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! Ready for another hockey chat, even if there's no hockey being played. Let's dive in, plenty to debate during the holdout.
Craig Custance (1:00 PM)
And by holdout, I mean lockout.
Kyle (PA, USA)
CBA question number 4628:Which side do you think is most likely to budge? Do you think the players might suck it up for the sake of the season, fans, and the game?
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Like any good negotiation, both sides need to move. The players are upset because they feel like they've made concessions from the last CBA in their offer while the owners aren't as willing. There's still plenty of room for both to move, making these next couple weeks absolutely crucial.
Why does everyone keep talking about all these concessions the players made last CBA? They had it FAR too good prior...I would think you could look at the 57% they got as a concession the owners had to make to get a salary cap in place, which is what the league needed. We still have Free Agency and Salary arbitration, so obviously, the players didn't give up that much.By the way, how many of these poor players are struggling to make ends meet anyhow? Funny how they want this huge slice of the revenue pie, but don't want to assume any of the risk as well. Maybe someone like Shane Doan should forfeit his paycheck if his team loses money? Just a thought...
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
I would argue that players take on the risk every time they step on the ice. One bad hit and the career is over for these guys, as is their earning power. History has shown that the players made out much, much better during the last CBA negotiations than was initially thought. But when you factor in the salary cap and rollbacks, they definitely made more concessions.
Tim Flynn (Phoenix, AZ)
Also, at what point do the owners cave? I get the feeling that the players are WAAAAAAY more united this time, and are downright insulted that the owners are crying poor, despite all the massive contracts over the past few months, AND the scramble to sign young palyers for more than 5 years. IMHO, the owners look stupid, and not at all united: "You must take a salary cut! And no more long contracts! Um, by the way, could you quickly sign this long term contract before the current CBA runs out? Thanks, bro."
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
I just spoke with a former player who said one of the biggest benefits to come out of the last lockout was how much it has strengthened and unified the NHLPA this time around. There's no question Fehr has done a great job communicating with the players and getting them on the same page. They even have their own NHLPA app on their phones that keep them up to date on the latest news. But at the same time, Gary Bettman's track record suggests there won't be any caving from the other side any time soon.
Ben (San Jose)
For the players that sign contracts to play in Europe/Russia - if the season starts late are they able to get out of their Eur/Rus contracts and immediately go back to their NHL teams?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Yes. Right now, there are still a lot of North American players waiting to see how things go in the next couple weeks but I expect them to head to Europe eventually too if this drags on. But they can return once a deal is made.
Chris (CT, USA)
Do you think that any of the players heading overseas will see that affect their game when/if the NHL season starts? Looking at previous players coming to the NHL from Europe seem to take a bit of time adjusting (Radulov, Hudler, etc)...what is the likelihood that the play of Malkin, Nash, et al will be impacted when they come back to the NHL and readjust to the competition?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Chris - That's an interesting question. There was certainly an adjustment for guys like Rad and Hudler but I don't think guys like Nash and Thornton, etc. will be playing in Europe as long as those two. There will definitely be an adjustment for them playing in Europe and getting used to the big sheet of ice, but they've played so much of their career on the smaller sheet that I don't anticipate any issues coming back.
Why does either side even attempt to engender public sympathy? None of the fans care who's right/wrong. Just play hockey!
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Jeff - Yeah, I'd say you're in the majority in feeling that way among fans. There's an attempt to win the PR battle because maybe that adds pressure to one side or the other to get a deal done. But you're right, I'm not sure it has a major impact when all is said and done at the negotiating table.
Josh S. (Philly)
Do you think Giroux is a top 5 player?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Nice. A hockey question not related to the lockout. So are we talking overall or just up front? There aren't many forwards I would take over him. Maybe Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos. Giroux is definitely in that mix. Maybe a shade outside my top five.
Why have we not heard anything in regards to realignment or any of the other peripheral issues from the NHLPA? Have most of them been worked out already behind the scenes or is Fehr waiting to play some of those cards later to get the NHL to bend a little?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Good question Jake. It's almost pointless to try and settle some of that stuff until the major economic issues are agreed upon. Plus, some of that can be a negotiating tool. Maybe the NHLPA gives the league the green light to align the way they want in return for more favorable revenue split. Or maybe the league says players can participate in the Olympics if they bend a little on revenue sharing. It's all tied together and I don't think you can finalize the peripheral issues until the big ones are done.
Kris G (Indy)
Another lockout?!? Are the owners serious? The NHL had just started to peak my interest again. I was turned off my the last lockout, and now I am tuning out for good. Shut the league down. These people are idiots.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Kris - you are exactly the kind of fan I think people are forgetting about. It took a long time to make hockey relevant again in the States to people outside the diehard fan and I think it was starting to happen. But those casual American sports fans will quickly lose interest if this drags on.
devinbachman (whitmore lake mi)
if the lock and all teams back by december 10 is to late to have the winter classic or would still have it
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
I believe they would still have it. The Winter Classic is a major pressure point in these talks and it would be a huge blow to have that event cancelled. It's become a New Year's tradition and it would be a blow to have it miss a year.
Bettman's plan to extend hockey in to non-traditional markets watered down the game by overstretching talent and created a host of franchises with limited growth potential that lose large sums of money. The entire decline of the last 15 years can be pegged directly to this. Why is there no movement to mitigate these losses by moving teams out of markets with no interest in the sport like Phoenix and Florida and in to markets with potential like Hamilton and Quebec City?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
I think the NHLPA would be in favor of moving at least one of those franchises to a Canadian city to help drive revenues. Long term though, I think there's a danger in peeling back too far in the expansion to the non-traditional US markets. If the NHL becomes too regional and Canadian centric, your ability to negotiate a big TV contract in the states is lost. My thought is that they will eventually (way down the road) expand into some of the markets you mentioned to cash in on huge expansion fees.
Any chance that there is an effort to open up the game offensively when the NHL returns? When the labor situation is resolved I don't want to see 60 mintues of shot-blocking and collapsing in front of the goal.
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Brendan - Unlike last time where the game on the ice changed quite dramatically coming out of the lockout, there's not a huge appetite from either side to make similar changes. I definitely hear what you're saying about the shotblocking but as a whole, the product is pretty good right now. My bigger concern is safety issues and concussions rather than rule changes to open things up offensively. But these talks have centered on core economics rather than changing the game on the ice.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, last week we were reminded again about the awful tragedy of the Lokomotiv plane crash that occurred one year ago. Now with so many NHL players signing to play in the KHL during the lockout, you can't help but think about the horror of that happening again. Most published reports indicate that Russia's air safety record has not improved much in the last year. Since the NHL players already have to pay massive insurance premiums to insure their contracts against injury while playing in Russia, have any of them also considered hiring private transportation? How big of an impact do you think substandard travel, lodging, and medical attention has on some NHL players decisions whether or not to play in the KHL?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Jesse - That's a fascinating question. I can tell you that at least one coach who considered moving to the KHL this off-season was concerned about the travel and asked colleagues who coached over there how safe it was. I have to assume, on some level, players have the same concern. That said, I don't see it slowing the pace of players going over there. Just look at all the big names who have already committed to the KHL. If they had concerns, they must have been alleviated.
what's your sense of how accurate the #'s are that the owners report? Meaning are they *really* losing money from hockey as forbes and others say. Or is there some funny money games where parking fees, tv revenue, merchandising is not counted in and the owners are actually doing better then reported? That said 57% sounds ridiculous, I don't think even the players think they will get that in a new deal, why can't they budge just a little to start negotations?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Carl - I've heard some of the same things you're alluding to, but I haven't heard the league come out on record and say exactly how much the NHL lost last year or how many teams lost money. If you ask someone on the league side, you might hear something like 15 teams lost money. On the players' side, it's more like 6 or 7. I also think the players are willing to move off of 57 percent, but not quite as dramatically as the league wants. And they'd prefer to do it over time rather than get hit with a huge escrow in year one.
Ryen (Salt Lake City)
Do coaches still receive paychecks? Or will Mike Babcock have to write another business book?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Coaches get paid. They're not being locked out. Most coaches and GMs will spend this time traveling to their AHL affiliates and to junior leagues scouting young players to help fill the time. Much like many of us writers will.
Josh S. (Philly)
Whose your pre-season (assuming there is a season) favorite to win the atlantic division?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
That's the best division in hockey. No doubt. Right now, I'd say the Penguins are the favorite. Crosby is healthy. Malkin is healthy. They have good young defensemen ready to contribute to a D that needs to rebound from a rough year last year. It's been lost a little bit during this off-season, but I really liked the Vokoun deal as insurance in goal.
Michelle (Detroit, MI)
What are your thoughts on many of the newer NHL players being bumped down to the AHL and the domino effect of that?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
In the long run, it's really going to help some of those teams and players who have a lot of guys playing in the AHL. Too often, young talent is rushed and teams skip that step. Now, you'll see guys develop at the right pace - just look at how much Philly benefited last time when Carter, Richards and those players spent a year in the AHL during the last lockout. I feel bad for the borderline AHL player who now gets bumped down to the ECHL because of the lockout. There are plenty of unintended consequences that come with this thing.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Crosby-Malkin-Stamkos-Giroux-Toewes-Datsyuk. How's that top 6?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Pretty darn good. Toews is a great inclusion. If I were starting a franchise from scratch, he'd be on my short list of players to build around.
Mike (Red Hook, NY)
when the season resumes (I hope) Do you see the Devils making any moves for a forward by trading some of their D-men, young D-men?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Mike - You know Lou plays things close to the vest, so I'd be lying if I said I had great insight on what the Devils want to do. But it's going to be interesting to see moves made once the CBA is finalized. Let's say the cap is at $60 million (pretty dramatic, but for the sake of argument). The Devils would be in position to add salary from one of the teams that has to make drastic cuts to get under the salary cap. In some cases, I'm sure that's not by accident.
ZK (London, England)
If the NHL loses regular season games this season how long do you reckon it would take the league to regain all the interest fans had built up again since the 04 lockout?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
ZK - The problem for me is that it seems like we're starting to hit a cycle where there's a lockout every time these two sides sit down to negotiate a CBA. That's so damaging to the game and it makes it really hard to build up a fanbase beyond the diehard fans. So, to answer your question - the diehards came back immediately last time but it took a good five years to start making inroads with the casual American fans. At some point, those fans are going to stop coming back.
Slender Man (Behind you)
I know this is probably a very common question, but on a scale from 1-10, how confident are you that the lockout will end?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Slender - 10. It's going to end. We're going to have hockey again. It's just a matter of when. Also, you're not right behind me, are you?
Ben (San Jose)
I'd argue the Pacific should be in the discussions as best division in hockey. Don't forget that it was 2 Pacific division teams in the conference finals (and 2 Atlantic on the other side). They do also hold the '12 cup winner...
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Fair enough - I thought the Pacific was the best to start the season last year. The Central was also in that conversation. But when you look at the Atlantic, you can make a decent argument for at least three of those teams to win the Stanley Cup this year and that doesn't even count the team that won the East last year. I'd say, at best, two Pacific teams would be considered serious Cup contenders.
Jay (Denver )
Craig, Who would actually invest in the Yotes in this sort of business environment without a CBA in place? Should I actually believe everything that Mr. Jamison is saying?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Right. Think about it from the potential owners position. Wouldn't you want to see how this negotiation shakes out before you sink millions into a franchise that loses big money every year? I would.
Alex (NY, NY)
What do you think will happen to NHL employees and at what point?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Yeah, that's a tough one. There were layoffs last time, I can't help but think that would be the case again. Those are some of the hardest working people in the sport we're talking about and it's a shame they might have to pay the price for an inability to find a deal.
Wally (Fairfield, CT)
Who do you think is the next to wear the "C" in Detroit? Following Yzerman was a tough act for Lidstrom...but now whoever takes that responsibility of following 2 of the best players the game has ever seen. Zetterberg seems like the obvious choice, but it could be someone else...thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
It'll be Zetterberg. He's becoming more and more of a strong voice in the media and he's one of the best two-way players in the game. He has the respect of the players in that room. It's a no-brainer.
Dave (Oshawa ON)
Just curious, do you know if people around Atlanta missed the NHL last year? Or was it only a small but hardcore fan base and little impact when the team left?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
I can tell you that a very small, hardcore group of fans missed the NHL very much. The city as a whole probably didn't even notice the Thrashers left. They might not have known they existed to begin with. Huge missed opportunity there though because there are plenty of hockey fans in Atlanta. One of the great misconceptions is that they don't exist.
Craig-Possibly throwing the baby out with the bathwater and i realize it's a pipe dream but isn't contraction the obvious answer here?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Cappy - If you're the PA, why would you agree to contraction? You're losing a bunch of NHL jobs for your constituency. More robust revenue sharing is probably the better solution.
Poor Tom Stillman. We finally have a local, stable owner and now he is forced to lockout his players before he gets to enjoy his first game as an NHL owner. Do you think that all 30 owners are in fact united, or are there some behind the scenes arguments taking place among the owners?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Casey - Gary Bettman said the lockout vote was unanimous, so there's that. But the league has also threatened to fine any owner who speaks about the CBA negotiations so we're not getting a true sense of many of their feelings. But like any group of 30 with different agendas, there's going to be a difference of opinion. The teams losing money want more revenue sharing. Those making money don't want to pay for it. But Gary Bettman is skilled in keeping his group united and on task and I don't see this negotiation being any different.
Aaron (Cartersville GA)
I'm from the Atlanta area, the Thrashers could had been viable if ASG would have invested in the team. ASG bought the Thrashers because the wanted the Hawks. The lockout is going to hurt the teams in the southeast. Over the last few years hockey talent has started to come from the south. Can it continue now?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
There we go - a voice from Atlanta. And yes, I think a lockout hurts teams in non-traditional markets much more than it does in established hockey cities. Very good point Aaron.
How do you see the Pens doing this season (if there is one) with Malkin and Crosby healthy?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Jeff - I'm going to answer this with full disclosure first. I thought the Penguins were going to win the Eastern Conference when the playoffs began last year. I loved that team. Then they lost in the first round. All that said, if Malkin and Crosby are healthy all year, they're playing for a Stanley Cup.
Marc (Malden, MA)
$6M a year for Milan Lucic...I threw up...he sucks.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
I disagree. There are plenty of teams who would love him on their side. Plus, it's hard to judge any of the contracts crammed in at the end until we know what the new CBA looks like. It's quite possible he won't see all that money.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone, great questions as always. Really appreciate the active participation. See you next week!