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 (1:00 PM)
Hey everyone! Time for our weekly lockout/hockey/decertification chat. Let's dive in!
Charlie (New York)
When do you except the lockout to end?
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
When will we see NHL Hockey?
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Chris - I'll have you know that Charlie beat you to the punch this week with that question. You're slipping! Still no talks scheduled between the two sides which isn't good but I wouldn't surprised to see some movement later this week. I'm sticking with my original prediction of January hockey but boy it's harder and harder to be an optimist in this. We're closing in on that drop dead date. On the bright side, we're not there yet and won't be for a few weeks.
PT (Jamestown, OH)
Do you believe that, when all the "negotiation" is over, that the NHL will ever be able to be in the top 3 of American professional sports?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
PT - That's the frustration with all of this. The NHL has made it impossible to catch the NBA (NFL and MLB in another stratosphere) by having so many work stoppages. If they lose this season, it may never happen. But if they can still salvage a 48-game season and put this behind us with a long-term agreement, its not out of the question. But they'll never crack the top 3 at this pace and are dropping dangerously close out of the top 4. Good times!
Is there any hope of college hockey being televised on ESPN anytime before the frozen four? Seems like it'd be a good time to promote that event given all the hockey starved NHL fans out their.
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Steven - Can't speak for the television plans of ESPN but it sounds like the college games being televised right now on other networks are getting strong support and solid ratings. College hockey is a great game and untapped market, plus there's a huge pent up demand for hockey. The stupidity of the lockout doesn't change the fact that it's a great sport.
If the two sides were so close together,as the Furh suggested why are they going through all this BS now?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Lino - There are differing opinions on just how close they are. The league doesn't believe they are as close as some in the NHLPA have suggested. That's the scary thing, there are still a lot of unresolved issues to be tackled. I was speaking with one player who pointed out the gap in what each side wants the salary cap to be this season, if there is a season. That's something you rarely hear about. Plus, like I wrote a few days ago, there are still issues like the Olympics, realignment and a laundry list of secondary issues to settle.
Bryan (Tampa, FL)
With the growth of NASCAR, Golf, and the MLS and global soccer, does the NHL have a better chance to drop to 5th or 6th in major pro sports if they lose another season?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
It's hard to predict because there's just no data to analyze a pro sports league wiping out 2 full seasons in such a short span. But yeah, people will move on. Especially in the states. I think NASCAR may be more regional but MLS and soccer is an interesting one. NHL can't take anything for granted.
Andrew (Washington DC)
Let's just say there's no deal in time this year. Do you think that we'll end up seeing some teams closing their doors for good due to the financial loss? What happens to those player contracts, assuming that a CBA is eventually reached and all the talk about voiding past contracts doesn't happen?
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Andrew - I don't know about closing doors for good, but I've had it suggested to me that if this thing drags on into next season, you'll have owners drop the keys to their franchise off to the league and hand the mess over to them. There are just some markets that probably wouldn't survive this thing dragging into next season. As for current contracts, guys whose current deals expire this year will lose the year and they become UFAs this summer. If we lose two years, then we'll have a slew of free agents when the league comes back.
Jeremy (Toledo, OH)
Do you think the NHLPA has a better chance of succeeding if it becomes a trade association rather than a true blue union?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
My hope is that the move towards a disclaimer of interest applies enough pressure to both sides to get a deal done through traditional collective bargaining. If the players end up following through on it and we don't see a CBA completed in time for this year, we're talking about the potential for years of court cases if this becomes an anti-trust battle. Nobody wins in that scenario. Nobody.
How scared are the NHL owners of a world with decertification / disclaimed interest?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
As the NHL's lawsuit showed on Friday, they were ready for it. It wasn't surprising, that wasn't something thrown together in an afternoon. One lawyer expert pointed out to me that nobody likes to get sued and in the long-term the players probably have a good case. But they also have to have the stomach to see it through there. I don't know if they're scared but at the very least they should be extremely uncomfortable about the notion.
Is the PA essentially making things worse by threatening to dissolve the union? Wouldn't that mean no minimum salary anymore? And it seems like there is a very small chance that an anti-trust against the NHL would hold up in court, is that true?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Matt - There's pros and cons if you call all the way with decertification. Yes, there's no minimum salary but imagine what guys like Crosby, Stamkos, Toews, Giroux, etc. would get on an open market without a salary cap. Some players would cash in in a big way. But I don't think we'll ever get to that point. Also, anybody who says they know how this will play out in court is being disingenuous. Especially a sports writer.
JOEY NO-NO (LA LA LAND)
I'll ask for your advise...what do I tell my 4 and 6-year-old when they ask me why the KINGS are not playing? It breaks my heart that they were so into it last year (and of course the playoffs) and now they are lost as to why daddy isn't screaming at the TV and to the fact that we have not gone to any of the games.
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Joey - Yeah, that's a tough one. I just had that conversation yesterday with my son who is 7 years old. He asked me to explain why they weren't playing hockey and I think I lost him somewhere around escrow. My best advice would be to find another level of hockey and take the kids there.
I keep reading about the anger and disappointment from not only fans, but the sponsors. Is the league concerned about this? Is this something they are aware of and want to help remedy whenever this gets going again?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Shane - Yes, they absolutely have to be aware and concerned about the impact on sponsorships. A guy like COO John Collins has to be beside himself that this isn't resolved because your making his job infinitely harder by extending this lockout. That's one reason why people believe the league is pushing for a 10-year CBA, so they can go back to sponsors and say they have a decade-long expectation of labor peace.
Cheapskates Jacobs (Boston)
Why would we get back to the barganing table??? We have all the leverage don't we ?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
I don't know, maybe so hockey can be played at some point this year?
I don't see hockey working in Seattle. The Sounders are already overtaking the Mariners for #2 here. I don't see the casual fan here going to hockey games. Those dollars will be spent on participatory sports.
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Rudy - The key would be finding an owner committed to the market and building a winner. When you combine strong ownership and on-ice success, you can sell the NHL in a variety of markets. Raleigh and Nashville are a good example of that. And if the Blue Jackets were ever any good, I think Columbus would be a good market. I think the league is intrigued by Seattle and if that arena gets built, I'd be surprised if hockey didn't follow in the following five years or so.
Justin (Denver )
I honestly don't think that the league has enough good owners for a 30 team league. Agree or disagree?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Well, considering the problem finding an ownership group in Phoenix, you could make that arguement. But one of the things Gary Bettman has been effective at is unearthing new owners. You can't argue that Jeffrey Vinik hasn't been a great find in Tampa. But for sure, there are a couple ownership groups that make you scratch your head.
I know the PA's salary cap desire is 67 mil... what exactly does the NHL want instead?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Was told players want 67.25 and league 60. Pretty considerable gap, eh?
Mark (San Jose)
Why on Earth would anyone want to own a hockey team that doesnt play hockey?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Haha. Great question.
JOEY NO-NO (LA LA LAND)
You need spell correction...It's "advice"...oh well. Hey, Merry Christmas to you guys.
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Sorry for any typos and spelling errors. Trying to get to as many questions as possible. Merry Christmas to all you as well!
Mike (New Jersey)
What is your gut telling you? Will there be hockey this year?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Mike - Yeah, I still think there will be hockey this season. But I have more doubts right now than I have had at any part of the process.
James Dolan (msg)
why does Gary hate me? I helped settle the nba lockout and here he is throwing me to the wolves.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Perhaps you're a bit too moderate.
Why would an owner like Jacobs want a 60mil cap? The bruins would need to get rid of at least one, maybe two marquee players to get under that number wouldn't they?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Well, there could be transition rules that allows some money from outside the system. And that's another thing that has yet to be settled, transition rules. They'll find a way to make it work so teams don't have to dump too much salary for this season but this summer could get crazy if teams have to get down to $60 million.
Marc (Malden, MA)
The players shouldn't want a shorter CBA. If history has taught us anything, it's that teams will find a way to circumvent the CBA and overpay players. The only thing a CBA expiration does is give the owners a chance to close more loopholes.
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Marc - I know the players are fighting for a shorter CBA but the guys I talk to don't seem all that passionate about it. I think they'd move on that issue if it helped the case in contracting rights for standard player contracts.
If the lockout were to end in January, who would be some of the cup favorites?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
I like Pittsburgh and New York in the East and Vancouver and St. Louis in the West. The Kings are now a wildcard since they've had PLENTY of rest since winning the Cup. Don't think a hangover will be the issue like it was with other teams which gives them a better shot at repeating than other teams had in recent years.
Reilly (New York)
Is this lockout now more of a fight between ego's/pride or are both sides really pushing this lockout longer over contracts?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Reilly - There have been some accusations on both sides of ego getting in the way of a deal. And yeah, I think the players pride was hurt by the NHL's first lowball offer and right now they're unhappy with the league's unwillingness to budge. I think pride definitely plays a part in this and can't be underestimated.
Kawika (Las Vegas)
67.25 vs 60...I guess 63.625 is just wont work?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Compromise??? You want compromise during these negotiations? C'mon now.
When Marty re-signed with NJ he said he wanted a 2-year deal, pretty much in case he lost all or some of this season. But at 40+ and a year off (assuming the season gets canceled) does he still come back?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
I don't know how a lot of these veterans come back if an entire year is wiped out. I don't want to speak for Marty but I think we're going to lose some significant players to retirement if the plug is pulled on this season. The consequences of another lost season will be far-reaching.
Approximately when do you think that they will just call the whole season off?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Jace - I think we're still a few weeks away from that. In 94-95, lockout ended on January 11. Season started on the 20th. That's the timeline I'm looking at now.
Who wins Rookie of the year?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Andrew - It sure is hard to ignore the success Justin Schultz is having in the AHL. I think he's earned the right to be the front-runner at this point. What a signing for the Oilers.
lou lamiorello (a bunker in newark)
Is the Kovalchuk deal the reason I'm not involved in the negotiations?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Haha, something tells me NJ ownership had more to do with that Kovy deal that LL. But many people have suggested that it's well past time a guy like Lou Lamoriello gets involved. It may be too late for that but it would have been nice to see some of the respected voices like Lou get that opportunity.
In the EA Simulated Season, the Washington Capitals are #1 in the Eastern Conference. Do you think they'll have that kind of success if there's a shortened season? Or do you think they'll struggle to implement a new system under Adam Oates?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Joe - I was just talking to someone about this today. The poor coaches like Oates and Bob Hartley who still have to put their systems in place during a short season are going to be at a disadvantage. But if hockey is played, it's going to be such a sprint that anything can happen. To me, a guy like Holtby may have more of a say over the Caps success than Oates this season.
@DONCHERRYPARODY (COACHES TWITTER CORNER)
HEY ALL YOU KIDS OUT THERE SHOULD GET READY TA WATCH THE GREATEST HOCKEY TOURNEY INNA WORLD THE WORLD JUNIORS AND EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT LETS GO TEAM CANADA! (THUMBS UP)
Ralph (Nuremberg, Germany)
Hey Craig, should I be devastated that I will not get up in the middle of the night to see my promising STL Blues this season or should I be more than excited to see NHL players in the first Winter Game between Nuremberg and Berlin on January 5th? By the way, you should come over and cover it, ita??s going to be great and is the best way to make up for the canceled WC!
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
I would love to cover that event, sounds awesome Ralph. We're such creatures of habit and right now I'm usually getting ready to go cover the Winter Classic. It seems weird not to have that event to prepare for. Enjoy your Winter Game.
How can either side look at what they stand to gain from this and continue down this road? They were essentially inches apart in their last two proposals. Split the difference and let's play hockey, why is that so hard?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Way too logical Mike. Logic hasn't been a part of these talks yet.
Mike (Nashville (with hot girlfriend))
If I go into a store, pick up a couple of things to buy, then have to sit and listen to the owner and employees bicker while I wait, I put the items down and leave. Taking your customers for granted is no way to run a business, NHL.
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
If the lockout ends, how does creating a schedule work?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Matt - I'm sure they already have potential schedules sketched out. It'd be a shortened camp, 7-days max. Then a condensed schedule most likely played strictly within the conference to keep travel reasonable.
What is the purpose of the stalemate right now ?? I mean they both came out publicly and said they want to bargain so what are they waiting for? If the courts were to take this and go with it, can the players go back to the courts and say we want to make a deal stop or is it once the process starts you can't stop it? And who would represent the players in a deal once they disband
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
The reason there's a stalemate is simple: Both sides still think the other one has room to move and will do so at some point. Yes, the players can reform the NHLPA if they decide that's the best option. If they decertify, it would most likely be a mix of legal representation along with Donald Fehr leading some sort of non-union association.
Deja Vu - this chat looks like every other hockey chat this year! Wrap it up!
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Alex - I would love nothing more than to be talking about hockey and trades and injuries and playoffs. Nothing more.
Trevor (Long Island)
With Nino Niederreiter scoring goals left-and-right in the AHL and Ryan Strome dominating the OHL, which player is more likely to have a scoring impact in the NHL, when the league returns?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Nino Niederreiter. He was a guy I thought was ready last year but he's benefiting from the time in the AHL. He has 27 points for Bridgeport and doing everything you'd hope a player of his caliber would do during the lockout. He's another Calder candidate to put in the mix.
Mike (Ithaca, NY)
Sorry, a bit behind in the chat today...your answer from above makes me believe the Caps might have traded Eakin and a decent draft pick for nothing (Ribeiro only has 1 year left on his deal); is this absolutely the case? You know, assuming there's no season!
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Yup. I guess on the bright side, if a CBA is agreed to before July 1 (or whenever free agency is during the next CBA) the Capitals would have a window to negotiate a new contract with him. So there's that.
I miss hockey!
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
And with that, we'll wrap up. Great questions and participation as always. Enjoy the Holidays and be safe!