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!
nathan, minnesota [via mobile]
hi craig any truth that the winter classic will be cancled thursday? and if so does that spell the end of hockey this year or do you see a mid november agreement?
Craig Custance (12:59 PM)
And we're off and running. Thanks for coming by everybody. Let's jump in with Nathan's question.Yes, I believe that unless we see some serious progress made in the next couple days, The Winter Classic will become the next casualty of this lockout. It's not an event you can just throw together in a month. The more revenue and games you lose as this drags on, the smaller the amount of revenue there is to be divided which makes finding a deal even more challenging. So losing the WC, to me, only extends this thing even longer. Great news, eh?
If a player was making 1.5 million prior to the 04-05 lockout, and now makes over 4 million dollars, how can they cry over giving up too many concessions in the last CBA? Do they not have faith in their product this time around? I'm to the point where I don't care if there's a season.
Craig Custance (1:00 PM)
Rush - That's the scary thing. THe longer this drags on, the more fans are going to wash their hands of hockey this season. Maybe forever. That's the frustrating thing, I can't believe it's come to this again.I agree that players have to stop pointing to the concessions of the last lockout and move forward. But their concern is that if they continue to give concessions during every CBA negotiation, it's a process that won't ever end.
Who's got the better wrist shot: you or Scott Burnside?
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Andrew Barton (Ontario, Canada)
If a player has a player agent that is supposed to look out for there best interests, what is the point of a union, and if there was no union there would be no lockout. So why not get rid of the union?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
You mean decertification? It's an interesting option and you have to wonder if it's something they would consider. My understanding is, if that happens, the lockout becomes an antitrust violation which would subject the league to triple damages on lost salaries.
Matthew Moreschi (Malden Massachusetts )
Will the NHL have a season this year or not?
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
I still think the two sides are too close not to get a deal done. I'm still seeing a season, just not sure how long it's going to be.
I don't know about you, but I'm upset with all the NHL players bolting overseas to play hockey and having a good time while us fans sit here with no hockey. Shouldn't the players be hanging out here in the USA dealing with the lockout?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
Dan - It's an interesting debate. I asked Bobby Ryan about that this weekend. He originally said he didn't want to play in Europe because he wanted to be part of the solution stateside. But he said he'd change his stance if the whole season is wiped out. These guys have to play. They have to stay in shape. If I'm a fan, I don't necessarily want the players on my favorite team practicing informally a few times a week. I want them staying in game shape in case the season starts quickly.
@DONCHERRYPARODY (COACHES' CORNER)
YKNOW ALL THESE PEOPLE COMPLAININ THERES NO HOCKEY, THERES PLENTY A HOCKEY, THERES JUNIORS, COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY, HIGH SCHOOL, AHL, ECHL, EVEN THOSE LITTLE PIPSQUEAKS AT YER LOCAL RINKS! WHAT ELSE ARE YA GONNA WATCH, BASKETBALL? LET'S GO! (THUMBS UP)
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Good point Don - there's plenty of options to get your hockey fix.
JOEY NO-NO (LA LA LAND)
Greeting Mr. C. Seeing the wrath of Sandy puts into perspective what really is important. My thoughts are prayers go to all those affected and my NHL question goes to you...I have started to lose my optimism for the season...should we still be optomistic in seeing NHL games played this season?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Amen Joey. I had the same thought last night while watching the coverage of the storm. Immediately puts things in perspective, eh? I'm still holding onto hope there will be a season. Not ready to give up just yet.
When will there be hockey this is driving me crazy..... At this point both parties are guilty.. Why aren't they meeting? and why won't the Players just work off the owners offer setup ??? Please help I am having NHL withdrawal
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Bill - I think it's a fair question to wonder why the NHLPA won't negotiate off the NHL's offer. The answer I get more than any is it's an issue of trust between the two sides, or in this case, lack thereof. We're all having serious withdrawals. After that charity game in Chicago, you should have seen how all the players just hung out in between the two dressing rooms, having a beer. Nobody wanted to leave - media, players, family. It was great to be around hockey, even a charity game. It's sad.
Dara (Boca Raton, Fl)
I only have about 8% of hope that we will be seeing any hockey this season but when the winter classic gets cancelled, does that pretty much mean there will be no hockey this season? Guess I will have to wait to see my panthers raise their 2012 SE Banner till Oct 2013
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
You know what Dara? If I thought the Winter Classic being cancelled was being done as a negotiating ploy, I might think it was a sign we're losing a season. But I think it's being wiped out more for the logistics. That's a huge event to put on, they have to get started on it right now.
The Winter Classic was cancelled. Just another example of the ripple effect the lockout has. The city of Detroit really could have benefited from having an event like that. Business owners, parking, ushers, concessions, vendors. Must be really hard to split up 3.3 billion dollars. Ugh. I wish I had that problem. Sorry, I'll end my rant with a couple questions. When are these players and owners realize they're starting to alienate an already niche fan base? If the league locks out again, do you see any of the teams in southern markets losing their fan base and relocating?
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Don - Feel free to rant. That's what we're here for. Everybody is frustrated.Interesting question on the southern markets. If we lose a season, that's a huge blow to some of these markets. Just think of what would be lost. Carolina had an awesome off-season adding Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. All that excitement is gone. Dallas has new ownership and is ready to contend. That momentum is gone. Dara would have to wait a year to see the SE banner fly in Florida. I have to assume most of Phoenix has already forgotten that the Coyotes made that great run to the WC finals last year. It's troubling.
Bill (Viva Las Vegas, baby!!!)
Will the NHL make an offer this week to try and save the Winter Classic or is the entire season a lost cause?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
There's communication between the two sides today but last I heard no plans to meet or present offers. When we chatted w/Fehr over the weekend, he also didn't rule out the PA making another offer but pointed out they were the last of the two sides to make an offer, when their three offers were shot down in minutes.
Erik (San Francisco)
How is it possible to get to a 50/50 split while making sure all contracts are guaranteed? This sounds little like Mitt Romney's tax plan where the #'s dont add up. What would you propose to make that happen? Here are my thoughts and tell me how off base I am...Why not flip the revenue % for 1-2 years. Owners take the lions share. After year 2 or 3, it reverts back in favor of the players and they slowly inch towards the 50/50 split. For the first two years, the cap is determined by $, not %, and remains static, allowing the owners to get a surplus to pay everyone for the $ figure they signed. What you're doing is asking the players to be a true partner in this deal...you don't take a hit, but you're guaranteed no raises for the first two years. The players would obviously oppose this, because they would be compromising on something they've already earned
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Erik, I'm trying to wrap my head around your proposal and may need more time than a chat to think it through. But you're first question is a real issue. That's where there's this debate over how to 'make the players' whole if things start immediately at 50/50. The players believe that the NHL's last offer had the players paying themselves to make whole. That's still why I think we'll see a gradual movement to 50/50, to help honor some of those contracts.
Suburban Rhythm (Pittsburgh)
Any chance Sandy washed Donald Fehr out to sea? I keep hearing Fehr's long term goal is the eventually have the cap removed. How do you sell that idea to a group of about 700 players, when it probably means about 400-500 jobs eliminated as teams fold?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Rhythm - I've heard the same thing about Fehr, but it's usually not coming from the players side but rather the NHL. The players argue that if Fehr wanted to wipe out the cap, that would have been in one of the original offers. I think the last system proved that the players can make good money in a cap system, even if Fehr doesn't necessarily believe in it philosophically.
Kevin (Chicago, IL)
Craig - Let's have some fun with a non lockout hypothetical question: Say Quebec gets the next expansion team, Nordiques or new name? Using today's players, who Captains the team if you could pick anybody?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Thank you Kevin. Thrilled to answer non-CBA questions. I especially like hypotheticals. I would hope they would go with the Nordiques. Love the history there and the Jets are a good example of that working. And who captains the team if I can pick anybody? Hmmmm. I'd go Jonathan Toews.
Matt (South Bend)
Agree or disagree? If the players were as worried about getting a deal done as they were about running their mouths on Twitter we'd have a deal done by now.
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Disagree. I don't think there's any connection between the two.
If the Winter Classic is lost but there's still a partial season, do you think HBO and the NHL would consider re-formatting the 24/7 series so that they could have that for something else (maybe a "race to the Stanley cup")?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Andrew - It's an interesting thought. I've always thought it would be great to do a playoff series in that format. But teams and coaches are so secretive and protective of information during the playoffs, I can't imagine they'd give HBO all the access. What if a player is hiding an injury? You wouldn't want that information leaking out through HBO. But man, it would be awesome.
Jay (boring, OH)
Thanks for taking my question, Craig. Have there been any calculations as to how much the local economy of any (all) NHL city(ies) have lost so far during the canceled 2012-2013 games? The people that don't make hundreds of thousands, let alone millions, a calendar year, THOSE are the real victims, not players, owners, or even fans.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Jay - I'm in Detroit and I've seen some estimates on the millions the city would lose because of the lockout. Not to mention the Winter Classic. And this is a city especially hurt when it loses its sporting events. One story in the local business journal (Crain's) reported that a local BBQ joint anticipated losing $15-20,000 for every home Red Wings game lost. That's a big number and that's being repeated all over US and Canada. You're exactly right, it's the people who can least afford it who are getting stretched right now.
What was wrong with the players' proposal of getting to 50-50 by third year and letting that help pay for contracts? Why can league work off that offer?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
William - I honestly don't care which offer they work off of, but I think that's the solution. Working your way to 50/50. But you're right, they have to start speaking the same language and working off the same offers to get this thing wrapped up. Frustrating.
Mark (Portland, OR)
We miss the NHL but love our Winterhawks up here. As a season ticket holder it looks to me like Seth Jones is the real deal. We may not to whom - but does he go in the top 3 in the next draft?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Yes, Mark. Without a doubt. I got to see Seth at the USA Hockey All-American game in Buffalo and there's so much to like there. He's loaded with talent, impressed scouts with how coachable he is and seemed like a great kid. I think he goes in the top two.
What world exactly are the NHL and nhlpa living in? do you think they just honestly don't realize what fools they look like to the outside world? Or are the egos so strong that they just plain don't care about the sport and its fans anymore?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
The disregard for the fans by both sides is inexplicable to me. It's reckless. I'm with you completely on this Patrick.
With Seattle having a big arena in the works, How does seattle chances of gaining an NHL team stack up against its competition of Quebec and another Toronto Team? Also what are your thoughts on the Coyotes staying in the Desert? It seams they cant get a deal done to me. Are they still a potantial team for relocation you think?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Henrik - It's hard for me to judge where Phoenix is because of the lockout. Honestly, what investor or potential owner would sink money into an NHL team right now until he/she knows what the next CBA will look like? But I love Seattle as a market and if Seattle lands an NBA team, I think there will be an NHL team there within five years. Maybe faster. Not sure how or from where (expansion?) but it's a great market for the NHL to tap.
It's time for all of us to get out to our local college, minor league or even high school games and let these knuckleheads go to ......
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
I agree. I had a great time going to Windsor a couple weeks ago to watch the OHL. I'll be heading to Ann Arbor soon to see the USNTDP. College hockey is also in the mix. I really want to get to KZoo and see what Andy Murray is doing with WMU. They've been great there with him behind the bench. There's definitely some good hockey being played outside the NHL.
I know he's a mouthpiece for the owners, but after presiding over three lockouts, how does Bettman still have a job? Seems to me that hockey has faded from a big 4 sport to niche status during his tenure.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
David - I'm stunned that someone in Atlanta doesn't like the commissioner. I give Bettman credit in that he's been in charge during record revenues and growth. Like him or not, the league has made serious growth during his time at the helm. But you can't ignore the lockouts and more concerning to me - I wonder if the damage and strain in the relationship between the commissioner and the players is something that can be fixed once a deal is reached. The two sides will need to be a partnership and right now the vitriol towards Bettman from players is higher than I've ever seen.
To answer Jay's question, we had a story in our local paper saying local economy loses about $1 million per lost home game for the Hurricanes.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
There you go Jay. Answers from another market.
Does media revenue have any impact on negotiations the way that it did on NBA labor talks last year? I would think ABC/ESPN, TSN, and NBC could pressure both sides to deal or risk future media revenue.
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
The way the NBC TV deal is structured - the NHL gets its TV money this year but if a season is lost, NBC's TV deal gets another year on the back end. That helps alleviate some of that pressure. I wonder what the big sponsors of the league think of all this though.
You really should ignore the "I'm done with hockey, never coming back" childish remarks. Anyone bothering to read a hockey chat and post a question is in fact coming back. Plus they get so redundant!
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
CC - There's no doubting that hockey fans are extremely passionate. It's not the fans in this chat I'm worried about. It's the casual sports fans that were starting to get into hockey after the success of the Winter Classic and some very compelling postseasons.
Jared (Sad Sad fan)
If they cancel the Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 they should just cancel the rest of the season. Do you think that it will hurt future Winter Classics if this one is cancelled? It had some great momentum.
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Jared - Man, that's a great question and I don't have a great sense of that. There was a lot of momentum surrounding that game and fans were getting in the habit of watching that game around New Years. If you remove it this year, I think you run the risk of taking a step back in the growth made the last couple years. The one positive is that a Red Wings / Leafs record-breaking matchup at the Big House will be compelling whenever it is played. It's your first Canadian team playing in WC and it's 115,000 fans watching hockey outdoors. It'd be tough not to watch.
Did I hear you use the word expansion? Nooooooo! That is the last thing the NHL needs. What they should do is relocate teams out of the south (Miami, Phoenix, etc) and move them up north...where they actually have ice. (Seattle, Quebec)
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Don - There's a lot of money to be made in expansion and if Seattle becomes a viable option, you now have Quebec, suburban Toronto and Seattle as possible revenue drivers.
Matt (Orlando, FL)
Craig, love your work. Let's say we get hockey back in December/January....how will they work the schedule? Will it be all in conference games now to keep the schedule balanced?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Appreciate it Matt. That's a good question and I'd have to look back at the 94-95 season in which 48 games were played to get an indication. Lemme look into that one Matt.
Ever been to Bakersfield for ECHL games? As a Duck fan, my other hockey option would be Ontario, but I tend to avoid anything associated with the Kings.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
I have never been to an ECHL game and that has to change immediately. That's the one positive about this lockout is that some of these other leagues are getting more exposure.
Do you think that we will see a change to playoff seeding anytime soon? Pittsburgh finished with the 2nd most points in the East, 4th most points in the League and tied for the most wins in the league, but all they got for their effort was a first round match up with a tough Philadelphia team. While New Jersey got to play a Florida team that wasn't even over .500 How about a change to the points system?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Nick - I think some of those concerns were going to be addressed during realignment, which is still a real possibility for the 2013-14 season. Assuming there's a CBA by then. As for the points system - the current system creates parity that has set up some pretty compelling playoff chases at the end of the season. I'd be surprised to see changes there.I'd like to see playoffs expanded. Maybe have a play-in game between No. 8 and No. 9 seed. Especially if it's a shortened season this year. Gives teams one last chance to get in and would make for great television.
Jim Clark (Long Island, NY)
With the Islanders moving in 2015 to an arena not built for hockey, just how bad will it be to see a game a "horseshoe" arena. Just how bad was Phoenix's original home, which had a similar problem
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Jim - I'm very curious about this because I wonder just how rough those sightlines are going to be at Barclays. I've only covered Coyotes games in Glendale (a great arena, by the way). But even with a horseshoe arrangement, it's still way better than Nassau Coliseum.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Craig, I don't think the issue is hardcore hockey fans, who will come back no matter what, but rather the fans that are new to the game, who are now finding ways to spend their time rather than watching hockey. Those are the people that won't come back. While most hardcore hockey fans will say they don't matter, they are important to the growth of the game.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Exactly. Well-said GBK.
Come on... help out a movement to show some form of solidarity amongst fans who are sick of seeing their sport turned into an embarrassing excuse of a league. Unlike the facebook pages and unfollow the twitter accounts of the NHL.
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Kevin - Do you really think that would work? I've already seen some pretty well-organized fan boycotts come and go during this lockout, with minimal affect on negotiations.
The game theory being tested in this lockout is fascinating. Effectively the owners are saying no matter what, zero damage will be done to the game long term (no meaningful damage anyway) and that a better long term deal far outweights any concessions made to get a season done this year - sort of the way the NFL thought wrt to their growth prospects. Players have to cave at some point, you'd think, as they have by far the most to lose given those parameters.
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Anthony - If you take the emotion away from all of this, which is hard to do because we all love the sport so much, it has been really fascinating. Here's what's undeniable - both Bettman and Fehr are experienced and, usually, very effective negotiators. Nothing here is being done by accident. The commissioner is very calculated and Fehr is as even-keeled as anyone I've dealt with. If your first assumption is correct - and I don't know about the long-term damage - then your second one would be. We'll see.
Much like American politics, we need to get the extremists on both sides out of the room to make something happen. Give me three names on each side you'd lock in a room and not let out until a deal was struck.
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Love this question. So, we're wiping out both Fehr and Bettman in this scenario? So from the PA side, you'd have to go Steve Fehr, Mathieu Schneider and maybe a reasonable, intelligent player. Maybe someone like George Parros, one of the smartest guys I've dealt with. Or Douglas Murray. On the NHL's side, I'd suggest Bill Daly, John Collins and Lou Lamoriello. Then lock the door and tell them not to come out until a deal is done.
What happens to the long term contracts(13yrs) if a 5 year contract length is in the new CBA?
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
The 5-year restriction would be for contracts moving forward. But it was interesting to see that the NHL's last deal had a clause that gave the team that signed players to those long-term deal the salary cap hit if that player retired. No matter which team he is playing on when he retires. When all is said and done, there could be some interesting wrinkles to analyze in the next CBA.
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Alright everyone. Great questions - love the passion even in the middle of the lockout. Have a great week - be safe if you're on the east coast.