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 (2:01 PM)
Hey everyone - hitting the stretch run here. Let's jump right in.
Hye Craig, any chance flyers trade up to get a top pick packaging bob and another young talent (wellwood?) - seems like Russians will be the top picks and they have pretty good luck with Russians (maybe its because of the beatdown back in the late 70's!
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Mike - If nothing else, we've learned never to underestimate Paul Holmgren at the draft. Seems like he's always making a big splash there. It'll come down to performance in the playoffs. Philly has a terrible draw in PIttsburgh but that's a team they think they can beat. And I've spoken with people who think Bobrovsky could see significant time in the playoffs. If he performs well, I can't imagine him being dealt.
Ross (Las Vegas)
Craig: Kings are on a roll!!!! While Quick desrves kudos why is it that Kopitar gets no recognition for being the best defensive forward around. He deserves the Selke!!!! Look at the numbers vs. Datsyuk since January 1st. Datsyuk is +5, Kopitar is 15. If we look at the crunch months of February and March its Datsyuk -2 to Kopitars 15!!!!! I know /- only means so much but the other defensive numbers like faceoffs are similar. As the seasons games became more important Kopitars game elevated the same cannot be said of Datsyuk!!!!
Craig Custance (2:04 PM)
Ross - I'm a big Kopitar supporter. Love his game, although sometimes I see his incredible talent and wonder why there's not more offensive production. But you're right, he's a great two-way player who is probably hurt by playing in LA. I'd still put Datsyuk in front of him, but that's not a knock on Kopitar. I'd put Datsyuk in front of most players.
Rangers need to get the#1 seed. Their path to the Finals on paper would be much easier starting with Capitals/Sabres then most likely the Devils in the second round. Then they would face the winner of a tough series between Penguins/Flyers vs. Bruins. Whats your opinion on the East?
Craig Custance (2:06 PM)
Absolutely. ALthough I was just talking to a GM about the Capitals one minute before the chat began and we were talking about how dangerous the Capitals might be in the playoffs. Here's what he said: "I know they've had their ups and downs. They get in, they could do some damage."
Dan (Rochester NY)
Getting close in the East for the 8th spot. I say the Sabres win out to make it, what say you?
Craig Custance (2:07 PM)
Dan - Love your optimism but I'm leaning towards Washington.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, what is your take on what "caused" the Pens-Flyers fracas at the end of the game on Sunday? Obviously the Pens wanted a piece of Schenn from the Crosby cross-check earlier in the game. So when the empty net goal is scored and then Schenn goes out there for the faceoff, the Pens (who had last change) countered with Asham, Adams and Engellend...so you knew sparks were ready to fly. But then if you watch the replay closely, right off the faceoff Briere speared Craig Adams right where the sun don't shine. It wasn't a tap, he gave him the business. So then when Vitale had Briere in the tracks, he returned the favor. It ended up being a clean shoulder hit...even though Briere now has a back injury from it. But that could have easily been MUCH worse had Vitale been 6 inches higher and hit his head...especially since Briere has his own concussion problems. Imagine the fallout had that happened. Yikes. Full disclosure...I am a Penguins fan.
Craig Custance (2:10 PM)
Jesse - I just loved the passion coming from Peter Laviolette. I see why he was mad and I know why he was fined. But man, even if you're a Penguins fan, you have to love seeing a firey coach like that. I spoke with Matt Read on Monday and he said he was about three players away from Laviolette when he went after the Penguins bench. He said the players really respect a coach who is in it with them like that. I can't wait to watch that series.
Who is the better match-up for the Rangers? Washington or Buffalo?
Craig Custance (2:11 PM)
Hey Keith - To me, it comes down to this question: Which goalie would you rather face in the first round? Ryan Miller or Michal Neuvirth?
looks like the 4/5 match ups are set. who you got?
Craig Custance (2:12 PM)
Penguins in 7. Predators in 7. Two really, really good teams are going to go home early any way those series turn out.
If you could pick any two defenseman over ther last 5 years to be on your top line, who would you pick? I'd prolly go giant and take pronger and chara
Craig Custance (2:13 PM)
I love questions like this. That's a tough one. Am I just trying to win one game or building a franchise? I need more details. Assuming I'm trying to win Game 7 of the SCF tonight, I'm going healthy Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom.
if you're ken hitchcock, who's starting and who's sitting come playoffs time? could we see chris stewart in street clothes watching from the owners box?
Craig Custance (2:15 PM)
Al - I don't envy that decision and it sounds like Hitch is stressing about it, simply because both guys deserve a shot in Game 1. I'd go Halak only because of his playoff experience. And yes, the Blues suddenly have a lot of forwards to sort through. I know Stewart hasn't been great this year, but that's the kind of big forward who could make a different in the playoffs. I'd have a hard time sitting him.
Craig, what does it take to get Schneider this summer?
Craig Custance (2:17 PM)
Great question Joe - Whatever the price is right now, I think it only goes up. I wouldn't be surprised if Schneider sees action in the playoffs and wouldn't be surprised if he's really good. He's going to be a star wherever he ends up. You'd better be prepared to offer a first-round pick, NHL player and prospect. Yzerman will be among the first to call.
The Devils feel so much more dynamic with Zajac on the top line, Henrique on the third line and Josephson on the fourth. Assuming they draw Florida, they'll be the consensus pick. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but how do you like their chances in a potential round 2 against the Rangers?
Craig Custance (2:18 PM)
Careful Owen, you don't want to jinx the Devils. I agree though, they should beat the Panthers in round one and probably in five or six games. Rangers are a different story, although that'd be a heck of a series.
Who finally takes the pacific division this week?
Craig Custance (2:19 PM)
Kings. And that's not a team I'd want to face in the playoffs either.
How many goals does Stammer have to score before he will become a front runner for the Hart? I think he can score ten more times if he needs too.
Craig Custance (2:21 PM)
He's gaining some momentum but I'd be stunned if a non-playoff player won the Hart Trophy. It might take those ten goals to make it happen. But what a season for Stamkos. Not only is he an incredible talent, he's a tireless worker and fantastic guy.
Any word on Chris Kreidler and the Rangers? Is he going to play in any of these final games or the playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:22 PM)
Just spoke with him on Friday. He plays Thursday in the Frozen Four and that's where his focus is. But it's entirely possible that he plays for the Rangers on Saturday to burn a year off his entry level deal. Wouldn't be surprised at all.
Craig, are the Coyotes going to get in? If so, who do you think would be the best first round opponent for them?
Craig Custance (2:25 PM)
First let me say I love the Coyotes and Dave Tippett. ALso have best captain in the game. But I think of the four Pacific teams - Kings, Sharks, Stars and Coyotes - they're the weakest link. I'm not sure there's a first-round matchup I see them winning.
How does anyone think Bob will see time during the playoffs for philly, Ilya's injury was rather minor and he was...you know the best goalie in the league for about a month, no way they sit him in favor of Bob even if he has been good at Consol.
Craig Custance (2:26 PM)
I hear ya Dan, but he's been lights out in Pittsburgh and between injury or the possibility of a struggles for Bryzgalov, I don't think Laviolette would hesitate to make the change.
Jason (Long Island, NY)
Hey Craig! Name a few under the radar guys that could be keys in the playoffs in the East and the Western Conference playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:29 PM)
Off the top of my head, guys like Wayne Simmonds, Mike Fisher, Daniel Winnik, Chris Kelly and Dave Bolland are all the kind of guys who make a difference in a playoff series.
Mike (Mission Viejo, Ca)
Could this finally be the year the Kings hoist the cup?
Craig Custance (2:31 PM)
I think they still need to win a couple rounds before I'm ready to predict a Cup for them. To me this could be one of those years where they lay the groundwork for a future Cup. Maybe advance to the conference finals or something, setting up momentum for next year. This team still has to learn how to win consistently in the playoffs.
Does Ottawa have a chance to upset Boston in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (2:33 PM)
They have a chance, with their high-end skill. Although I'd still pick the Bruins. I know Boston takes them very seriously and GM Peter Chiarelli knows that organization well. I remember covering Karlsson in the 2010 playoffs and being blown away with how good and confident he was in his first postseason. I can't imagine how he's going to do this time around.
Rich (Ft Lauderdale, FL)
Do you think the Panther win the Sotheast Division?
Craig Custance (2:35 PM)
I do, Rich. Thursday's game against the Capitals is huge and Florida will be throwing everything they have at the Capitals. It should be a good indication of how ready this team is for the playoffs, but there's a lot of playoff tested veterans on that Florida roster. They haven't been great lately, but Florida keeps managing to gather points which is enough in the Southeast.
Bob (Los Angeles)
Craig: Who do you think the top captains in the league are?
Craig Custance (2:36 PM)
Here's my top five in no particular order: Toews, Lidstrom, Doan, Crosby, Callahan.
The Rangers and Devils took a lot of heat because the brawl they had was planned and at the beginning of the game, yet in reality didn't the brawl between the Flyers and Penguins at the end of their game leave injury to key/marquee players more likely? Why is this seen as so much more appropriate than the staged fight that was not going to result in maruee players being injured? Keep in mind there were coaches fined for Philly/Pitt but NY/NJ so clearly the league is implying the Philly/Pitt fight was wrong.
Craig Custance (2:39 PM)
Think the problem with Laviolette was that he tried climbing onto the Penguins bench. You can't really do that. To me, there's a much bigger problem when there's a staged fight at the beginning of the game than if there's a fight between two rivals at the end of a very heated game. Honestly, what was the point of dropping the gloves seconds into the game in that Rangers game? What does that accomplish?
What's more important in the playoffs? Good depth (makes it hard to shut down teams and keeps everyone a little more fresh) or having stars who can carry teams to wins on their own (Crosby and Lundquist come to mind)?
Craig Custance (2:41 PM)
I'd take depth every time. Even the best players in the league can be bottled up at times in the playoffs but if you keep rolling out players shift after shift, that wears teams down. Just look at that Blackhawks team that won the Cup a couple years ago. Yeah, they have Kane and Toews but the collection of talent up and down the linup was unbelievable. That third line of Ladd, Bolland and Versteeg was unbelievable. That's how you win in the playoffs.
mike (allentown pa)
hey craig any chance you come drop the puck for our 30 yrs of age and up street hockey tournament this summer?
Craig Custance (2:43 PM)
Mike - Honored that you'd even ask, but believe me, you can do better than me as the guy dropping the puck. Is it too late for me to form a team? Now that'd be fun.
Craig, how can you pick the Pens to win a series with Philly considering how dominant Philly has been over them this season, especially at the Consul Center where Philly has only lost once or twice? Also, Philly is playing well down the stretch and are borderline hot right now. What do you think?
Craig Custance (2:45 PM)
Look, I understand that. I think the Flyers are the worst possible first-round draw for the Penguins. I think it's probably going to go 7 games but to me it comes down to the Penguins trio of centers in Crosby, Malkin and Staal. They are miserable to match up against in the playoffs and one of them usually does something special every playoff game. It's not a knock on Philly. I like that team a lot. But factor in Fleury, along with Pittsburgh's centers, and I'm picking Pittsburgh.
So who's your favourite pick for a breakout season in 2012-2013? Personally, I see Jamie Benn taking it up another notch. Love watching him play.
Craig Custance (2:46 PM)
Jim - Couldn't agree more. He has an incredible shot and is probably the most underappreciated player in the game right now. He's going to be a superstar.
tdiddy (winnipeg) [via mobile]
The Jets missed the playoffs...sigh. Three things..1) Did you get a chance to see a game in Winnipeg? 2) Do the Jets make a splash in the free agency market this year? Or build through the draft? 3) Please tell me you are joking when you say that Shane Doan is the best captain in the NHL. You take him, I'll take Crosby.
Craig Custance (2:49 PM)
1. No, didn't get to go. Nearly went on opening night, but had a last-second change of plans. 2. No, I don't see the Jets being overly active in free agency. For one, it's not a great class. And two, Chevy is thinking long-term and I don't think now is the time to spend a bunch of money on UFA. They need to continue adding young talent through the draft, like they did with Schiefele. 3. Right. Crosby is the best player in the world and is a great captain. As far as leadership and character goes, Doan is in a very small group.
Erik (athens, Ga)
I know Hitchcock is likely a shoe in for the Coach of the Year, but the Flyers have over 400+ plus games played by rookies combined this year, losing their captain, numerous other injuries. Isnt Lavy really the best candidate for the Adams?
Craig Custance (2:51 PM)
Erik - I think it's fair to say that Laviolette deserves more consideration than he's been getting. They've been through a lot this season. But c'mon, Hitchcock has to get it. Unbelievable what he did in St. Louis. Paul MacLean is my runner-up.
Is this a make or break year for Henrik Lundqvist? The guy's been great, and the Rangers have been bad recently, but an elite goaltender should be able to get his team out of the second round at some point. If the Rangers go down early again, does he start getting the "overrated" card?
Craig Custance (2:51 PM)
Patrick - I'm not ready to go down that road with Lundqvist yet. I don't pin the lack of playoff success in NY on him at all. But yeah, one of these years he actually has to win something in the playoffs.
Sounds like you'd favor the kings over the Blackhawks?
Craig Custance (2:52 PM)
Craig: Have you seen Slava Voynov play? Why does he get no love for rookie of the year? Is it beacause he only played about half a season?
Craig Custance (2:52 PM)
Yes and yes. If he played the whole year he'd be in the mix for sure. Read today's Daily Debate on ESPN.com. Pierre and I gave him some love.
If the Rangers win tonight and lock the 1 seed, would you sit Hank in the final 2 games? Thanks
Craig Custance (2:53 PM)
Kev - If I'm Tortorella and have a chance on Saturday to send the Capitals home for the season, like they have done to the Rangers a couple times, I'm starting my best goalie.
Who is going to be this season's Dwayne Roloson? (the unheralded goalie who carries his team deeper into the playoffs than expected)
Craig Custance (2:55 PM)
TOugh one. Not a lot of great candidates. Maybe a guy like Jose Theodore? I wouldn't call Martin Brodeur unheralded but he could be this year's version of a veteran goalie finding his game and carrying his team longer than expected.
Judeman 5000 (Bakersfield, CA)
Is Gabriel Landeskog the front runner for the Calder? And if no, why the freak not!?!
Craig Custance (2:55 PM)
Yes he is. He'll get my vote. So I don't have to answer the second question.
Steve (Fort Collins )
Craig, Can the Wings flip the switch?
Craig Custance (2:57 PM)
I've seen it happen too often with them to think they can't. Problem is, Nashville is a tough draw in round one. If Detroit stays healthy, they have as good a chance as anyone of making a playoff run but that's a brutal first-round opponent if the standings remain the same.
Love the chats Craig. Here's what I've been wondering with the whole Stamkos for Hart thing. Would you say he gets it if he has an identical season the Bolts are the 8th seed? If so, I feel like he's getting punished for his teammates lack of success. I understand that Malkin has a more than justified case regardless, but I feel for the Hart, the best player of the year should get it regardless. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (2:59 PM)
Here's how I approach it. If you take Malkin away from the Penguins, they're probably fighting for a playoff spot since they would have spent most of the year without Crosby and Malkin. If you take Stamkos away from the Lightning, they're still out of the playoffs. Really, what's the difference if they finish 10th or 13th?
Who's your favorite to win the West? and does Vancouver have enough offense to go back to the SCF?
Craig Custance (3:01 PM)
If I had to pick right now, I'd say Vancouver. I do think they have enough offense. I like their strength down the middle and like the fact that they have two goalies capable of winning it all. Factor in the experience from last season and there's a lot to like with the Canucks.
Craig Custance (3:02 PM)
Alright everyone, gotta get back to writing playoff previews. Great questions and I even managed to dodge the Milbury ones. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great Tuesday!