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 2 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Hey everyone - lots of news the last few days - coaching change in TO, Olympics, Grabovski, Crosby. GM meetings coming up next week. Plenty to talk about, let's jump in!
Matt (Orlando, FL)
Rangers @ Devils tonight....who ya got?
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Kovalchuk has cooled and NJ seems to be slowing down a little bit. I think Rangers win this one, same score as last time - 2-0.
Hi Craig, if the Wings do not win the Central and get home ice at least at the start, do you think that spells trouble for them in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:03 PM)
I know there's a disparity between their home and road record but to me the biggest thing with Detroit is health. The West is too good this year for them to limp into the playoffs. Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Howard all need to be ready to go for Detroit to make a long run. Winning the division is big but even then there's still potential for a first round against San Jose or Phoenix, two teams capable of giving Detroit a handful.
Chris (Hockeytown USA)
Do the Lightning make the playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:04 PM)
No. The Southeast is a trainwreck and I love the heart Tampa is showing, winning four straight despite Yzerman dismantling around the deadline but too many concerns on defense and in goal to call this a playoff team.
Scottrade Center (St. Louis)
Hey Craig, I haven't been very busy since the lockout come playoff time accept for a couple years of early exits, although this year my blues have really poured it on, I'd really love to keep my doors open late into April and more, hows it looking for me?
Craig Custance (2:09 PM)
I haven't had a conversation with an arena since the United Center responded to one of my Tweets, but things are looking good for St. Louis. If there were any doubts left about the Blues, they should be gone after that impressive road trip, with the only loss coming in Vancouver on the second day of back-to-back games. My only concern is playoff inexperience. Right now, they'd face Phoenix a playoff tested group that wouldn't be an easy out. If they don't win the division, it looks like a showdown with Nashville. It's going to be a battle.
Neal (Menlo Park)
Whom do you see in the Western Conference Finals, and do you think that team will be too worn down to win the cup given the gauntlet out West?
Craig Custance (2:11 PM)
Neal - I was just talking to someone about that yesterday. I'm not sure there's more than four teams in the East capable of winning it all. You could probably make the case for six or seven out West but whichever team survives is going to come out limping. If I had to pick a WCF right now, I'd go Vancouver vs. Detroit, with that pick hinging on Detroit's health. I'm still waiting for the Sharks to bounce back, that team is too talented to be on the brink of missing the playoffs.
The 8th seed in the Eastern Conference will be...............
Craig Custance (2:13 PM)
Toronto. That losing streak was brutal and the Leafs have their work cut out, but the Carlyle hiring refocuses them and I'm sticking with them making the playoffs.
Eli (LA) [via mobile]
Hi Craig, given the Kings tough remaining schedule do you think they'll end up making the playoffs and who gets knocked out if you think they get in?
Craig Custance (2:16 PM)
I'm heading to Columbus to see the Kings on Thursday and am looking forward to watching them live with Jeff Carter for the first time. Since getting Carter they've scored 4,2,4,4 goals. I think they get in and Dallas is squeezed out.
Josh Washington DC [via mobile]
Having gone to the caps game on Friday for the zach Parise show, it's painfully obvious the caps do not have a center who can get ovechkin the puck where he wants it, when he wants it. If backstrom can't make it back I don't see this team making the playoffs. How much do the boys miss BB and his run and gun style of play now? And how much time do you give McPhee?
Craig Custance (2:18 PM)
Josh - You make a great point. You can't underestimate the loss of Backstrom. I agree, they don't make the playoffs without him and it doesn't sound like his return is close. I love Bruce Boudreau as a coach but didn't disagree with the move to change coaches. At this point though you can question his replacement. This team is searching for an identity and it hasn't happened yet. McPhee's patience at the deadline to me is a sign that his job is relatively secure but the clock is ticking.
If you were the Rangers given your position atop the Eastern Conference, would you give Giardi and McDonagh a few games off down the stretch? They play a ton of minutes and the Rangers need them sharp to make a deep run. Agreed?
Craig Custance (2:21 PM)
That's a tough one Brett. I might manage their minutes a little but I wouldn't sit them. I think that sends the wrong message. Plus, don't be surprised if the Penguins make a little run here if Crosby is back sooner rather than later. I wouldn't want to open the door for them at all.
How crazy was CBJ for turning down that offer from the Rangers? When you're that bad, aren't you supposed to rebuild with top prospects? Makes no sense to me.
Craig Custance (2:23 PM)
Dave - Scott Howson has to hit a home run with this trade and if he wasn't comfortable with the deal he shouldn't do it. I think he did the right thing in not being pressured into a deal. By the end, there weren't many teams in the hunt with the Rangers and Sharks believed to be the two teams most serious. Let's say San Jose misses the playoffs, don't you think Doug Wilson will be a little more willing to sweeten his offer at the draft?
Matt (Orlando, FL)
Who is your Hart trophy winner??
Craig Custance (2:25 PM)
Right now it's Evgeni Malkin but I'm going to have to give serious thought to Lundqvist and Rinne. IF Stamkos can somehow get the Lightning in the playoffs, he's definitely in the conversation.
Trevor Linden (Vancouver)
We are going to see a rematch of the 93-94 Cup Finals. Rangers vs Canucks. Your thoughts? on that series
Craig Custance (2:27 PM)
I can definitely see that scenario. If it comes to that, I'd go Canucks in six. They have a confident vibe right now and I believe they emerged stronger after losing to the Bruins last year. I like the Rangers but not sure I'm ready to pick them against any of the West's best teams.
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh)
Will the Pens safely in the playoffs, but with little chance of catching the Rangers, why wouldn't Pittsburgh wait as long as possible before clearing me to play? Or for Sid, for that matter.
Craig Custance (2:30 PM)
Kris,Assuming there's no setback, it sounds like Sid could play as early as Sunday. He's going to want to get his legs under him and get as many games in before the postseason as possible. I don't care how good you are, it's hard to jump into action when your opponent is in playoff form. Same goes for you. I wouldn't rush but I wouldn't wait either.
The Flyers seem to be in a terrible spot. It seems highly likey they will get the Penguins in the 1st round and I dont see them winning that. Agreed?
Craig Custance (2:32 PM)
I'd pick the Penguins in a first-round series against the Flyers, but it's still possible that the Flyers drop to the No. 6 spot which wouldn't be bad at all. Suddenly they're playing a team like Washington, Florida or Winnipeg and those three are certainly beatable. If Bryzgalov builds up confidence with a first-round win, it could get interesting for Philly.
Hello Craig...what Leaf do you think will thrive most under Carlyle, and what Leaf will struggle the most to fit in? Thanks!
Craig Custance (2:35 PM)
Hey Andrew - Carlyle is going to demand a complete and total buy in, so anybody not ready to do that is going to struggle. I'm curious to see how Joffrey Lupul gets along in his reunion with Carlyle. It didn't exactly go swimmingly in Anaheim.
Craig, I disgree with you. I think a team fighting for the playoffs will pay more than before the season when there are free agents available (Parise, Semin, etc.). I don't think Howson gets a better offer until middle of next season and, by then, his team is out of contention and another wasted year. Rangers will sign Parise in off season.
Craig Custance (2:36 PM)
Fair point Dave. We'll see. Only one team is going to get Parise and I think New York is a real possibility but some big-time teams are going to have money to spend this summer. Plus, Minny is going to take a run at him too. There will still be plenty of interest in Nash this summer.
GBK (Lincoln Park)
Craig, if San Jose doesn't make the playoffs can you convince certain colleagues of yours to stop picking them to win the Stanley Cup every year, as entertaining as it is when he's wrong?
Craig Custance (2:38 PM)
Haha - I must admit that I fell for San Jose pretty hard this summer and picked them to win the Cup too. Something tells me that the certain colleague you're referring to is going to pick San Jose until he's right.
Who would win in a Bos-Van rematch?
Craig Custance (2:39 PM)
That's such a tough call. Would love to see it though. I really like Van this year though, so I'd say Canucks in 7.
Craig. Hawks Are not going to catch BOTH St. Louis and Detroit and nab that 4th spot in the west. So they would rather finish 6th in the West and play the Pacific winner instead of 5th or maybe even 4th and home ice. Agree?
Craig Custance (2:42 PM)
Chicago is one of those teams that when they're playing well, they can beat anyone so it almost doesn't matter. When they're struggling though they're very beatable. So to me, their playoff success has less to do with matchups than other teams and more to do with how they're clicking. They are such a wildcard this year, one of those teams that are capable of winning the Cup or losing in the first round.
Jason (New York)
As a Rangers fan, the thought of Crosby and Letang's return scares me come playoff time. Are the Penguins the toughest team in the East the Rangers might have to beat to get deep into the playoffs?
Now that Crosby is on the brink of returning, who do you think Bylsma will place on his line? And with a healthy Pens team, who is your pick out of the East and who do you think takes it all this year?
Craig Custance (2:44 PM)
Don't have a great sense of what Bylsma will do linewise when Crosby returns but I've consistently said that the Penguins immediately become the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference if Crosby is healthy. Even with just Malkin, that team is capable of winning a couple rounds. WIth both centers and Letang, I'm not sure there's a team in the East that can beat Pittsburgh in 7 games.
Does playing in the NE and having significantly less travel matter to players when they're free agents? If you play for a NY/NJ team, you drive to 3/4 of your games.
Craig Custance (2:46 PM)
It certainly factors into it, especially veteran guys with families. But I think ultimately travel is secondary to 1)A chance to win consistently 2)Money. Look at the Islanders. They have a very manageable travel schedule and have been willing to pay top dollar for free agents but nobody will go there. Guys want to win.
If the Avs stick to their current plan - develop young talent, make smaller trades, etc - can they win a title in the next 5 years? or will they need to open up the checkbook at some point?
Craig Custance (2:48 PM)
They are going to have to start paying guys at some point in Colorado. It's crazy how many contracts are up after this season. So not only do they have to take care of their own players like Duchene and O'Reilly, to make that jump to a Stanley Cup contender they have to add a couple other significant pieces. I like what Greg Sherman is doing there in building through the draft and accumulating young talent but at some point you have to complement that with outside talent, like NY did with Richards.
Craig G. (Fairfield, CA)
Hey Craig, who is your Vezina trophy leader right now? Where would Fleury rank on your list?
Craig Custance (2:51 PM)
Fleury has been fantastic -- his save percentage is at .920 since the All-Star break. STill, my leader right now is Lundqvist with Pekka Rinne right behind him. There's a little separation after those two before you hit the next group of guys like Fleury, Quick and Thomas.
Zach (Chicago (via Michigan))
Brendan Smith looks like a natural right now for Detroit. Do you see him in the rotation for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:53 PM)
It'll come down to injuries for the Red Wings which is one of the reasons Kyle Quincey was acquired. Ken Holland knows you need depth on D to make a playoff run. The Red Wings wanted to get a look at Brendan Smith during the stretch run to see what they have moving forward, but I think they'd much rather lean on veterans come playoff time.
Tom (St. Louis)
You mentioned the recent road trip from the Blues, which was impressive. What do you make of the 7 gamer they have coming up, only one back to back on it which is nice.
Craig Custance (2:55 PM)
That last trip showed me a lot but it still just put the Blues at 15-14-3 on the road, so this next trip is a nice test. It's a little more reasonable though, with teams like the Hurricanes, Lightning and Blue Jackets in the mix. There's not a Canucks team looming on the upcoming trip.
Parise might want to avoid NYR, except for their pocketbooks it didn't work too well for Holik or Gomez.
2011 Bruins (Boston)
Can people stop making comparisons to us and this years Rangers team? They remind me a lot more of the Bruins who ran away with the east 3 years ago with just everything going their way. Not enough elite talent on the Rangers.
Speaking of the Wings' D...if they resign Quincey as they plan, and Lidstrom returns for another year, their defense would be set (even with Stuart leaving) and presumably put them out of the Suter chase. They are paying Ericsson too much to sit him and can't hold Smith out another year. Does this mean an all-out pursuit of Parise?
Craig Custance (2:58 PM)
Red WIngs are certainly a player in the Parise sweepstakes. Holland has lots of money to spend, cap space and because of the winning tradition and reputation, Detroit is a destination for free agents. Even if Lidstrom comes back though, I think they'd prefer Suter over Parise, thinking long term.
Best goalie tandom.....
Craig Custance (2:59 PM)
I'd go Luongo-Schneider. Sorry Jim, I know that doesn't sit well in Boston.
Craig Custance (3:00 PM)
Alright everyone - great questions as always. If I missed something, click the mailbag link at the top and I'll get at it in the Friday mailbag. Thanks for stopping by!