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 (12:59 PM)
Hey everyone! Excited for another hockey chat. Questions lining up, let's get to it.
Eugene Melnyk (Ottawa, ON)
Craig, if I try hard enough, do you think I could get Matt Cooke charged with the Kennedy assassination? But in all seriousness, isn't the league obligated to respond punitively to my moronic comments that have whipped fans into a frenzy and appear to openly threaten Cooke for the next Pitt-Ott game? Need I remind you of the last few times a player or team was formally "put on notice" by another team....we ended up with Bertuzzi-Moore and Pens-Isles 2011 (which was luckily one Matt Martin missed sucker punch on Max Talbot from being Bertuzzi-Moore 2.0).
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Yeah, I wasn't crazy about those comments. I definitely feel for the Senators organization. That's a huge loss and i can see where emotions got the better of them in their analysis. To most neutral observers that incident wasn't intentional. And the Matt Cooke playing now isn't the same guy from a couple years go. He's been intentional in addressing the way he plays. Nothing good comes out of comments like somebody will do what they have to do. It invites trouble.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, what bad team in need of a complete overhaul would be best suited to start tanking now (i.e., get rid of everybody) in advance of the Connor McDavid lottery in 2 years? Possible candidates include Calgary, Buffalo, Winnipeg, and of course Columbus...but the Jackets do have 3 first round picks this year. Remember it can be argued that the Pens started bottoming out a good two years before the Ovechkin/Malkin/Crosby lotteries...it takes a lot of patience from management and fans but look at how that turned out.
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Hey Jesse - Wow, you're really planning ahead. McDavid does seem like a guy who is worth tanking for, however. Calgary isn't a bad option, if you're thinking rationally but I wonder if ownership there will ever let Jay Feaster build the right way. I also think there will be pressure to win in Winnipeg by that point. That's a tough call. If I were in charge of the Flames, I'd start the groundwork now.
I know everyone says the Blackhawks haven't had a 'regulation' loss but, to be honest with you, I think it should be taken a step further. They haven't had a true 'hockey' loss yet. They've lost 3 times, all in the gimmicky 'shootout' format. No one has beaten them the way hockey is meant to be played. Obviously I'm not a fan of the shootout at all but doesn't that make their streak all the more impressive? Granted, that Calgary game was a fluke.
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Mike - Any way you slice it, this streak is impressive. They win tonight, they're in a category with former great teams like Anaheim, Edmonton and Montreal that went on to win Cups after a strong start like this. Big game tonight, love when the Blackhawks play the Canucks. Great rivalry.
Could the Pacific Division be the best division in hockey? Ducks, Sharks, Yotes and Stars all in Playoffs as of today. My Ducks have won 5 in a row, and the only team not in the Playoffs? Oh, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. How does the Pacific not get the same respect as the Central and Atlantic?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Oh, I don't know Matt, I think the Pacific gets a lot of love. I think it's probably the best division in hockey right now. Still not sold on the Stars though, especially if Kari Lehtonen can't stay in the lineup. Ducks are legit. Kings will be better and the Sharks are the wildcard. If they're good, that's the best division in hockey. When the Sharks lose like they have been lately, it drops a notch or two.
Hi, Craig. With the Ducks 12-2-1 and Fasth still yet to lose, do they go back to Viktor on Sunday?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Such a tough question. I asked BB how he was going to handle the goaltending situation now that Hiller is healthy and he said "feel." Sounds like they'd prefer to get Hiller going though. Nice win last night and I think you want him established as the clear No. 1 as the playoffs get closer.
Tortorella has always been a tough coach, but with his team's early struggles he seems to be more publicly critical of his players. Is there a point where this stops working to motivate his team and they stop putting in 100% for him?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Yeah, Pete, I do think there's a point where that happens. I don't think they're there yet though. Tortorella is a great but demanding coach and that style of play takes a toll on players. But it's easier to take when it comes with success.
Ice Ace (Alabama)
What is your opinion about the Karlsson-Cooke incident in Pittsburgh last week followed by the Senators management comments about getting Cooke out of the league even though Cooke did not do anything rough on that play? Just unfortunate for Karlsson and the Senators shortly after losing Spezza earlier in the season
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Unfortunate is a good word. I don't think it was intentional.
Woody (Washington, DC)
Which players with expiring contracts do you expect to be the most attractive trade rental candidates for contenders at the trade deadline?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
Woody - It'll be interesting to see what the Islanders do as the trade deadline gets closer. I think Garth Snow will take a crack at signing defenseman Mark Streit to an extension but if those talks go nowhere he becomes, to me, one of the top rentals on the market. So many teams need a top four defenseman and he's a good one.
Pete DeBoer (Newark, NJ)
Craig, in spite of our hot start, I'm not sure our team has enough scoring. Who can my GM acquire?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
You're not happy with Alexei Ponikarovsky? He actually wasn't bad after being acquired last year. plus he's familiar with the system.
Stu (Newport Beach)
Craig, how many more wins until we start mentioning Fasth in Vezina conversations? The Ducks are for real....time for the East Coat to notice.
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Stu - I wrote about the goaltending situation today. The Ducks could end up having a situation like the Blues did last year where two goalies end up playing really well, although that doesn't do much for individual recognition. Not sure Fasth will get anywhere enough starts for Vezina consideration.
As an insider, what is your take on the Avalanche ownership/management/coaching situation? It seems to most of us fans like ownership doesn't care about the team at all, management has been told to keep costs as low as possible at the expense of the on-ice product, and that no matter how poorly the team plays that Joe "dump-and-chase" Sacco is safe because me makes such little money. Is this an inaccurate assessment? Is there a future for hockey in Colorado?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Yeah, they certainly count their pennies in Colorado. No doubt about that, but I'm not sure you can keep Sacco around if the playoffs are missed again this season. Even if his salary is reasonable.
Pierre (Bethesda, MD)
Craig: the more I watch the Caps the more I am resigned to the fact that Alex Ovechkin's days as an elite player are over. His game doesn't seem diverse at all, and he used to dominate the ice. Now he doesn't. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
First, I'd like to dispel the notion that Ovechkin doesn't care. I believe he does. Deeply. He's got a lot of mileage on him though for the way he plays. When he's at his best, he's a wreckingball. I'm not sure you can play that physical style he played at his best over a long career. I think his game will have to adapt and maybe expectations lower a little bit with it. I still believe that he can be an effective and important player as a RW in Adam Oates' system. I just think it's unfair to expect him to carry that team.
Any status on O'Reilly and the Avs?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Doug - When I checked in on the situation at the end of last week there were no plans to meet between O'Reilly and management. Seems more and more likely that a trade will be the resolution, probably built around a defenseman in return.
Do you think James Neal could ever lead the league in goals in a non shortened season?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
The guy scored 40 goals last season, so yes, I think he's definitely capable. Helps playing on a team with two of the best centers in the world. That trade isn't looking so great right now for Dallas.
Kyle Butler (Saskatoon, SK)
Craig, whats the deal with the isles? They get two nice wins over NYR and NJD then they look like a beer league team against PHI. I think this has to do with coaching. Capuano isnt the guy that takes this team back to the playoffs. They need an experienced NHL coach. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Yeah, the best teams consistently put in the same effort night in and night out. When that doesn't happen, you can look a couple of directions. Sometimes it's the coaching, sometimes it's inexperienced players. Sometimes it's a lack of depth. I think all those factors contribute to the Islanders inconsistency.
I know there isn't much room for scheduling, but do you find the NHL scheduling to be competitively unbalanced because there are so many inter-divisional matchups?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Kev - Maybe. If you're in a tough division, it's a challenge but that might end up sharpening those teams for the playoffs. Kings had to battle Pacific teams down the stretch to get in the playoffs, I think that helped them mentally prepare for the postseason. ALso, I'm not sure what else the league could have done in a lockout year. I'm looking forward to realignment and the potential of home-and-homes with every team in the league.
Hi. Who do you think is the most likely trade target for the pens winger situation? Or will they just ride with who they have all year?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
I think Ray Shero will aggressively pursue help as the trade deadline gets closer. Not a ton available right now, although he's apparently been watching the Wild closely. Wonder if that means he's interested in Setoguchi, who I think Minnesota would move. Elliotte Friedman suggested Matt Cullen.
Will Tampa bounce back from there current struggles and win the southeast or do you see Carolina winning the division?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
I picked Carolina to win the division, so I'm going to stick with that but I think Tampa is a legitimate playoff contender. I'm definitely concerned about their lack of success on the road though. That suggests to me that Guy Boucher is able to hide some deficiency at home and it's exposed on the road. Or maybe the sample size is too small. We'll see.
Judeman5000, CPA (Bakersfield, CA)
Any rumblings on possible trades for O'Reilly? I think it'll be someone that no one really thought about, just like when we got Varlamov.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Yeah Judeman,that's seems to be the way Colorado operates. Remember the Erik Johnson trade in the middle of the night? Nobody saw that one coming. There are teams that could definitely use O'Reilly - Toronto, Calgary, Florida, Phoenix, NYR - but they play their cards so close to the vest in Colorado. Tough to get a read.
Is Samuelsson going to help turn the Wings around now that he's healthy? Or is it going to take a few more bandaids?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
I'm not optimistic that Samuelsson is the solution. Good player and all that but they're asking a lot out of Kronwall every game. If they could somehow find another top four defenseman, I'd feel a lot better about Detroit's chances.
Colin (New Hampshire)
Devils woes the past week and a half: Regression or slump? They seemed to have failed to play a full 60 minutes in their past 4 games and have gone 1-2-1 during that time.
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Maybe a bit of a regression. They'll find a way though, NJ always does.
Pat (Ithaca, NY)
What can you attribute to the Flyers surprisingly slow star, and how can they turn the year around?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Bit of a transition year in Philly. Injuries are a big reason for early struggles. They need help on defense too and Claude Giroux got off to a slow start. That all adds up. Glad to see Ilya Bryzgalov playing so well though. Unless they add another defenseman, I think they fall short of the playoffs.
Do you think the Pens will aggressively pursue Setoguchi with all the rumors going around. Even though I don't think acquiring him is the right move, what would shero have to give up to get him. Do you think there's another top 6 winger in the league the penguins could trade for?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Hard to put a price on Setoguchi. The Penguins have a lot of defensive depth in their organization. Good prospects on defense. That's where I'd be looking if I were Chuck Fletcher.
Journalists should give some props to Cody McCormick for not wailing on Tanner Glass when they fought and Glass had his jersey pulled over his head. Rather than teeing off on his face McCormick allowed Glass to get his head out of his jersey and finish the fight. It was a real class move that the league/media overlook too often.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Completely agree. Say what you want about fighting in hockey, but you have to admire the fighters' code.
Craig, there's no way McDavid ends up in Calgary/Winnipeg or any place like that. Just like the almost Kansas City Penguins got "lucky," so will some team here in the states (probably the NHL owned Coyotes...)
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Hasn't Edmonton been cleaning up in the lottery lately?
Brian Burke (Parts Unknown)
Craig, when do you think we will see our first trade where a team retains salary and cap hit in a deal just to get the trade done? And whatever team gets that player can thank me later.....
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Burke's former team was the first to take advantage of that new rule in trading Matthew Lombardi to the Coyotes. Toronto retained some of Lombardi's salary. Seems like that rule was made for two teams like Toronto and Phoenix.
Is Ryan McDonagh a top 5 D in the NHL?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
As in, one of the top five defensemen in the league? I like him a lot as a player, but no.
Peter (Arlington VA)
Craig, What odds do you give Sid walking away with his 2nd Hart trophy this year?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Looking like he'll be a finalist, eh? Vanek is hurt by the fact that he plays for the Sabres. I'm sticking with Steven Stamkos, my preseason pick. Patrick Kane is looking like he'll have a say in this debate too. I'd put Sid at 3-1.
What's up with the Leafs? Finally starting to turn that corner, or...?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
They're seeing the benefit of being patient with their kids and allowing players to develop in the AHL. And not trading their draft picks. I'm still not convinced the goaltending duo can keep its current pace but the Leafs are proof that even big market teams that can spend big money need homegrown talent to succeed in today's NHL.
Which rookie are you most impressed with so far?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Justin Schultz. To do what he's doing as a first-year defenseman is incredible. He's fun to watch and has incredible composure and confidence for a kid playing in his first season.
In the draft Mikael Granlund was kinda like Zach Parise and Claud Giroux because they all dropped because of there size. It took Parise and Giroux over a full season to become effective, do you think it could take Granlund around the same amount of time?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Yeah, I honestly thought Granlund would be more effective right off the hop. Especially considering he got some time in the AHL to adjust to the North American game. But you're right, when you're not as big and don't have the time and space you're used to to operate, there's an adjustment period. He's got too much skill and drive not to have success though. You're right, it might take a season though.
Is Lindy Ruff on the hot seat? A lot of talent is in that room but theyre not seeing the results.
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Yeah. If he's not, he should be. Great coach, will have no trouble finding work but something needs to change in Buffalo. Look at Randy Carlyle and the Ducks. It was time for a change there. They've been great under Boudreau and Carlyle has succeeded in Toronto. I think Ruff would be the same way.
When will we find out who won the Jordan Staal trade?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Well, we're already seeing the benefits in Carolina. Jordan gives teams another big center in which to send their D out against. Eases some of the pressure on his brother and we're seeing the results in his production. Love that trade for Carolina. It may take a couple years for PIttsburgh to reap the benefits, but it'll happen. Ray Shero got a ton in return.
Yo, I was wondering what you thought about the Wilds young players and Prospects? They have to be around the top in terms of teams with the best prospects. My favorites are Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Mathew Dumba and Darcy Kuemper. I think all those players good turn into really good NHL players.
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Andrew - I love Minny's young players. That's why I still think they're a year or two away from being a legit playoff contender. THey may make the playoffs this year but I don't think this team challenges for a Cup until the guys you mentioned are establishing themselves in the NHL.
Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Wow. Man, I love both players. It's hard not to say Drew Doughty after witnessing the way he played in the playoffs last season. That's no slight on Petro, a great player.
Jesse (Rock Island)
Would you take the 3rd and 4th lines of this years Hawks or the 2010 Hawks? My opinion is the 2010 team was much deeper at forward but this years team has great depth on D....your thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
I loved the third line in Chicago during their Cup run. I would take that one, it won them the Cup. Versteeg-Bolland-Ladd - they drove teams crazy during the playoffs. Especially the Sharks. This year's Blackhawks may be deeper on D though. Don't discount how valuable JOhnny Oduya has been to that team since being acquired last year.
Will the twins (Perry and Getzlaf) have their contract issues resolved before they hit free agency?
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
If I had to predict, I'd say Getzlaf gets done. Perry tests free agency. But we'll see, the success right now can't hurt. It's just that, you get this close to free agency, it's hard not to see what's out there.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone. Sorry I couldn't get to all the questions this week. If I missed you, drop me a question on Twitter or in the mailbag link on my blog. I'll try there. Thanks, as always, for the participation!