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 - just got done chatting with Jagr and the Dallas Stars following a morning skate here at JLA. Great to be back in the routine. Let's dive in here!
Nick (St. Louis, MO)
What is a realistic "ceiling" for Tarasenko this season?
Craig Custance (1:02 PM)
We're seeing already that this guy is a special player. It's funny because I asked Doug Armstrong about him a lot during the lockout and he tried really hard to restrain expectations. But you could tell he loved this player. Great attitude, always seems to be around the puck. He's off to a strong start but the challenge for him is the grind that comes with the NHL live and maintaining this level of play over the long haul. But he's a special player, no doubt.
Jerry (Evanston, IL)
What do you think about the Blackhawks this year? Do you believe Crawford could lead us to the Cup? I think our lines are very strong and our defense is getting a lot better. Let me know your thoughts thanks
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Got a good look at the Blackhawks in LA. They've got everything you want in a Cup contender. Crawford looked great in the game I saw and he said he was really locked in. A fast start is crucial because you know the questions will come quick for him if things go sideways. That's a pretty deep defense which will help when the injuries come. I still prefer Bolland on a third line, like he was when they won the Cup but that's splitting hairs. They stay healthy, they'll challenge for a championship.
Hi Craig! Small sample size so far but what are your thoughts about who looks to be the real deal? Which teams have really stood out to you so far?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Devin - Yeah, small sample size for sure. Just had a conversation with someone who pointed out that teams that play with a lot of structure (Rangers, Devils, etc) may struggle early to get that timing back and the up and down play might benefit teams with high-end offensive players who can wing it a little bit out there. But things will settle down in a couple weeks and we'll have a better chance to analyze who is for real. But quick impressions have left me impressed with Wild, Blues, Penguins and the Senators. You pile up points early, that goes a long way.
I know it's only 1 game & Subban is still not signed. But it looks pretty clear Montreal is not yet a playoff team. What moves do you see the Canadiens making between now and the deadline to set them up for next year?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Hey Bill - Yeah, getting PK signed would be a good start. But this team in the first year of the Bergevin era. He has some time to build this the right way and already has some key pieces in place. They really don't have any obvious trade candidates, like potential UFAs. I think the important thing is getting comfortable under Therrien and getting the young guys experience in that system.
Azwing (Phoenix, Az)
Here's a crazy thought:Shorten the regular season to about 60 games. And, have it go from about mid-November to late April (season opener to Stanley Cup Finals). Sometimes, less is more.Despite the sour feelings from fans about the lockout, it seems pretty clear that there was a lot of pent up demand for hockey. Maybe waiting for it and anticipating it is a good thing. The games have more urgency right off the bat, without the typical less-than-meaningful October games that aren't played with much intensity. So, shorten the season, which makes each one count more and leads to better hockey.Of course, I know this will never happen, since the owners/players want as much revenue as they can get. So, for them, more games equals more money.What do you think?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
AZ - As much as I hated the lockout, I've got to admit I like the shortened season. I think what we're seeing is that by waiting until January there's been a pent up demand for hockey. Ratings are great, buildings are full - people are really into it. I know owners wouldn't ever leave money on the table but I'm with you - a late November start would be awesome. Will never happen though.
Father Time (Heaven)
Craig, old European dudes lit it up on opening night with Jagr (4 points), Selanne (4 points) and Kovalev (3 points) all having smashing debuts. What year is this, 1996? Which of those guys has the best chance of keeping up something even close to that pace for the rest of the year.
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Just chatted with Jagr and he said the key for these guys maintaining this kind of pace is staying healthy. The biggest difference between these guys and somebody in their 20s is that it takes longer to recover from any kind of injury. Jaromir knocked on wood a couple times while talking today about injuries, you know that's going to be the biggest thing. My concern with him is he'll end up playing a lot of games because he played in Europe. That's a lot of mileage but he's crazy about his fitness so we'll see.
Nazem Kadri (Toronto, ON)
Craig, who scored the first goal of the year for the Leafs? This guy. *grins, points at self* Is it possible Don Cherry was right all along and those "two American dum-dums" were holding me back all those years? This despite the fact I apparently failed the Leafs pre-season conditioning test and there is no way I would have been on the team opening night if Burke was still around.
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
Nazem - I've got too much respect for Brian Burke to suggest he was the problem. I like the decision to go young though, you have to see what they have to offer, especially if you have potential trade partners asking for the young players in return.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, on one of the NHL Network season preview shows, the host asked analyst Craig Button who he thought would be the first star player to actually get traded this year (not counting Luongo). Examples were Yandle, Perry, Getzlaf, etc. Button responded, without hesitation, "Phil Kessel." What are the chances this actually happens this year? And who would be in the market for a player like Kessel? Would the new Leafs management really want to "give up" on Kessel at this point considering all they gave up to get him and the firestorm that resulted...or could they just blame that all on Burke.
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
Hey Jesse - Craig is a plugged in guy so I don't think he's just throwing stuff out to see if it sticks. I do think one thing the Burke decision does do, is make a Kessel trade more likely. Burke really and honestly really liked Kessel as a player and a person. Whether or not you like that trade, Kessel has been a very productive player for Toronto. It'd have to be a pretty good package to get me to move him.
Outside of the best team on paper (Rangers) going 0-2, what team has been the biggest surprise to start the season?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
I'm surprised to see Vancouver struggling a bit. I like Schneider a lot as a goalie and don't think it will last long. But my concern is more with their defense, they're better than that. I'm surprised with how quickly Anaheim has jumped out, although again, I think this wide open hockey we're seeing in the NHL right now benefits a team like that and its offensive stars. Not worried at all about the Rangers. They'll be fine.
With everyone harping on the Devils losing Parise, isnt this just another hurdle they will overcome and get to the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Jason - They always seem to find a way, don't they? That's a big hurdle though. Losing Larry Robinson doesn't help either. We should all know better than to underestimate a Lou Lamoriello team but we do it anyways.
Craig, Blues and Blackhawks tonight, can't wait. Hopefully my Blues can pull it out and take the Central lead. Your score prediction?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Great game. 4-3 Blackhawks.
Dan Winnik for the Hart! But seriously, the Ducks should be more exciting than they were last season, no?
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
How about that line, eh Alex? Winnik, Koivu, Cogliano - best line in hockey! A full season of Bruce Boudreau should help the excitement level. It's been really fun to watch that power play operate. Souray has been good too so far.
Western Conference Finals Preview Tonight: Blues at Hawks?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
The West is up for grabs this year and that's an easy matchup to imagine. Still think the Canucks will have a say. And I'm not sleeping on the Sharks and Kings either.
Mason (Los Angeles)
With Matt Green out for the next 6-12 weeks, do the Kings look to shop Bernier with a bit more aggressiveness now to get a top 4 defenseman? Or do the Kings look within from their deep (but young and inexperienced) pool in the farm system?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Mason - That's a great question. The Kings won the Stanley Cup in part because they were the healthiest among the best teams. Add that injury with Mitchell (knee) and Kopitar (knee) and it starts to look bad in LA. The problem with trading Bernier for a D is that there aren't a ton of teams deep on defense willing to move one. I'd think you'd get a better return for him if you asked for futures like draft picks or prospects.
What can we realistically expect out of Parise this season? He seems to be fitting in well with the Wild. Could they challenge for the cup or is that too much to ask?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Matt - An No. 8 seed won the Cup last year, so if they get in the playoffs, all bets are off. I really like the Wild and think they're a playoff team but I still believe their best hockey is still a year or two away when some of that talent in Houston is ready to contribute on a regular basis.
Dan Leite (Columbus, Ohio)
Craig, with John Davidson running things now, there seems to be some hope here in columbus and the first two games seem reflective of the "lunch pale" work ethic of this team. They are short on offense but have gotten good goaltending so far. What do you think are realistic expectations for Columbus fans this year and in the near future. Thanks and I appreciate your great hockey coverage.
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Hey Dan - Thanks! Love the JD hire in Columbus. Gives that team firm direction and he's proven he knows how to do it. I see him making smaller, incremental moves in Columbus that he thinks sets this team up better long term. And let's give credit to Scott Howson on the Bobrovsky trade. A lot of people like Bernier and Lindback better. Still don't see this team in the playoffs and that's okay. They have 3 first rounders, one more lottery pick wouldn't hurt this franchise.
Austin (cheeseburger west side)
Early rookie of the year leader... Cory Conacher of Tampa Bay?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
What a great story he's been so far. I'd say Tarasenko is your Calder leader but Conacher has been great. Huberdeau too. Impressive crop of rookies this year and Granlund may end up being the best one.
Is this slow start more of an alarm for the Rangers, or more reflective of a crazy opening week schedule?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
I'm honestly not alarmed by the start. Tortorella will right the ship. Crazy schedule, no exhibition. They'll be fine. It's the teams that are dealing with injuries already that I'm worried about, not the ones starting slowly.
Jackson (Nashville, TN)
Craig-Thanks for taking my question. Two tough OT loses to start the season, any reason to worry yet for the Preds?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Yeah Jackson, I am worried about Nashville. But I was worried about them before the season began. Tough to lose a player like Ryan Suter, not replace him and expect to play at the same level as last year. IT's going to be a battle for that team to get in the playoffs. I feel the same way about Lidstrom and Detroit.
Who is rustier: NHL players or NHL referees? Flyers got robbed Sunday.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
I give everybody two weeks to shake off the rust, then we can be critical.
Jeff R (Dallas)
I see that you like my Hawks, but I'm keeping my excitement tempered until they prove they can win a 1-0 or a 2-1 game. As other teams shake the rust off we won't be scoring 5.5 goals/game. Is my tempered optimism with cause?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
That's a fair point Jeff. Tempered optimism is always a good thing, but Chicago is a good team. Glad to see Marian Hossa play the way he's been playing. What a comeback after leaving the playoffs on a stretcher.
What do you think Dougie Hamilton can do for the Bruins this year?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
James - I think you use this season as a learning experience for Dougie. I like how they handled Seguin and I think you have to be especially careful with a defenseman. Not expecting big things from him this season but it'll come.
Ryan (philadelphia, pa )
Opinions on Bryzgalov so far? I felt as if he was just a victim of bad luck.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
I'm on record as saying this is a bounce-back season for Bryz. Or at least I am now. He hasn't been the problem in Philly.
Jon (Long Island, NY)
Craig- Really unhappy with the Rangers 0-2 start. The schedule doesn't get any easier either. Would you contribute their slow start to simply lockout repercussions, or do you think because Torts is constantly changing lines, the guys haven't gotten a chance to mesh with eachother yet? The Pens and Bruins didn't seem to have the same issue thus far.... not jumping off the bridge yet, just unhappy.
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Jon - Don't jump off the bridge. Rangers will be fine. Wide open game being played right now doesn't favor them. Things will tighten up which favors New YOrk.
Casey (St. Louis)
Who are your way-too-early picks to go head to head in the Stanley Cup Finals and why? Also, who takes home the Cup?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
My way too early SCF pick is Rangers over Canucks. But boy, the Blues may make me look bad. The Rangers need to stay healthy but I loved the Rick Nash addition for a team that struggled to score goals and I think that's the perfect scenario for him as a player. Best goalie in the East in Lundqvist. Good young defense. Really like the Rangers. Don't feel nearly as convicted about my pick in the West.
Which offseason free agent signing and/or trade do you think will be a bust?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Hmmmm. Considering all the money spent on Hudler and Wideman, I wonder if Calgary will get value in those moves. I liked the Hartley hire though.
I think the Pens 1-2punch in goal is about as good as it gets. Especially if Fluery gets back to his normal self. Teams with two solid goalies have a huge advantage in this compressed schedule IMO. Really like STL and PIT.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Yeah Jack, I agree that having two goalies is an advantage but I think moreso in the West where travel is more of an issue. Teams in the East can get away with riding their starting goalie where I think in the West you're going to lean on the backup. I like ST. Louis combo obviously. If Van keeps Luongo that's pretty darn good too. And Minny has two good ones too.
When do you see the Jamie Benn contract getting done? Its pretty clear that the Stars are extremely thin at center.
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Yeah, they need him and both sides know it. Dallas can't allow that to drag out much longer. They're a borderline playoff team as is, and can't go too long without their best player. I'm a big Jamie Benn fan.
Craig, in a fantasy pool tonight would you take Bryz vs Devs or Backstrom vs Preds?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Backstrom vs. Preds.
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
And if you're in a deep league looking for offensive help, Red Wings called up Gustav Nyquist and will give him power play time along with time in the top six. Could be a good waiver wire pickup.
Craig, knowing the Penguins are under the cap this year and built to give Geno his payday this offseason and still be okay, do you see them trading for any rentals this season? Corey Perry, for instance? I think seeing what one elite scorer can do with Malkin (in James Neal), and we had a GLIMPSE of what Crosby can do with elite winger (Hossa). I love Pascal and Kunitz, but I just dont think they bring the same fear to the defending team that Neal does. The more respect teams give the wingers, the more open space Sid and Malkin get.
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Mike - Let's not forget that the Pens were in on Zach Parise, so they're definitely on the prowl for a winger for Crosby. I definitely see them in the mix at the deadline, especially if it's a guy they think they can sign long term.
Larry (Staten Island, New York)
Have any predictions for what trades may go down? Such names as - Subban, Getzlaf, Perry, Luongo, Iginla?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
You've got to let things play out here for awhile. The feeling among GMs was that there might be moves in camp as teams assess what they have and once the season starts, you want to give your roster a chance. Of that group, I think Luongo gets traded first.
Rich (Bayonne, NJ)
Wings are already down 3 defensemen and all they can do is sign Huskins. Seriously, yhey have 17 forwards under contractm can we expect them to trade someone for a top 4 guy?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Rich - They need help on defense, but who? Not a lot of teams eager to trade a top four defenseman right now. Red Wings need to stay in the mix until the deadline gets closer and then I expect Ken Holland to be really aggressive. Can't sit on that cap space forever.
only bout 2 games into the season but winnik looks like a great pick up. where do you see the ducks come playoff time?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
They've been really good for awhile since Hiller found his game last year after vertigo recovery. You just wonder how that team will handle the Perry/Getzlaf potential distraction if both of those players are unsigned as the trade deadline gets closer.
I have Benn on my fantasy team. Should I drop him?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
No, in fact if you're in a league where Benn's owner is getting nervous, go trade for him.
Wings Fan (Wings Land)
Houston (Craig) , do we have a problem here in Detroit?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Here's how I think of Detroit. Imagine for a moment that there was a team last year that was beat pretty handily in the first round of the playoffs. Then in the off-season they lose the best defenseman of a generation and don't replace him with anyone of note. Then they start the season off banged up. You wouldn't expect that team to do particularly well, would you? I know they're the Red Wings and they always seem to find a way, but I'd be concerned.
I have to say that I'm sold on the Sabres this year. Even after just two games you can tell it's a different team. Loved how Stafford stepped in after that cheap hit by Hartnell and I think Vanek is extremely underrated. Miller looks like he put last year behind him. I could see them taking that division. Whatre your thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Matt - Haven't had a chance to watch a lot of the Sabres yet but if Ryan Miller is going to play like we know he's capable, they should be really good. It was smart for that team to add some grit, but it still comes down to the goalie and Miller is one of the best when he's healthy.
Lonny (Blaine, Mn)
Will the Winter Classic be in Michigan next year? If not, maybe Minnesota would have a shot.
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
It'll be at the Big House in Ann Arbor, but Minnesota will be in the mix now that they have more star power. Washington was promised one too though so they might get the next one after Michigan.
Paul MacLean's twin (Ottawa)
Did you see and my twin brother at the game last night!
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
That was unbelievable. I actually called me wife over to show her when I was watching that game. That had to be spooky for Paul to see that.
John Tavares will be better or worse this year?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Do you think the islanders have any shot of getting luongo?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Hmmmm, we know Garth Snow likes to collect goalies. And Mike Gillis has alluded to a team being in the mix that nobody has mentioned. But if you're Roberto Luongo are you waiving your no-trade to join the Islanders? I'm not. No offense, of course.
Craig - your top 3 NHL arenas to take in a hockey game?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
1. Montreal - Best atmosphere in the NHL; 2. MSG 3. ChicagoHaven't been to Winnipeg though yet. Heard the crowd is unreal.
If your every in Philly for a game, any chance we can meet up for a pre-game drink outside Wells Fargo Center? I can always hope!
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
More likely after the game for a post-game drink. Gotta keep a clear head for work!
Retire 25_2 (Canada)
Craig, any rumblings of other teams preparing offer sheets for Benn? If so who do you think would be in the running and would Dallas automatically match?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Haven't heard any rumblings like that.
Craig, is it possible (not probable) that Hossa could be the league's MVP this year? Dude looks like he's on a mission. Not to take anything away from anybody else...what are your thoughts?
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Eric - I think Marian is consistently one of the most under-appreciated players in hockey. Great two-way game, can be streaky offensively at times, but even when he's not scoring he's contributing. I'm not sure if he'll ever put up the numbers to be in the Hart race but maybe a short season like this is the one to do it. I'd have no issues at all voting for him.
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Alright everyone, great questions as always. Wish I could get to more. I'll try to put together a Friday mailbag so shoot me any more questions there or on Twitter and I'll get it in there. Thanks for jumping in!