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! Thrilled to have real live regular season hockey tonight. Should be a very entertaining season. Let's jump right into our last chance to preview it!
Craig, top 3 story lines to watch early this season?
Craig Custance (1:02 PM)
Hmmmm. Good question. There are so many. In no particular order - 1.) The start of the Coyotes. There's a new ownership and they're hoping to build off summer momentum with success on the ice. If the team struggles and that building remains empty, it could be a long climb for the new owners. 2.) Tim Thomas' return. I can't wait to see how he looks this season. 3.)Toronto goalie battle. It looks like management wants Bernier to be the man, but Reimer isn't giving up icetime easily. Will be fun to see who emerges.
Craig Custance (1:02 PM)
Those are just a few. There's a million more.
Joey L (NY, NY)
I have a real feeling the panthers are going to be real good, am I crazy?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Joey - Not completely crazy. I'm not ready to give them real good status, but Dale Tallon has done a nice job adding pieces lately that surrounds young players with veterans who know how to play. They're real good if Vezina Tim Thomas shows up, but that may be too much to ask after a year off. I've upgraded Florida from lottery team to playoff bubble team.
Winter Classic at the Big House...you mad, bro? Lets go blue!
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Haha. Yes, yes I am. I still can't figure out why that game isn't at the superior Spartan Stadium. I just hope hockey fans are louder than Michigan football fans.
Ed (Queens Village)
Which teams would you say the window could be closing to win a Stanley Cup?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Ed - The three I'd say are the Rangers, Canucks and Sharks. The Richards contract is going to look pretty bad really soon even if he bounces back. Not sure what they do with that. And who knows how many years Rick Nash has left at his best? The Canucks window may have already closed but it'll be interesting to see how the Sedins, Luongo and Torts mix this year. And the Sharks have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle playing in the final year of their contracts this season. Might be the last call for that trio.
Can the hawks get it done again this season? And who are the new faces to help them do it?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Rob - They definitely can. It's almost impossible to repeat but they have all the ingredients to do it. What makes them good again is that they didn't have to dismantle like last time. Most of that team is back. They don't need new faces, they just need the old ones to stay healthy and motivated.
Tim (St. Louis)
Thoughts on the Blues this year? A full year with Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester is what I'm looking forward to. Any chance they can advance deep into the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Love the Blues. Picked them to lose to the Kings in the Western Conference finals but that group is definitely capable of winning it all. Big question is in goal - which guy is going to seize the job? Morrow was a great addition late too. I'd want no part of that team in the playoffs.
This Wings roster crunch is awful. The most exciting young homegrown offensive talent the Wings have had in years in Nyquist starting the season in the AHL. Would anybody trade for Tootoo?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Jay - Yeah, Ken Holland was able to buy some time with the LTIR but he has some major decisions ahead when guys get healthy. I think if anybody was willing to trade for Tootoo, it would have happened by now. There's a couple tough contracts to move. I don't know how they fix that salary crunch. I can assure you that Nyquist will be back though. He'll play more in the NHL than the AHL this season.
Brandon Worley (Texas)
Unlike some other national pundits, you've spent a good amount of time around the Stars this preseason. What's your take on the team this season?
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
I'm on the Stars playoff bandwagon. I think Kari Lehtonen continues to be underappreciated nationally. He's capable of carrying that team for long stretches. I love how Jim Nill aggressively fixed the hole at center and moved Jamie Benn back to the wing. Not crazy about the defense or the term given to Sergei Gonchar but sometimes you have to do that to fix holes. I'd bet on the Stars getting in the playoffs though. Their division helps too.
Adam (New York)
What Players do you see working their way onto Team USA if they Have really good first halves of the year
Craig Custance (1:15 PM)
On defense, I think strong starts by Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle move them from the bubble onto the roster. Up front, a guy like T.J. Oshie could solidify his spot with a strong start. The most interesting race is in goal behind Jonathan Quick. I don't think you can rule out any of the guys (Anderson, Howard, Miller, Schneider) and what about Tim Thomas? What if he starts out the year on fire?
Are Kane and toews going to earn mega contracts by the end of this year?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
They've already earned mega contracts. It's just a matter of being allowed to sign them. I don't think we'll be waiting too long after the season to start getting details of what those deals will look like.
Who will be the best rookie in the NHL this season?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
My pick for Calder is Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He's got an NHL body, an incredible skillset and will get plenty of opportunity with the Stars. My sleeper would be Boone Jenner in Columbus. They love him there.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I'm still SHOCKED that Tim Thomas ended up in Florida and not Philly or Pittsburgh.
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
The Flyers would have been a fantastic fit but they seem genuinely impressed with Steve Mason who was good for them down the stretch. I have no issues at all with Ray Emery, but i think an Emery/Thomas duo would have been fantastic. Not sold on Mason.
Does Neuvirth finish the year with the Capitals or do they trade him for a top 4 D man?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Trading goalies isn't an easy proposition. If it was, Ryan Miller wouldn't still be in Buffalo. I'm not sure Neuvirth gets a top four defenseman in return. Maybe a draft pick. In retrospect, the return George McPhee got for Varlamov was pretty darn good.
In your opinion, rank the new divisions from strongest to weakest.
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Hmmm. Love this question. This is off the top of my head, so I reserve the right to change my mind. But here you go: 1. Metropolitan 2. Pacific 3. Central 4. Atlantic. Wow, I already have second thoughts looking at it in print. That's a tough one.
Tom (Red Deer)
How bad is Calgary going to be? Will they be within 10 points of the 29th place team?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
They're going to be really bad. And no. I think they're significantly worse that the No. 29 team. I think you can make a playoff case for almost every other team.
Do you buy the Rangers as one of the top teams in the East?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Yeah. I'm buying it. All-World goalie. Healthy on defense and a top four as good as any in the East. Rebound season for Richards. New coach. Stepan emerging as really good center. Sense of urgency this year. Lots of reasons to like Rangers.
I dont see the Sabres being as bad as all the projections are saying, yes they are young but they were young last year at the end of the year and were on fire having a good playoff push, idk what do you think
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Stefaniak - I never take those late season pushes by bad teams too seriously. Those games were essentially meaningless. Buffalo has some great prospects and will be good in a couple years but I still think it bottoms out a little more and at some point Vanek and maybe Miller gets traded. Lots to like in the future there, just think it's (at least) a year away.
Are the Islanders legit contenders this season? Their defense, led by Hamonic and Visnovsky, is a lot better than people give them credit for, and surely there will be goaltenders such as Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller available at the trade deadline.
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
I'm concerned we might see that team take a step back. I'm with you about Hamonic and Vis but you can't ignore the loss of Streit. Good player, important to that transition game. I'd like the Islanders a lot better if they had Hiller or Miller right now rather than waiting until the deadline. It may be too late then.
Jim (Logan Square)
Craig. Blackhawks have a good chance to repeat especially since Detroit is in the East now. Who do you think is the main competition for them out West?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Three biggest threats in the West to a Blackhawks repeat: 1. Kings - love how this team is built. Perfect playoff team. 2. Blues - tons of depth. Well-coached. Motivated. 3. Sharks - it's going to happen one of these years in San Jose.
you keep mentioning richards' bad contract, but the rangers will amnesty him after this season (dolan has plenty of money and, to his credit, is always willing to spend). combine that with the cap increasing, the rangers will be fine. why are you so concerned about their future?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Jeremy - True. If they buyout Richards that's a big obstacle. They're going to sign Lundqvist to a huge number soon and he's not getting any younger. That makes me nervous. The Nash contract scares me too. Yes, cap is going up but next deals for Callahan, Girardi, MDZ and Step are going to be considerably higher than last.
gabba (nassau bahamas)
leo messi allways the best, until neyma is ready
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
I'm going to have to take your word for it gabba.
Marc (Malden, MA)
How many goals do Iginla and Eriksson get?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Loved the Eriksson addition. Wasn't crazy about Iginla addition. I'll say 24 goals for Iggy and 37 for Eriksson.
Riley (St. Louis)
How do you see team USA doing at the Olympics? And Who would be team captain?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
North American teams typically don't do well making the trip to Europe for hockey in the Olympics. So that's concerning. Their goaltending stacks up with anyone in the world but they're weak down the middle. I'd put them at a bronze right now. Tons of great captain options - Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, David Backes, Callahan. Such a tough call.
Do you see the Minnesota Wild trending up or down with their offseason transactions and development of their young players?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Wrote a little bit about it today, but they need a couple of their young guys to take a step forward to get back in the playoffs. Whether it's Coyle at center or Niederreiter or Granlund. At least one of those guys needs to be really good for them this season like Brodin was last year for the Wild. If that happens, they continue trending up. If not, they miss the playoffs.
lundqvist already has a 7 million cap hit. i can't see it getting that much higher. and those other players you mentioned are young, players that, at a minimum, all have good trade value.
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Right, and it's a good $7 million. I don't mind spending $7 million on 2013 Henrik Lundqvist. But if you're going to give him six or seven years, I'm not crazy about giving 35 year old Henrik Lundqvist $7 million.
Is OEL already a top 5 defenseman in your opinion?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Yes. I'm still a little surprised that the Coyotes haven't traded some of their depth on defense for another scoring winger. I thought Damien Brunner would have been a great fit in Phoenix and I know they kicked the tires there. Wouldn't be surprised at all to see Ekman-Larsson as one of the Norris finalists in Vegas this year. Or wherever they're holding the awards show.
Craig, who you got for Richard, Hart, Norris, and Vezina?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Richard - Steven Stamkos; Hart - Crosby; Norris - Doughty and Vezina - Lundqvist; No way any of those are possibly wrong.
Alex (omaha NE)
KC for AFC championship ?
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Gotta go with the Broncos.
Craig (So Cal)
No love for the Ducks? I know that they D is slow but lots of potential with the youngsters and a great goalie tandem.
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
I think the Ducks are in one of those in-between years. They've got some great young talent coming but like you said, there's some age and concerns on defense right now. And when you're not on the power play, where do you play Teemu Selanne? Not sure you can put him in the top six anymore. I think next year's Ducks will be better than this year's Ducks when more of that young talent is ready to make an impact.
Which one is the Atlantic division? Is that the most of the teams aren't actually near the Atlantic Ocean?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Now I Can Die In Peace!! (Rutgers Grease Trucks, NJ)
Hi Craig: Die hard Rangers fan here! I mis the days of Barry shoot the puck, Ron Duguay, Espo, etc. You mentioned that you like the Rangers a lot this year, are they your pick to emerge from the East? I saw the game against The Kings, and they looked sluggish. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Everybody looked sluggish in almost every preseason game I saw. Hard for veteran teams to get up for those games. Rangers are going to be good.
What would YOU do if you were in Kenny Holland's shoes? Buyout Sammuelson? Try to work a trade for Eaves, Miller, or Tootoo(all guys who aren't really going to fit into the future of the team)? I am excited about the move to the East and the way the team looks depth wise, but the wasted roster spots could kill the team.
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Buyout window is closed. I'd hate to do it, but maybe you package a decent prospect along with Sammy to a team willing to take on the cap hit. And who knows, some of these players don't have the best track record staying healthy. It may just be a season of juggling the LTIR.
Was the Coyotes run to WCF 2 years ago a complete fluke or could they have another similar run this year with a little added scoring from Ribeiro?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Well, my good friend and colleague Scott Burnside picked them to win the STanley Cup. I'm not quite so optimistic and think a playoff berth would be a good year for them. It comes down to Mike Smith. If he's the guy who carried them to the WCF, they're going to be good. If we see last year's version, they don't make the playoffs.
Mike Zaun (Long Island)
Thoughts on Ponikarovsky laying out Kovalchuk? Accidental or a secret message from Uncle Lou delivered by his hired man on the inside?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Haha. I think Kovalchuk may have ended up doing Uncle Lou a favor in the long-term so no hard feelings there. Maybe the timing could have been better.
Michael (San Francisco, CA)
What unsigned free agents still on the market do you see being signed in the first month of the season?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
My prediction is that someone will take a chance on Ilya Bryzgalov. He's still a good goaltender and at some point somebody's starter is going to get hurt or somebody is going to underperform and Ritch Winter's phone will ring. I'm telling you, I"d take a chance right now on Bryz if I had any question about my goalie. Buy low.
Peyton (Stillwater, OK)
Chances for my Blue Jackets in the East this year? I think we'll miss the playoffs, the East is too strong for us to compete right now.
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Yeah, that's where I'm at. Bobrovsky is going to come down to earth a little bit. I know they're really excited about Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner. Dubinsky had a great camp too. I'm not ruling them out of a playoff spot, but the East is tough and their best years are ahead of them in Columbus. Love what JD and Jarmo Kekalainen are doing though. They're building that thing the right way.
Which team do you see as potentially being the biggest surprise and which team do you see as being the biggest dissapointment this season?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
My surprise team in the Stars. Good young talent. A little suspect defensively but good goalie can make up for it. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wild and Maple Leafs take a step back. Ducks too.
Do you like the division format for the playoffs? Seems like it's going to spring a bunch of huge rivalries. I could see the Blackhawks playing the Blues for the next few years in the playoffs easily.
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Yeah, I do. I just think it has a shelf life though. It'll be fun to see the Blackhawks and Blues go at it for a few years, and then we're all going to be like - I miss those Blackhawks/Canucks showdowns. A time for everything, right?
JC (New York)
Craig, what's the verdict on the hybrid icing?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Passed. Love it. A season too late.
Samuelsson already held the Wings hostage this summer by being injured with a "bruised pectoral muscle" so they couldn't amnesty him. Knock out his $3 million cap hit and his roster spot, and the Wings problems are a whole lot smaller. The trickle-down effect of his signing is even worse than his return on investment itself.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Way worse. With the loss of Suter/Parise and the signings they actually made, that summer is going to go down as one of the uglier ones for Holland and his group. But they've recovered nicely, especially if they can get the cap situation solved.
Captain for Team Canada....Toews or Crosby?
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Wow. You can't lose with either.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
(I'd go Toews though but it's an impossible call. Love them both.)
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Alright everyone - great questions as always. Enjoy the return to action tonight! If I missed you, hit my mailbag here: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/mailbag/_/id/40243/craig-custance