Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com NHL Insider Craig Custance stops by to chat as the NHL preseason gets underway.
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! Very excited to be starting another season of Tuesday afternoon hockey chats. Let's dive right into the questions.
So will the Wild be top 3 in the west? I mean they made the playoffs last year when half the team was new and they didn't have Pominville til late in the season. I think no matter what they will be better than last year but if there young guys can step up they will be really good.
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Andrew - You nailed it at the end. Their improvement is going to have to come from their younger players. I liked the Matt Cooke addition but for the Wild to go from borderline playoff team to a top three, they need a couple of their young players like Granlund or Coyle to make a jump. Still have concerns about their depth on defense, even though Chuck Fletcher is optimistic Ballard will help. And as good as Jonas Brodin was last year, I've seen too many defensemen take a step back that sophomore season to assume anything with him. Not sure they're quite top three just yet.
Noticed exactly zero Devils in the top 50 defensemen. Makes me think it will be a while before NJD is championship-caliber competitive.
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Owen - the player ranking make for some interesting debate, eh? I think New Jersey may be better than people think because i like the addition of Cory Schneider and I'm a big Pete DeBoer fan. I agree, they're not championship material but then again, when they went to the SCF against the Kings, it's not like that defense had big names that would crack a Top 50. The Devils under Lou Lamoriello will always be a sum of the parts.
who has a better chance to make the rangers opening day roster- fasth, kristo or lindberg?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
INjuries up front give the Rangers forward prospects a good chance of making the team. I was really impressed with Lindberg in Traverse City and couldn't help notice that Vigneault mentioned him the other day at the outset of training camp. I liked what I saw from him but it has to continue in camp. You don't win a roster spot in TC.
Charlie (Carlisle, MA)
Based off his stellar performance against the Canadiens in preseason, do you think Torey Krug is a lock to be on one of the Bruins top two defensive lines?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Charlie - Had a good chat with Torey when he was training this summer at Michigan State. He said the experience during the playoffs gave him the confidence that he could compete at the highest levels. And when you're a player like Krug, you have to play with confidence, something he's always had. Still, I'd hesitate to call any young defenseman on a veteran team like Boston a lock for top four minutes. He still hasn't played a complete season in the NHL, so it's reasonable to expect some ups and downs this season.
Is there any talk amongst NHL circles about possible expansion/relocation, i.e. to Quebec City, Kansas City, Seattle, or the GTA or is that far on the backburner?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
With the CBA done and realignment finished, I wouldn't be surprised at all if there's momentum building for expansion. That's something that's going to be moved from the backburner to the frontburner over the course of the next couple years. I like Quebec and Seattle as favorites. The problem with KC is finding ownership to put a team in that great arena there.
This feels like the NYR year. Underperformed a little last year and had some injuries. But now they're trotting out a similar team that seems primed to go far. I like the depth, the young forwards should continue to develop, great D (especially if staal stays healthy), and obviously you can't beat having The King in net.
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Jeremy - I feel that way too. I haven't decided yet who my preseason STanley Cup pick will be and might be hesitant to pick the Rangers since they were my choice last year but there's a lot to like there. Like you said, forwards have matured and their top four on defense match up with anyone in the East. Oh yeah, they have the best goalie in the conference. Plus, I like that they had to stew all summer long after underperforming last year. Like everyone though, they have to be healthy.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I dislike the current point system and would really like to see 3 pts for a regulation win. The league kept saying the current system increases parity, playoff chases, etc, but I disagree. History showed that whomever was in the top 8 by Thanksgiving was almost guaranteed of making the playoffs (at least 7 of 8 typically made it in the East). So how can the league favor a point system where the playoff teams are decided after 1/3 of the season? Or will this change with realignment?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Hey Marc! Good to hear from you again this season. If you think that the standings aren't fluid enough under the current system, how does a three-point regulation win help? Seems to me it would lock things in even more.
Craig, this isn't the NFL where two running backs works just fine. Who sees more time in net this year for the Devils: Schneider or Brodeur? I don't buy a 41/41 split.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Brodeur's save percentage the last three seasons: .903, .908, .901. I think Schneider gets more starts.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
With all due respect to Martin Brodeur, of course.
Olympic question: I know the US will assess players on their level of form during the year but don't you think Quick, Howard, and Anderson are the guys to roll with for the goalie situation?
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
The U.S. goaltending decision is one of my favorite debates of the regular season because it really will come down to performance this season. I'd say Quick is the only lock and I'd be stunned if he isn't starting in Sochi. But after that, they're going to take the next two best performers. The three guys you mentioned are certainly the favorites to make the team mostly because Schneider might be splitting time and Miller is on a bad team. But Miller is a competitive guy, and will be motivated to reclaim his spot on the roster.
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
And what if Tim Thomas goes down to Florida and is great? Then what? I love this debate.
Has there been any significant trade chatter?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Rob - Teams want to see what they have in camp right now before doing anything on the trade front. There are a couple interesting teams to watch though. Philadelphia has to move some salary and have defensemen who could be attractive. Detroit has a million forwards now that Dan Cleary is back, so Ken Holland has to do something there. Tough to move some of those veteran salaries in the D. Phoenix has a bunch of defensemen on one-way deals, so they're another interesting team. But there's still time for some of this stuff to work out.
Craig, do the Sabres have enough talent to make the playoffs this year? What do you think of the young guys thay have coming up?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
First question: No. Second question: I love the young talent in Buffalo. Going back to the Traverse City prospect tournament, the Sabres won it all two years ago and played for a championship this year. That's a competitive tournament and bodes well for the Sabres. One guy I really liked in TC was Baptiste, and I wasn't the only one. Had a good chat with Darcy Regier on the importance of picking the right veterans to keep around those guys. That's the decision making he's going to have to make next.
How bad is it really going to be in Calgary this season? is there anything to look forward to?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Rob - It's going to be pretty bad. Sorry. I'm a Brian Burke fan though, so that's a positive. Assuming there's not too many people trying to influence decisions in the Calgary front-office, Burke is a guy who knows how to right the ship. I guess you have two things to look forward to: His press conferences and the draft.
Greg (Amherst, MA)
Who do you see as the team that's going to challenge the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic divisions? Toronto seems like a team ready to make a jump to the next level.
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Hey Greg! I'm not a huge Toronto fan. I like Bernier a lot as a goalie but I'm not sure he's a huge upgrade over the performance Reimer turned in last season. I'm not sure they addressed their issue at center this summer either. I see Boston's biggest challengers in that division being Detroit and Ottawa.
Do you think Mathew Dumba would be best served getting 3rd line d-pair minutes with some PP time or another season back in Red Deer along with being one of the leaders at the World Junior Championships?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
The sense I get from the Wild is that there's not a lot of upside to Dumba getting a ton of time in junior this season. I think he makes the team and even if he's just practicing with the Wild, watching from the press box and playing occasionally, that would better serve his development. Maybe a month or so into the season, then you make a decision.
Any expectations for the Roy-valanche this season? I think better effort night-in-night-out and improved coaching will help the team be more respectable, but can the defense keep opponents out of their zone long enough to allow the talented playmakers time on offense? And how will Roy handle the first big losing streak?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Matt - About to book a flight to Denver for next week. I can't wait to get out there and see Patrick Roy run a team. I'm absolutely fascinated by the Avalanche and wish I had a great sense of how they're going to perform. There's incredible talent up front and I'm not sure there's a group of centers in the West I like better than Colorado's. But the defense isn't good. Can't overlook that. Ask me again when I get back from Colorado.
Craig, in response to Rob in Calgary you forgot that Calgary fans also can look forward to Dec 10th when the Bruins and Iginla come to town.
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
There you go Rob!
What do you think of the Oilers this year? They're still young but do you think they can make the playoffs this year?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
They'd better make the playoffs. It's time for that group to perform. yes, they young, but we can't keep saying that forever. Loved the addition of Andrew Ference. That's exactly the kind of guy you need in the room to make sure the culture is one of winning and not trying to pile up personal stats in meaningless games.
Drew (Fort Worth)
Stars #1 pick Valeri Nichushkin is creating quite the buzz at Stars training camp, especially after potting two goals Sunday night vs. the Blues. How do you think he'll do this season?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Drew - I'm writing on him for Wednesday so I don't want to give away too much but he might have a bigger immediate impact than anyone in his draft class this season. He was an absolute stud in Traverse City. His play jumped off the ice. He's going to be really good. If you're in a keeper fantasy hockey pool, make sure you get him.
Which team do you expect to surprise this year and make the playoffs that the average fan may not expect?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Put me down for Dallas. Jim Nill knows how to build a winner, they've strengthened themselves down the middle. Jamie Benn is an underappreciated star and Kari Lehtonen can steal games. And like I mentioned in the previous comment, they may have the Calder Trophy winner on their roster.
Over a half hour in and no Blackhawks questions...geez! Anyways, how do you see the Hawks doing in the new division and throughout the season Craig?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Eric - Alright, Blackhawks are on the board at 1:40. They're loaded and play in a division I would say is probably one of the more suspect in the league. I like everything about the Blackhawks - good deep mobile defense, talented forwards, solid goaltending. I like everything except that they won it all last year and are coming off a short summer. Last year was a grind and this season will be too because of the Olympics, a tournament in which plenty of Blackhawks will be participating. The only thing that stops Chicago is fatigue and injury.
Think the Isles finally make it past round 1 this year?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Joe - You know how sometimes teams battle really hard to get in the playoffs to end a franchise drought and then take a step back in their development the following season? I have a feeling that could happen with the Islanders this season. I don't particularly trust Nabokov and Streit is a real loss on defense. You also have to replace Brad Boyes, a nice fit w/Tavares. So, to answer your question, I'm saying no.
Penny for your thoughts on Ryan Murray. Any way he doesn't make the team and play significant minutes?
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Had a good chat with him too in TC. He was thrilled to be back out there and playing and he looked good. His coach, Brad Larsen, was really impressed with his decision-making under pressure and could see him getting more and more comfortable as the games went on. He'll make the team, but there's enough talent on the CBJ blueline that he doesn't have to be pressured into significant minutes right away.
Craig, what do you think about the Capitals chances this year? Will they make the playoffs and if they do, is there any possibility of them going deep?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Joe - The NHL is at the point now where any team that makes the playoffs has a possibility of going deep. Any team. And yes, I think the Capitals are a playoff team. They're hurt by realignment but you saw the potential in this group once they started to grasp Adam Oates' system. Really liked the Grabovski signing and decision not to give Ribeiro the term he got in PHX. One of these years the Caps are going to click and make that long playoff run.
Riley (St Louis)
Do the blues win the central with a full off season with Hitch?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Riley - Wow, I forget that he hasn't had a full season to do his work. That's crazy because I feel like he's been there awhile. They're a playoff team but I don't think they win the division. Chicago is just too good. To me, more important than a full season of Hitch is a full season with veteran D Bouwmeester and Leopold. Having those guys around allows Hitch to manage the minutes of Shattenkirk more effectively and gives the Blues a top four that stacks up with anyone. They avoided a prolonged holdout too with Pietrangelo, which is big. I like the Blues.
Tyler Seguin (Out Partying)
Who do you think got the better side of my trade this offseason?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Tyler,Is it a cop out to say that it works for both teams? I really feel this is a classic case of two very smart general managers making a deal that works well for both clubs. Seguin is most valuable as a top six center and as long as Bergeron and Krejci are around it was hard for him to get time to develop there. And Eriksson is a great player. My prediction is that he sets a career high for goals. Just a good hockey trade.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I think 3 pts for a regulation win would change things. Yes, the teams at the top would pull away, but teams 9-12 would have a better chance at catching 5-8.
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Okay, fair enough Marc. In the current system, it really is hard to play catchup if you get off to a slow start. In my blog today, Peter Laviolette talked a little bit about how hard it was for the Flyers to overcome their slow start during the shortened season last year. Maybe with your system Marc, teams would start playing for regulation wins. I can be talked into it.
Re: Isles. You don't think PMB and Clutterbuck improve their chances?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Jason [via mobile]
Is this the year Drew Doughty finally puts it together for a full season?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
You know what's crazy? He's 23. He has all this experience, including invaluable playoff time, and he's 23. Consistency is going to come with age. I picked him to win the Norris last year, so I think pretty highly of Drew Doughty. Having Regehr around definitely helps the cause, once they figured out how to play together.
tdiddy (winnipeg) [via mobile]
Two questions. 1) Does Jacob Trouba make the squad full time this year? 2) Do the Jets make the playoffs this year? Thank you (unless you don't answer this...then you're dead to me)
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Hahahaha. I don't want to be dead to you tdiddy. I was watching their preseason game the other night and loved that Kane line. Scheifele looks like he's ready to make an impact and Setoguchi brings some speed. Love Trouba's confidence when we chatted at USA orientation camp. Haven't spoken to Cheveldayoff specifically about Trouba but his track record so far in Winnipeg is to not rush his young players. As talented and confident as Trouba is, he's still a teenager who plays defense. You have to be careful. I wouldn't rush him just yet. And if I had to bet right now, I think this team still falls just short of the postseason. There's some good young talent coming, they're just not there yet.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone, great questions. Love talking to you. If I missed you, fire a question in the mailbag on my blog or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for the chat!