller sends mixed messages. I see Vancouver as a borderline playoff team but not one that can seriously threaten the best teams in the West. But it's way too early to judge Jim Benning's plan. It would have been irresponsible of him to come right in and starting tearing it down completely. There's still time.
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
And to answer the second question, Faulk.
Tom (Minneapolis, MN)
I'm really worried about the NHL shooting itself in the foot Plaxico-style with over-expansion. Quality of play is high but I'm not sure if there's enough of an talent surplus to justify more teams. I see 2 teams tops to make 4 x 8 = 32. Toronto seems to be the least risky and I pick Seattle for the other even w/o basketball first. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
The pool of available players is as deep as its ever been so I'm not that concerned. I think there's room talent-wise for two more teams. If the game continues to grow at its current pace in the states, there will be even more players to pull from here too. I wouldn't expand beyond two, with Seattle the no-brainer. I have a lot of concerns about Las Vegas as a viable long-term solution. No doubt Toronto can support another team.
Dara (South Florida)
Thanks for the positive feedback on the Panthers yesterday on twitter, not many even think about that. Realistically, what do you think there chance is this season and do you think they make a play for a scorer via trade? There seems to be too many forwards on the team as of now
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
On Twitter yesterday I suggested that the Panthers could make the biggest improvement of any team last year to this year. I like how Dale Tallon is building them. They have two legit centers in Barkov and Bjugstad. Luongo alone will be good for improvement and the defense is better than people realize. Adding scoring on the wing is the easiest asset to acquire and it's always available during the season. For the Panthers to have a chance, Barkov has take another step. Ekblad has to be NHL ready and we need to see more from Huberdeau this year.
If the Sens don't re-sign Bobby Ryan, isn't an indication that the franchise either can't or won't compete and probably needs new ownership? Fans paying money for tickets should be able to feel their team has a chance to make a run at the cup.
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Bobby Ryan has a say in this too. They could offer him real money and if he doesn't like where things are headed, he may not want to accept it. There's good young talent in Ottawa and they have a premier defenseman. But yeah, I feel for fans of teams with owners that can't/won't spend enough to compete.
Craig, This off-season has been one of puzzling decisions and turmoil for the Sharks. Do you see Thornton / Marleau making it through the entire season or does one or both get dealt (things get to the point that they waive their NTCs)?
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Both have made it clear they don't want to go anywhere so things would really have to go sideways for that to change during the season. It would take something like Todd McLellan benching them which doesn't make sense if the goal is to win games. Even with the turmoil, the Sharks are a good team. I think the most likely scenario is that things settle down, some of the younger players take more of a leadership role and San Jose continues its transition to one built around Couture/Pavelski and some of the other younger players.
John [via mobile]
How will the metro shape up? 1. Pens 2. Caps 3. Rangers 4. Devils 5. Islanders 6. Flyers 7. Blue J 8. Canes
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
The Metro is going to be an awesome race. It's wide open. I think we'll see some regression from the Rangers and Flyers. I like the Islanders to make the playoffs. You know the Blue Jackets will battle and I have no idea what to think of the Penguins other than knowing any team with Crosby and Malkin is going to be good.
JOEY NO-NO (LA LA LAND)
Good morning Mr. C! In your opinion, what is one thing that the KINGS should have done/taken care of this Summer that they didn't?
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Hey Joey - Just spoke with Dean Lombardi yesterday and he was saying how pleased he was just to keep things close to the status quo. When you're the champ, people try to raid your organization. He was happy that he was able to keep guys like Mike Futa and John Stevens around. He's happy to keep Marian Gaborik, even if it's for a higher number than the Kings originally wanted. The only thing I'd like to see them get done before the season starts is contract extension for Justin Williams and maybe even Jake Muzzin if they're feeling ambitious.
Brad (Aurora, Colo) [via mobile]
Why is everyone expecting a BIG drop off for the Avs? I know winning the division may be tough since the Central is the strongest in hockey but Stantsy was inconsistent in his years here, played well in a contract year, young core is one year older?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Brad - Here are the concerns with the Avs. Semyon Varlamov had a big year and it's fair to question whether he can duplicate it. Their possession numbers suggest that they overachieved last year. It's hard to win games if the puck is in your zone as much as it was against Colorado. They lost one of their best centers. They're also a little thin on the wing and I'm not crazy about their bottom six. Their best young defenseman is may hold out. Are they still a playoff team? Yeah. Duchene, MacKinnon and Landeskog are great players that help make up for a lot of those concerns.
with the changes the maple leafs have made and potential bounce back season from clarkson, do you think the leafs are a playoff team?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
It's the East, anything can happen. But I'm still not crazy about the Leafs. Thin at center. Concerns on defense. Questionable system. If I'm picking playoff teams right now, they're not in for me.
Craig:Gun to your head ... Name me the defenseman Garth Snow will acquire between now and the start of the season. With another top 4-type Dman, I feel like the Islanders could be a playoff team.
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
No need to threaten violence. Put me down for Nick Leddy.
Tom (Minneapolis, MN)
If the Blackhawks are the favorites for the Central, how would you rank teams 2-5 (MIN, COL, DAL, STL) behind them? I don't see the Avs being as stong as last year after losing Stastny and a repeat of Varlamov's year seems to be a lot to ask. Their speed up front isn't going anywhere but if some of Roy's year 1 magic comes off it would surprise me to see Dallas jump them and force Colorado into a fight with the Pacific #4 for the West's 8-seed.Also, I'm a homer Wild fan so please don't crush my optimism by saying it's Minny that may be on the outside looking in...
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Okay, don't hold me to this because we're still working on previews and I want the chance to reconsider. But if I'm on the spot, I'm going 1. Chicago. 2. St. Louis. 3. Minnesota 4. Colorado. 5. Dallas.
Top 4 Teams in the West: Kings-Hawks-Ducks-Blues?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Yup. Would reverse the last two if you're putting them in order.
Luke (Cambridge, Ontario)
What are your expectations for the Dallas Stars this year? Do you think they can improve upon their 2013-2014 season?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Luke - I love what the Stars are doing and I think they'll be in the mix. Sometimes with young teams that make it to the playoffs one year, there's a setback the next and I think that's a challenge Dallas is going to face, even with Spezza. I still think their defense isn't quite as good as some of the others in their division but they'll be right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Why are the Pens saying Fleury needs to prove himself this season? Do they not know that he's fine in the regular season. He could go 82-0 with 82 shutouts and I still wouldn't start him in the playoffs!!!
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Yeah, that's where I'm at too TJ. There's really nothing Marc-Andre Fleury can do between now and the playoffs that will make me feel any better about him as a postseason goalie.
Ironic to think that Crosby at $8.7 mil a year is now a bargain. What could he command if he hit the open market? 15/yr?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Well, don't forget he did that deal before they put limitations on term so they were able to drive down the cap hit. But yeah, on the open market, he would get a max term deal worth at least $12 million.
Any word on why Shero hasnt found a landing spot yet? Still has to be considered one of the most respectable GM's in the league right?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Ray Shero will be a GM again. I'm sure he just wants to take some time and make sure its the right situation. My guess is that Dan Bylsma will be the first coach hired when there's the inevitable coaching firing during the season.
Is Pavelec is bad as everyone says he is?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Let's put it this way. Winnipeg management likes him a lot more than I do. He's talented but not a guy I'd want to rely on to get in the playoffs.
Regression for Mackinnon this year? Future top 5 player in the league?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
No regression. He's on the way up. Only going to get better. Definitely future top five. Speed is off the charts.
So it's safe to assume that Bobby Ryan is coming to Philly next summer to play wing on Giroux's line, correct?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Haha. Never count Philly out of anything.
Is Crosby Malkin Sutter Goc the deepest center pool in the league?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Yeah, that's pretty darn good. Boston can match up with Bergeron/Krejci and I'd be happy to go to war with Kopitar - Carter - Stoll - Richards.
Ryan (San Diego)
Is Kopitar a Hart contender this year? Where do you see the LA Kings offense ranking this year?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Ryan - With the way the Kings play, I just don't see him putting up the kind of offensive numbers it usually takes to get Hart Trophy votes. He's so good at both ends of the ice and that comes at a cost in his point totals. A full year of Gaborik will help the Kings offense but that's still a team built more for postseason success than it is lighting things up offensively during the regular season.
Craig,do you think Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien get moved during the upcoming season,before the trade deadline?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Winnipeg thinks Dustin Byfuglien is a special talent that would be really hard to replace. He's one of those rare players opposing teams have to gameplan for. I also think they know at some point they have to shake things up and Evander Kane would probably welcome a trade. But there's no timeline or rush. It has to make sense for Winnipeg. Of the two, I see them moving Kane more likely.
Are the CBJ handling the contract negotiations with Johanson ok in your opinion?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
It's a tough one. They have the leverage right now and it's in their right to utilize it. And I don't blame them for wanting to see a little more of him before giving up big money long term. It's best for both sides to get this done and I think they're handling it the way they have to. It's not pretty but it's the reality.
I know it is early, but your top 3 vezina candidates this year?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Never too early! Put me down for Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Lundqvist. Cory Schneider would be my darkhorse.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Whenever expansion talk comes up, it seems like the league never asks the question "can this city support an NHL team" which is why we have several teams in bad hockey markets.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
It may seem that way but I can tell you it's something that gets a lot of consideration. Maybe it wasn't that way in the past, I don't know. For instance, with Vegas, before putting an expansion team there the league has to be absolutely convinced that there is a strong enough season-ticket base of local fans that isn't just a bunch of casinos buying tickets and comping them for their customers. They'll ask for a market analysis that shows there's a potential pool of Las Vegas residents that is large enough to support an NHL team.
Steve (San Jose)
Do you think the Kings will be able to hold on to guys like Muzzin, Martinez, Toffoli, Pearson etc in the long term or will they have to let players like Williams and Stoll walk to make that happen?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
That will depend on two things: How much of a discount those players are willing to give the Kings in order to keep a championship roster around. 2.) The growth of the salary cap. If league revenue growth continues at its recent pace, there's a shot. One more - Kopitar's contract extension coming next summer will dictate a lot of that too.
Kelly Osbourne (Fashion Police)
Craig, forget all this rubbish about signings and trades and line combos and whatnot. Hands down the BEST news of the offseason is that the Blues have finally canned the out and out worst uniforms in the league (thanks Reebok edge) and replaced them with something more traditional from the Pronger era. Drastically needed for a team that fancies themselves at the top of the league.
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Haha. The more teams that go back to basics, the better.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, good to be back. Honestly, what do you think of all the offseason changes made by the Penguins...other than saying "I don't know what to make of them." This was a team that clearly stagnated under the previous leadership and what was once a glorious new era has instead left them behind teams like the Hawks and Kings. Big changes were needed. On the ice, the bottom six forward group seems to be vastly improved with the additions of Spaling, Downie, Comeau and the returns of Sutter and Goc (as opposed to the barely NHL-caliber players they were putting out there last year). But with the trade of Neal and the loss of Jokinen, who is going to score goals for this team on the wing? P.S. Who got more rowdy at the Strang wedding...you or Lebrun?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Jesse - The bottom six was a real problem for the Penguins last year and I agree that the Penguins have done a good job addressing that issue. I think Hornqvist is going to put up strong numbers in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are going to miss Matt Niskanen and need Kris Letang back at full strength all year. Even with all the changes, it comes down to the same thing it always does - Marc-Andre Fleury. As for Katie's wedding, it was a first-class event. We had a great time and all of us were on our best behavior. Even Pierre. (DM me if you want the truth)
Which offseason coaching change do you like best? What new coach will have the biggest impact on its team? Vancouver, Carolina, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, or Washington?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Barry Trotz in Washington. Love that hire. He's perfect for them.
Michael (State of Hockey)
The Wild have a ton of young talent with expiring contracts after this year. Who are your top 2 to sign if your Fletcher?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
1. Jonas Brodin 2. Mikael Granlund
Agree with "Kelly Osbourne" and you Craig. I wish the unis would go back to the 1980s era. Especially here in Philly. Our home orange is tolerable, but the road whites look like a 4 year old designed them. I miss the 80s-90s uniforms! And white should be worn at home!!!!
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
How much better can Kopitar and Doughty get considering their relative youth at 26 and 24 respectively? I feel like Doughty has a completely different level he can go to during the regular season.
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
What else do you want out of those guys? Here's the thing about Drew Doughty. We all see how great he is in the spring and the Olympics and we want to see that in October and I'm not sure we ever will. He's a guy who gets better on the big stage and if I'm a Kings fan I'm just fine with that. OF the two, there's more room for growth in Doughty's game. I think Kopitar is what he's going to be, which is a great franchise center.
Eddie Johnston (Pittsburgh, PA)
Craig, what team this year do you see pulling a 1984 Penguins and completely and unabashedly tanking for the #1 draft pick (ask Bob Errey to relive that season with a straight face). Buffalo is already there, but could you see someone else keeping all their good young players in the minors and then trading every single player of value for marginal journeymen that would never be on a good team anyway. I would say Calgary, but that does not seem to be Burke's MO. So that leaves the most likely candidate as Winnipeg (Kane, Byfuglien, Pavelec, Slater...see ya). We also call this The Rachel Phelps.....we don't want to just to be bad....our goal is to finish dead last!
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
I can't see Winnipeg having a huge firesale just to be bad. They need some of those guys around long term as part of the rebuilding process. The Jets problem is their division. Even with the roster they have now they're going to struggle to win games because the West is so stacked. Buffalo, Carolina and Calgary are all teams I think will be in the Eichel/McDavid sweepstakes. There are three guys at the top of that draft that can change a franchise.
Michael (St. Louis)
Any idea what we can expect from Jori Lehtera?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Good writeup from Pierre today on him, definitely check it out. The Blues are really excited about bringing him over. They need scoring and he's shown he's capable of doing it.
Traverse City is only nine days away!
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
I know. I can't wait. I've got one foot out the door. Best prospect tournament in the league and it's the annual signal that hockey has started.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone! Great to be back. Have an awesome week!