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 (12:59 PM)
Hey everyone! Let's do this.
How well do you think the wild can compete for a top 2 spot in the central? You could argue they are one of the deepest teams in the NHL
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Simon - You could. I really like the Wild. The goaltending situation is a disaster but ultimately I believe that Darcy Kuemper will emerge as the guy and play well for Minnesota. That said, I still don't put them at the level of Chicago and St. Louis, the two teams I expect to challenge for a division title. Nothing wrong at all with finishing third in the central.
Derek Stepan just broke his leg. The Rangers lost Brad Richards, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot, and Anton Stralman in the offseason. The Devils and Isles got better. The Rangers might not make the playoffs and Tampa has their first rounder...so how do you think Connor McDavid will look playing with Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Haha, let's not get carried away here. The Stepan injury is huge. That's about the worst thing that could have happened to the Rangers. But better now than in the spring. This is still a team that will contend for a playoff spot. Let's not forget, they still have the best goalie in the league.
Craig, big loss for Canes with Staal going out. new contender for McDavid and Eichel? Add on top of that the potential sale of the team, and talk about a bad week in the Triangle!
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Yeah, I feel for Carolina fans. I'm not sure they were going anywhere with Staal, now it gets even worse. Carolina is going to give Buffalo a run for that No. 1 pick, but this is the year to be bad. That's the silver lining for Carolina fans. This is a great draft.
Marcel (Kingston, Canada)
Hi Craig. Is there any update from this week on Wizard (Ray Whitney) and Tim Thomas? Isn't it shocking that there was no interest so far in a player who was point per game producer just one season ago and in decent veteran goalie who could bring lots of experience (play-off included) to a right team? Thanks.
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
Marcel - No update but I'll put a call in this afternoon. That's a good idea, especially on Whitney. The market right now for veteran goalies who may not have much gas left isn't a good one.
Hello Craig. Concerned about the goalie situtation for the Wild. Backstrom always gets hurt, Kuemper is still young, and Bryz probably won't make the roster. Should we try to make a trade or stand pat?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
I'm okay with Kuemper. I think he'll be fine plus Chuck Fletcher's hands are tied. You don't want to trade your young goalie and there's no way they can move Backstrom. They're stuck with him for now unless they take on a really bad contract or something in return.
bob nj [via mobile]
hi craig the rangers need some toughness does d mcilrath make the team he beats up everyone in the ahl?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Why do you think they need toughness? The Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup finals in part because of their skill and speed. That's the identity there.
So seriously, who are the Hawks going to move and when?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
I've been saying Nick Leddy for about a month now. We'll see. As for a timeline, the clock is ticking.
Alex B (Brooklyn, NY)
Howdy Craig,With a bevy of defensive prospects (Harrington, Despres, Dumoulin, Pouliot, etc.) why aren't the pens ever looking to trade one for a forward prospect of a similar caliber? Goes without saying it's something their organizational depth chart lacks.
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Alex - I agree, I think that would make a lot of sense and I know it was something that they've at least explored in the past. It takes two to tango though. Honestly, you just don't see a lot of those kind of deals in the NHL. I liked the deal Buffalo and LA made last year that sent Hudson Fasching to the Sabres. That's exactly the kind of deal Pittsburgh should look at.
Rich (Chicago )
Hi Craig, The Hockey Season is fast approaching and the excitement is in the Air.. The Hawks brought in Cam Barker, what is your take on this move and do you see him signing with Chicago and being the replacement should Chicago unload either leddy or oduya ?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Low risk move by the Blackhawks although I'm not sure it comes with a huge reward. To me, the guy who would benefit most from a d-man trade in Chicago is David Rundblad. I liked that pickup for the Blackhawks and he's a much better fit system-wise in Chicago than he was in Phoenix.
Do you agree with you co-worker Katie that the Caps are 7th place in the Metro bad this year?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Did Katie say that? The Metro is a complete crapshoot this year. Every team outside of Carolina has a shot at the playoffs, in my opinion. So a pretty good team is going to finish 7th, one with playoff aspirations. Washington has as good a chance as any and I'm a Barry Trotz fan, I think they'll see improvement under him. If I liked Holtby better I'd have them in a playoff spot for sure.
What is your take on the 14-15 St. Louis Blues? I see a good playoff run this year and hopefully a berth in the Stanley Cup finals.
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Yeah, I like the Blues a lot. I see them pushing Chicago for the division but the fact that they have to go through Chicago to make it to the conference finals is so tough. Those are two powerhouses. If they can get by Chicago, I like their chances against the Pacific winner.
Jeff (Phoenix, AZ)
Best goalie in the league? Sorry, but it's Quick.
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
I would have also accepted Tuukka Rask. I love Quick, but I'd put him a hair under Lundqvist. He gets help playing for the Kings.
The 4th line for the Sharks on opening night could be the worst line in the history of the NHL: Mike Brown - Adam Burish - John Scott. Has there ever been an NHL line with less ability than that? They would suck in beer league. And the Sharks have almost $5 million committed to those 3 this year.
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
I think Doug Wilson is one of the smarter guys around. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that those three won't be the fourth line down the stretch and into the playoffs.
with the western conference talented teams do you still like the playoff format, I think the central could have 6 teams in the playoffs with the old format.
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
I'm not sure I ever liked the format. I know it's unrealistic, but I'd like all the playoff teams seeded at the start of the playoffs regardless of conference. If the two best teams in a particular year are both from the West, they should play for a Stanley Cup.
what kind of season to you see nyquist having? do you think he comes back to earth a little this year?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Yup. Good player but I think expectations are a little high. I'd set the over/under at 25 goals for Nyquist this year.
What are the odds that the Wild make a trade for Nick Leddy at this point? They are relatively thin on the back part of their blue line and Leddy would be a good 3rd or 4th man. Also, what are the realistic odds that the Wild make a run to the Stanley Cup?
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
That would be awesome. If you're Chicago, why would you deal Leddy within the division? I'd set those odds pretty high. I like Minnesota but would put them behind the Blues, Blackhawks, Kings and maybe the Ducks among teams in the West I'd pick for a Stanley Cup.
Jason (Las Vegas)
Could we be in 5 to 6 year arms race between LA and Chicago? Kopitar, Doughty, Carter, Richards, Quick, Muzzin, Martinez, Voynov, Toffoli, Pearson (LA) Toews, Kane, Crawford, Seabrook, Saad, Shaw, Leddy, Hjalmarsson (Chi) etc. all under 30...seems ridiculous
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
It is ridiculous. I'm not sure which side I'd pick for a Stanley Cup if you offered me the Kings/Blackhawks or the field. Probably leaning towards Kings/Blackhawks.
Chris (Orange County)
Has Jake Muzzin moved into the top tier of defensemen in the league? His play in the postseason was outstanding and the metrics suggest he is a top level d-man.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Chris - I like Jake Muzzin a lot but you also have to factor in the Drew Doughty impact. It helps playing with Doughty. The metrics love him, as they do most Kings. Really strong possession guy. Great fit with Doughty.
Ted (DC) [via mobile]
How did you like the Caps winter classic uni's? They've gotten mixed reviews down here, not a fan myself either
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
I actually liked them. But I'm definitely in the minority.
Craig, Many aren't giving a lot of love for the Sharks (which is deserved for such a confusing off-season). However, do you think the Sharks could fly under the radar and surprise folks this season? Thornton and Marleau seem to have a chip on their shoulders right now.
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Craig - It's a great question. Yes, they should be downgraded slightly from last year but that was a team last year built to win a championship. They're still pretty darn good. They're the third best team in the Pacific. Best case scenario for Sharks fans is that this off-season lights a fire under Thornton and Marleau and the younger players take a bigger leadership role and the Sharks take on a 'us against the world' mentality.
As a hockey fan I would love nothing more than a Kings - Bruins cup final. Could you imagine those teams beating the day lights out of each other for 7 games? That being said, I don't think the B's can hang down the middle but it would be fun.
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Yeah, there have been a couple Stanley Cup finals combinations that we haven't had despite the teams being really good the last several years. The Kings/Bruins would be awesome. SO would the Penguins/Blackhawks. Both of those series would be classics. And don't sell Boston short, Bergeron and Krejci can hang with Kopitar and Carter.
Pat (Ohio) [via mobile]
What would you do if you were a GM and a player asked for about double what is reasonable (Ryan Johansen). Would you even respond? I don't like how Columbus made it public but you can't reason with insanity.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Pat - It's a negotiation. The Johansen camp has already come off those demands. I'm not sure how I feel about Columbus' decision to go public with the offers but I do feel like they have the fanbase on their side and maybe that was the intent all along. It's made for great drama. I still think a two-year bridge deal ultimately gets done, somewhere between 3.5 - 4 million per season.
DC (Long Island)
With the way the Islanders have played in recent Novembers and now an opportunity to gain points in the division early against some shorthanded teams, how important would you say the first 20 games are for the Isles? Will the D hold up?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
DC - They're huge. This is a young team and I'm not sure it has the experience and mental aptitude to handle a really bad start coming off last season. I like the Islanders to push for a playoff spot but a strong start is crucial.
Craig, Do you see Sharp and Hossa being traded by July 1st ?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
No. I sure don't.
Where does Peter Chiarelli rank as far GMs? He seems to get players that fit roles well..for example he gave Pouliot a shot on a minimum deal and now Pouliot is on a 3 year contract
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Yeah, Peter is really good at his job. There's a group of GMs at the top that includes guys like Dean Lombardi, Stan Bowman, Ken Holland, Doug Armstrong - and Chiarelli is right in that group. He's got his work cut out right now though, trying to squeeze that team under the cap.
Will the bad blood from the Seabrook hit on Backes carry over to this year? If so, I cannot wait for those Blues-Hawks matchups. They, simply, just don't like each other.
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Me too Bausch, I can't wait. I had an interesting chat with Ken Hitchcock and one of the things he stressed was that the Blues had to be better against the best teams in the league and that includes the regular season. I got the sense he's going to use those Chicago/LA/Anaheim games as a gauge as to whether or not his team has learned how to raise the level of play from the playoff shortcomings.
Why doesn't Jeff Carter get more love as an elite center? His skill set has never been an issue and he is arguably the fastest skater in the league...Sutter has him playing a 2 way game that is outstanding these days. Give me Kopitar and Carter over any pair in the league.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Marshall - Part of it is that he spends time on the wing. Part of it is because he bounced around a little before landing in LA. Part of it is that he hasn't always been able to stay healthy. But yeah, Kopitar/Carter is a great one, two punch. I don't think Carter cares an ounce whether or not he gets enough credit for his place in the game as long as he keeps winning Stanley Cups.
So at what point to Hextall make an offer to Johanson? Then either Columbus is forced to sign him at way more than they wanted to, or the Flyers get 21 year old stud.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Haha, it always has to be Philly, right? It would be hard to do with them currently over the cap. At this point, I think Columbus would welcome an offer sheet. Then they could just match and be done with it.
You theres a chance that Fleury or Martin get shipped off at the deadline? Fleury seems to be playing for an extension and its getting crowded on pitts blueline with all that young talent coming up?
When did this whole 'bridge deal' become conventional among young NHL players coming off entry level contracts? Just curious as I dont remember Crosby, Stamkos, Letang, Suter, or anyone doing those types of deals until recently?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Sorry - here's the answer for Jason's question:The Penguins are a team that's going to push for the top record in the East. How often does one of the best teams in the league trade their starting goalie or top defensemen? It never happens. The Penguins are trying to win a Cup, you need those guys around to do it.
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
And now Eric: The elite players typically don't do the bridge deal. Teams are motivated to get them locked up and perhaps even buy a couple UFA years. That's the debate here with Johansen. He only had the one big year. Maybe he's in that category of players you mentioned but the Blue Jackets aren't sure. THey want to see another year or two of that before breaking the bank. I still think the elite young players are still going to skip right over the bridge deals.
The Isles defense is obviously a huge question mark but they have this stockpile of young d-men. Any way to say whether or not they'll be solid? Or does Garth have to pull off a trade or two to add more veteran guys?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Islanders deal for one of these available defensemen but it might make sense to see what they have in the young kids first and then compliment that with a trade closer to the deadline.
Do you think Gerard Gallant is the right coach for the Panthers?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
I thought Dan Bylsma was the perfect fit for the Panthers.
Jeff (San Jose)
If Lindholm and Vatanen step their games up and Fowler progresses to elite do you think the Ducks can win the cup?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
That's almost exactly what they need to happen. If Fowler becomes elite, in the Doughty class and Lindholm and Vatanen continue to develop, then this is a Cup caliber team. I like the Blackhawks, Blues and Kings a little better than the Ducks but they are definitely in the conversation.
Does Loui E. have a bounce back year or is Julien's system too restrictive?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
I don't think the system is the problem. I think Loui Eriksson fits the Bruins style of play quite well. He just needs to be healthy. If he stays on the ice, I think he'll have a strong season.
Jason R (Philly)
Do you think the Devils will be depper this year in terms of scoring?Do you think they could be the Dark Horse in the Metro/East?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
They're for sure a dark horse. I have concerns about the defense. Good young players, but that's not necessarily where you want youth. The Devils almost have it backwards - they're old up front and young on defense. I like teams built the opposite. That said, my playoff darkhorses are the Devils, Islanders and Panthers.
If someone offered you the choice of tickets to a BC (Hanifin) vs. BU (Eichel) game or Sabres vs. Hurricanes what game would you pick?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
I think you know that answer Sean.
If Ovi gets off to a slow start under Trotz what do you think the Capitals will do with him? At what point do they decide to go in a different direction?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
I think if Ovi starts slow they'll do absolutely nothing with him. The Capitals have been cycling through coaches, you have to trust Trotz will figure it out and give him the time to make it happen. Maybe one day they'll trade Ovechkin but that's not a deal you make in midseason.
Michael Grabner (Islanders)
Marshall: Jeff Carter is not the fastest skater in the league.
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Thanks for jumping in Michael!
Tom B. (Minneapolis)
Seems like you get a lot of questions from hockey hotbeds (Minnesota of course, Detroit, Chicago, etc.) so here's a free choice: give me a take on a team you don't often get questions about and doesn't show up in chats, but that you think is worth sharing for the upcoming season!
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Thanks Tom! A free question, wow, I don't even know where to start. You know who I never get asked about? The Coyotes. I wish I had something positive to say about Arizona, but I think it's going to be a long season for the Coyotes. Maybe it's better I don't get asked.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Hey Jesse! Let me take this chance to congratulate you on your wedding. Jesse is a longtime ESPN hockey chat regular who recently sent in awesome pics from his wedding that included hockey puck deserts, complete with team logos. Looked like a great time. Congrats!
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
And with that, I'll wrap it up. Have a great afternoon!