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!
Craig Custance (1:00 PM)
Hey everyone! Hope everyone is enjoying the final hours/days until regular season games get axed! Let's dive into our weekly chat.
Matt (Greensboro, NC)
I been through 3 lockouts and 1 strike since i started following hockey, i buy the center ice package, jerseys at holidays & bdays, and try to see a game atleast once a year, now my question is why should i come back?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Hmmmmm. Good question Matt. Maybe the high quality writing and reporting? There's no way of really knowing, but I'd love to know how much damage all these work stoppages through the years have caused the growth of a sport so many of us love. I'd say, you should come back because it's the best sport on earth and the players are among the most approachable and likable among all pro sports. But don't blame you if you don't.
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Alright, putting on the new Mumford and Sons album for some background music. Looking forward to hearing it.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I'm just going to beg everyone in every chat...PLEASE somebody buy the Bruins.
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Yeah, Bruins ownership has a reputation as being among the hard liners in these talks. I'm sure the players wouldn't mind if Marc succeeded in his fund raising efforts.
Sean (Charlotte, N.C.)
Which Counting Crows song would you use to sum up the current state of lockout negotiations?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream. Obviously.
Peter (Sparta, NJ)
I don't think the league has ever been as strong in the marketplace as it is now. I don't understand why the owners would want to stop such progress. The longer this goes on the worse it becomes for the stability of the league no matter what the issues are between the NHL & NHLPA.
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Peter - That's the issue i have. There is so much momentum and strong growth going on in the sport and now it comes to a screeching halt. I think the owners believe that if they get a favorable deal, they'll eventually make up for any $$$ lost during this lockout.
Why has the union not decertified yet? I would love to see the NHL's anti-trust exemption get challenged and have hockey ruin all of professional sports.
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Mark - Fantastic question. Spoke with a well-respected lawyer today and he said it was a strategy well worth considering. Making calls on this exact issue today.
So today's meetings was just further dancing around the central conflict?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Yeah, didn't sound like a lot of progress was made today. I guess I understand the strategy - try to settle some of the smaller stuff so that when they get to tackling the major economic issue, it's already settled. But yeah, until one side or the other bends on revenue demands it doesn't sound like we're going to see much progress.
Chris (Nats-not Caps--Town)
The Nats won the NL East last night and are primed for a postseason run. RGIII is the most exciting athlete in DC. Alex Ovechkin is...in Moscow. Should Ted Leonsis be extremely concerned or curled in the fetal position as he witnesses his lockout potentially costing him millions (more and more fans are cancelling their season tickets and putting those funds towards Nats playoff tickets and Redskins season ticket)?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Chris - I would be extremely concerned if I were Ted Leonsis, that's for sure. Their biggest star is in Russia, threatening to stay. They had an exciting playoff run that generated a lot of buzz surrounding an impressive young goalie. That buzz is gone. And the market is being dominated by other sports. That's a problem for the Capitals.
Craig, we heard from Bobby Orr months ago and most recently Gretzky. What about Mario, Yzerman and Nieuwendyk (just to name a few)? Former players turned executives. Is this a conflict of interest for them?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
JD - Well, first of all, we won't be hearing from those players because they'll get fined heavily if they talk. It's not necessarily a conflict of interests but I think they might be conflicted emotionally on some level. The one I think is most interesting is Chris Chelios, who was so vocal during other negotiations. Now he can't say a word because he's employed by the Red Wings. It has to be driving him crazy.
Mark (Portland, OR)
A couple of weeks ago you were optimistic we would start playing in time to "save" the Winter Classic. Still have that optimism? If not - you think we lose the whole season?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Mark - You know what? I still have that optimism. Unless the league cancels early to remove the WC as leverage, they have until mid-November or so to get a deal done and save the Winter Classic. That's still a lot of time. So I'll stick with that prediction.
The KHL games on ESPN3, will they be on live or delayed?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
Bobby - I can't say with 100 percent certainty but based on what I know about ESPN3, I'd guess live. I'll try and find out for you.
Why does money cloud everything? That is what it ALL comes down to. What is YOUR personnel opinion for a time table if any?
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Yup. I actually give both sides credit because it's been no secret. The league thinks the players are making too much and the players disagree. I'm going to stick to my original over/under and say we're playing by Jan. 1. We'll see though. It's still so uncertain.
Why can't the NHL and NHLPA just lock themselves in a room until they figure out how to split up the revenue? Why do the meet once a week to discuss drug testing?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Rick - Somebody has to make the first move off of their last offer and nobody is particularly eager to do so. But I'm with you, I'd like to see much more urgency with the regular season now in the balance.
Craig, in your opinion which team suffers the most from a missed season (with the understanding that nobody really "wins" in this situation)?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
If this season is completely wiped out, I would say the team that loses the most would be the Rangers. I think they're poised to win right now. In the West, I think it would hurt the Sharks. San Jose should have at least one more good run in them with that group of guys. But a year off for guys like Thornton, Marleau and Boyle would be tough.
Ben (San Jose)
Are we really going to be like the NBA and lose half of a season?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Ben - If you offered me half the season, I'd take it.
Byron (Portland, OR)
The owners don't think the players are making too much, they think they can force them to make less. The owners have insisted on turning this into a game of chicken, so that's why they're not bothering to negotiate the central issue.
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Byron - that's definitely another way to put it.
Here's a solution. The NHLPA goes to 50%, but takes a cut of every franchise sale. Teams are luxury assets. Owners don't expect to make income from them, they expect to get value appreciation from them.
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Owners would argue that they're the ones investing in the team, upgrading the arena, putting all the money in up front and that they shouldn't have to share any of the profits that may come from them taking that risk.
Seems like each side is waiting for the other to concede. How does this not go all the way down to the wire if it gets done at all?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Here's the thing Bill - what's the wire? One full season? Two full seasons? What's the breaking point to get one or the other to concede?
Craig, obviously money is the biggest hold up here, but are there more rule changes being discussed at these meetings?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
David - We won't see anything as dramatic as we did last time. But I do expect the GMs to meet at some point, maybe as late as HOF weekend in Toronto (November) to talk rule changes. Or tweaks.
What will Bettman's legacy be? He has 3 lockouts on his resume and everyone who has negotiated with him says he is a my way or the highway negotiator. An don't give me the "he works for the owners line". According to the by-laws 70% of the owners have to disagree with him to override any deal he makes. These lockouts and the inability to get a deal done are ALL on Bettman.
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
It'll certainly be mixed. The lockouts are a huge stain on his legacy. But it's balanced a bit by hockey's growth under his regime and some of the record revenues we've seen since the last lockout. But if another season is lost, that's going to be what people remember most.
At what point will the more reasonable group of owners like Terry Pegula begin to exert pressure against the more hard-line owners like Jeremy Jacobs to force Gary Bettman to become more reasonable at the bargaining table? After all, it is thier money at stake as well.
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Jim - The players are wondering the same thing. IN conversations I've had, they believe there's a small group of powerful owners who have the commissioner's ear right now. But they hope at some point some of the moderates will lose patience. A lot of these owners want hockey played as much as the players.
Craig, please tell me in the next CBA teams won't be allowed to hide awful contracts in the minors. If this is a focal point, is this something the players are arguing for because of their pride and passion to play, or are the owners pushing for it since it basically de-valued the salary cap.
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
I would fully anticipate that the new CBA will remove a lot of the options teams used to work their way around the salary cap, including hiding guys in the minors. The NHL doesn't like, what some call the leakage of salary cap money to the minors or Europe and I know many players who don't like the idea of being buried in the minors. It should be resolvable.
Steve (Detroit, MI)
Is it just me or is the league possibly losing out on the biggest winter classic of all time; Detroit Vs Toronto... two of the biggest fan basis in the hockey world? It makes me feel sick knowing we might lose out on something that was once in a life time.
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Yeah, this had the potential to be one of the best, if not the best. A record crowd, for sure. Two great franchises. And there would be almost as much buildup for the alumni game as there would be for the real one. You might have to wait a year for it to happen. This is the sport that cancelled its Stanley Cup finals, so they would do the same with a midseason outdoor game.
I don't recall the ratings from the year AFTER the last lockout but my guess is the owners do not think a lockout would hurt the progression of the leagues popularity. If another lockout were to occur.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Derick - Ratings were brutal after the last lockout. There were a lot of factors but it has taken a long time (and some very favorable SCF matchups) to grow the ratings to where they are now. I think a slide back would be inevitable if a year is lost.
Suburban Rhythm (Pittsburgh)
Assuming the owners get most of what they're asking for, and the cap and player pay is scaled back. Do you expect to see many contracts dumped? Ray Shero is sitting on a pile of cash/cap space.
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Lots of debate on this issue. I think if the cap is scaled back that there will be enough transition rules put into place so that GMs wouldn't have to seriously move contracts. Maybe a buyout period or a temporary ability to exceed the cap and contribute to a revenue sharing pot or something. This all needs to work out. But there are some teams who definitely could capitalize if teams have to cut salary or there's a buyout period.
What would happen if the lockout dragged on for two whole seasons? Would the NHL ever really return? Would there be a mass movement of franchises?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
I'm not sure I'm ready to think about losing two seasons.
Does Vokoun make that much of a difference for the Pens, I know he was once a real solid goalie but can he help the Pens avoid the disaster that was the playoffs last year?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
A non-lockout question! Thanks Pat! I loved the Vokoun addition for the Penguins. Love it. Pittsburgh wins the division last year if Vokoun is the backup. And I think they beat Ottawa in the first round. Philly was the worst possible matchup for the Penguins. In the hyper competitive East those points acquired by your backup can be huge. Look at how valuable a guy like Marty Biron is in New York. Or Hedberg in New Jersey. So yeah, I like that move.
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Wow, thinking about that Pittsburgh/Philly series seems like decades ago.
Dara (boca raton, fl)
how come they don't hire a mediator to help move this situation along? If either side really wanted this lockout to end wouldn't they be doing everything possible to fix the problem? I'm so frustrated, after waiting 11 yrs to watch my panthers make the playoffs and such progress in the organization we have issues of greed! so annoyed!
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Dara - I really feel for Panthers fans right now. You guys are at such an exciting time with some of the young talent Dale Tallon has accumulated just about ready to contribute. That's one of the markets I feel worst about because of the lockout. I think a mediator is a good idea, but wouldn't hold my breath.
Steve (Golden, CO )
Craig, I need your help. So should I buy season tickets for the Univerity of Denver, or for the Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League. I am thinking the high-end talent is better at DU, but that the Cutthroats will have better beer promotions (think IHL circa 1988). What is a locked-out fan to do?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Steve - Haha, nothing beats a good minor-league hockey promotion. Ok, let me settle this one for you. Get season tickets at DU and then occasionally take advantage of some crazy minor league promotion. That would be my solution. NHL fans across the country can do a lot worse than attending more college hockey games. Great atmospheres and great talent. I'm looking forward to heading to East Lansing and Ann Arbor if this thing drags on.
Chris (St. Louis)
Craig- What effect do you think there will be with J. Davidson leaving the Blues front office ? I hate to see him leave.
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Chris - You should. JD did really well to build a fantastic front office in St. Louis. Just look at some of the well-respected names - Armstrong, MacInnis, Pleau, etc. That's what should make the Blues okay with him gone. He built a great thing in STL and Armstrong & Co. are certainly capable of continuing what he started.
with Donald Fehr the head of the players Union is this lockout headed for another year lost?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
The players are definitely united under Fehr. They had a conference call yesterday to update the players on where things stand and one player I spoke to remarked just how unified everyone on that call was behind Fehr. He said the trust is across the board.
This is detremential to the develop of young hockey players and establishes a bad example. USA Hockey has been making strides to build recruiting with e Prospects game last week. What impact do you see potentially in a lock out affect this years draft in terms of convincing NHL ws other avenues and if canceled draft.. and what type of road block will develop and potential affect atheletes from getting opportunites as if the league resumed as usual
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Bill - A year without hockey definitely takes it off the radar of families and kids in the states who might otherwise play. USA Hockey has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the NHL's expansion to non-traditional markets. There's been incredible growth for USA Hockey over the last decade and you'd hate to see a lockout slow that down.
Non-Lockout Question: When do you think the league is going to address the elephant in the room that is realignment? As much as I love seeing Winnipeg playing the Caps from time to time, it just doesn't make sense. Also, how do you see it shaking out after the players shot down the previous proposal from the league?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Galen - the league was hoping to get some clarity on their ability to pass the realignment proposal from last December during CBA talks. Obviously it's too late for the coming season and we'll see WInnipeg in the SE again but we'll see realignment the following season.
Chris (Durham, NC)
As a Canes fan and with the off season we had I am extremely frustrated. This was the off season where our management told the fans that they were committed to winning by making moves and acquiring elite players. Then a lockout happens. What are the chances that a deal can be done within the next 2 weeks?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Chris - Yeah, lots to like about the Canes. You'd hate to see the smart signing of Alexander Semin wiped out by a lost season. I was looking forward to him playing with the Staals and Skinner. Two weeks is a pretty tight deadline. PLayers have an escrow check coming in mid October so that will help with their patience. I'm not sensing a ton of urgency right now.
Yeah, I agree with your comment about Rangers losing the most with a lockout. As a lifetime Rangers fan, it kills me that this could be our opportunity and it will be possibly ruined by the owners and players
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Craig- From the player's standpoint, Modano's comments seem most relevant. You have a shortened career and are risking a year of productivity, and salaray, for pennies on the dollar. Despite the NHLPA's statement that they are more unified this time, do you really think the younger generation of players who didn't actually experience the sour ending to the last lockout (from the standpoint of union concessions) are gung-ho about a lost season?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
The young players also have the most opportunity to make up that lost salary. If I'm a young player, I'm willing to dig in a little because getting steamrolled in these negotiations may mean a lot of lost money over the course of my long career.
Do you think players will be hesitant to sign with certain teams whose owners are real hardliners? Or will money continue to talk in FA deals?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Jerry - That's a fascinating question I haven't considered. The Bruins had no problem locking up guys right before the lockout began and they have a hardliner in Boston. So in that case, probably not. It seems to me that a lot of players place their frustrations more on the commissioner than they do their individual owner. But it's a great question that I'll definitely ask guys.
Hey Craig, you have any insight into whether Ed Snider is one of the owners that is being a PITA? Just from the outlook, I would assume so, but it's not like he is hurting for money, what with being owned by Comcast and having XFinity Live hemorrhaging money into his pocket. Also, read a rumor somewhere about using scabs...I will quit, if that happens...quit what? I have no idea, but something!
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Andrew - I don't think we're close to the point where replacement players will be an option. That has disaster all over it. Snider is an interesting one. Just had a conversation with someone who said he thinks Snider wants to play. But it's very speculative right now since the owners are muzzled.
Craig Custance (2:03 PM)
Awesome questions today you guys. Really appreciate it. Wish I had another hour to answer them all, quickly lost track of time in here. May have to throw together a mailbag this week. If I missed you, shoot me a question on Twitter @CraigCustance.