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! Questions are already piling up. Let's jump right on in.
I travelled to FL to watch the wild play both the Lightning and the Panthers, the BB&T center was average but the Tampa Bay Times Forum was actually very cool arena to watch a game. With the new schedule of playing every team should I visit Pittsburgh or the Bruins as my next east coast destination? Thanks for the advice
Craig Custance (1:02 PM)
John - Tampa is one of the most underrated places to watch a game. I love going down there for hockey. Plus, the new scoreboard is great. But that's a great vibe in Tampa. Can't say the same for Florida. Choice between Boston and Pittsburgh is a tough one. Both great hockey towns, great cities to visit. I'll say this, Pittsburgh as a destination is very underrated. Great food, great bars and CONSOL is another great venue. I'd pick Pittsburgh, but put Boston on the short list. And don't wait too long to see a game in Montreal if you haven't.
Hey craig,what are your thoughts on the wild? Which young kids are the most impressive so far this season? Thank you,
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Slow start, but things are picking up for the Wild. I think we're seeing signs that Grunlund is ready to become the player we thought he could be. Nino Niederreiter has impressive advanced stats, including third-best Corsi among forwards. Brodin, of course, is the most impressive of the young guys. Before he got hurt, he showed no signs of a sophomore slump.
What is going on with the Caps? It is as simple as they aren't as talented as people believe? Laich, Green and Brouwer, three of the teams supposedly most talented players and leaders (note I don't believe the first two are very talented), have been the 3 worst players for the team. They are playing like they don't even want to be there. No emotion or passion. Brouwer early on in the season criticized Grabovski for moving in front of the net on the PP. Now Grabovski is playing with Ward and Chimera and seems to indicate in last night's press conference he did not enjoy playing with Laich and Brouwer as his wingers. Something seems very off in DC these days. GMGM has always been a patient guy but every year it is the same thing over and over again. Add to the fact half our defensive group should be in the AHL right now. How long will GMGM take to make a move? Or is GMGM on a short leash with ownership?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
Pat - I think it's safe to say the Capitals remain one of the most puzzling teams. You look at them on paper and they should be better than they are. Maybe this is just a perennial playoff team that is having a hard time getting up for games in October. Or maybe there's something flawed with the core. I'd still give this group another full season to make a run but if there's another early playoff exit, you have to consider something more drastic.
How in the world are the Tampa Bay Lightning leading the entire Atlantic division right now?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
They're finally getting some goaltending to go with Stamkos and St. Louis. I have to say, I was suspect with the signing of Filppula but he's impressed people in Tampa with his veteran, complete game. He's a pro and has been a nice fit in Tampa. Jon Cooper continues to win everywhere he goes, you have to give early credit to him too and the wolfpack mentality he tries to instill in his teams.
Stacy (Tampa Bay)
Steven Stamkos seems to be the most underrated player in hockey when I try to search all the national market websites about him I can hardly find a story on him, when will he really begin to get his due such that Crosby, Ovie, and Datsyuk.
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Stacy - I agree, he's overshadowed among the game's superstars. Being based in Detroit, fans here would argue that Datsyuk doesn't get the respect he deserves either. That STamkos plays in Florida doesn't help. Of the three players you mentioned, two have STanley Cups, which goes a long way in getting that extra attention too.
What teams are interested in Ryan Miller and what are the Sabres going to look for in return? The Isles made a bad trade in my opinion gave up way to much for Vanek when he is to me a small upgrade from Moulson.
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Hey Hannah - Doesn't sound like there was a ton of active conversations right now regarding Miller. It's so tough to trade a goalie, simply because there are only 30 starting jobs. So, in this case, you need to find a fit where a team needs a starting goalie, has the cap space and is willing to move the necessary assets to get Miller. Oh yeah, they can't be on his no-trade list either. It's not an easy proposition.
Craig, so far you've been dead on in last week's prediction regarding the Capitals' road trip. 2-2 out West, and now they return to Philly. My question is this: Do you think the Caps will rally out of this funk they've been in? Or is the team we've seen these first few weeks the real Caps team that we'll continue to see all season?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
They may be in a funk but if they win in Philly on Friday, they hit the 3-2 I suggested they'd finish. Don't you have to be somewhat satisfied with a winning record on a tough road trip? As long as they're picking up points during a funk, you have to keep a level perspective. It's a long season.
The Hawks finally looked like the Hawks last night! What do you think was the difference?
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Hey Sarah - I was glued to the Rangers/Canadiens game because East Coast Bias so I didn't see a lot of the Chicago game. But it sounds like Pirri looked good in that No. 2 center spot. I like him much better than Handzus there although Q is going to want him to earn that spot. But shoring up the second-line center from within would be huge for the Blackhawks. Also, that pass from Saad was fantastic. Saad is definitely getting the attention of USA Hockey.
Chris (Durham, NC)
With both of the Hurricanes goalies out I feel that by the time Ward is healthy the Canes will be in too deep of a hole and too demoralized to pull themselves up in the standings. Should they make a move to get a goalie to fill the void or should they continue to ride Peters?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Chris - Ideally, you don't wait for Cam Ward to get healthy because, you're right, it might be too late. It's a challenge because you don't want to make a big move like Miller if Ward is going to be healthy in a month. That's the risk when you pin your hopes to an injury-prone goalie like Ward.
Jeff (St. Louis)
Do you expect the scoring from Alex Steen to drop off drastically? And what are your thoughts on possibility of trade for Ryan Miller? thanks
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
I think if Doug Armstrong didn't like what he saw from his goaltending, he wouldn't hesitate to make a move. But there's no reason to make a Miller trade right now. And yes, I expect to see a drop in Steen's production. He's a good player, the kind of solid contributor you want on your team. But he's shooting 38.5 percent. His career average is 9.6 percent. So a correction is coming.
Hi Craig, Thanks for the chat. With the depth in the minors the Blackhawks have - will they need to package some of them for a bigger name player or risk losing them eventually? Seems to be a log-jam there.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Thanks for jumping in Eric. That's an interesting question, depth in the minors is exactly something you need to succeed in the NHL over the long haul. Every year, because of the cap, you're going to need a couple of those guys to produce at the NHL level. Stan Bowman understands this, so I think it's unlikely he'd thin out the franchise depth considerably to add a bigger name player. That's an asset for Chicago and one of the reasons they're constructed for long-term success.
Kevin Weekes (NHL Network Studios)
Custy, speaking of hockey nicknames, last night I interviewed Pens forward Jayson Megna after he scored his first career goal in a win over the Canes. I suggested his nickname should be Megnum P.I....to which he responded with 5 seconds of dead air and then said "nah...everyone just calls me Megs." Here is clearly a guy with no sense of nickname creativity!
What's Wrong with the Wings? Is it the Young D?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Whoa, sorry for the rapid fire questions. Button stuck. To answer Dan's question about the Wings D, that can be an issue with scoring. Hard to score when you spend too much time in your own zone and the Red Wings are allowing an uncharacteristic 32.4 shots against per game. Smith and DeKeyser can definitely be better in that regard. Up front, the Red Wings need Stephen Weiss to be better. He's been invisible at too many of the games I've seen live.
Ben (San Jose)
Craig - always appreciate you guys doing these chats. If Vlasic keeps up this pace of scoring and +/-, this guy has to get a Norris nomination and a top 6 D spot on Canada. My question is this: his linemate, Braun, has been great as well (less so on the scoresheet). Does he make the USA squad?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Ben - My pleasure. I'm firmly on board Team Vlasic right now. For him to get Norris consideration, he's going to need to keep producing offensively. I'm not sure that's his game. We'll see. Braun has been good too, but I still think he's an Olympic longshot. Too many more experienced options for the Americans.
Riley (St. Louis)
Do you see Steen reaching 50 goals in 50 games this year?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Mike H (Baltimore, MD)
Usually the Caps get blown out when the visit the West Coast which means I can got to bed before the game is over. Having a third period lead forced me to stay up and watch the whole game. Losing that third period lead makes for a groggy Tuesday. Do you often stay up to watch the late games or do you catch up the next day?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Oh, I'm up for the late games. Some of the best hockey is being played late at night. Can't ignore it.
Hey Craig, why does anyone bother covering the East when the West is so much better? The head-to-head between the two conferences is approaching ridiculous levels.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Haha - Gives us something to do until the late games start.
Craig - some of these youngsters look good, and with all the "assets" Darcy is accumulating, a turn-around may not have to be long-lasting. I think with the right moves - and over recent years, he's shown he can make good player trades - they can be a contender in 2 years. What say you?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
I know their strategy is that you don't need to hit with ALL of these draft picks, just a good number of them. ANd they're definitely stacking the deck in their favor. But collecting young talent doesn't always result in wins. Florida has been building up its prospect pool now for a few years and we still haven't seen concrete results. Edmonton has been on this path for even longer and they're not successful yet. Two years seems pretty optimistic. Now, if they get McDavid out of all this, then three years might be realistic.
What do the Avs need to do to stay competitive over the course of the season?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Their focus on team defense has been admirable and that needs to continue. And Varlamov has to keep up the pace. He doesn't need to be at .945 all year but if he's at .925, they're in the mix. And if they stay in the hunt, I'd like to see Sakic go out and get another body on defense.
Ducks injuries approaching crisis level. Nice they have the best depth outside Chicago in their minors but do you expect a drop off with all the injuries?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Dale - You raise a good point on the depth in the minors. Bob Murray has done a great job building that organizational depth and you're seeing the benefit of it. They're in second place but have played 14 games. They have the league's No. 4 PDO which suggests they're getting some luck on the ice. So yeah, I expect a dropoff but the Ducks have had to rally back from slow starts in the past so a fast start is a nice change.
Eric (Kansas City)
Ryan Miller seems to be the talk of the league right now for teams in need of goalie help. He is not getting any younger and will take up a lot of cap room for a guy with 1 win on the season. What are your thoughts on solid backup goalies who could add value and cost less like Elliot, Lehner, Neuvirth, and Reimer?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Of that group, I think Lehner is going to be a star and I'm not sure Ottawa would part with him. But if I'm a GM that needs a goalie for the long term and has the assets, I'd at least make a phone call to Bryan Murray and see what it would take. Don't hold the one win against Miller though, he's been really good for Buffalo. If you're trying to win a Stanley Cup, he's still the best option.
I feel like the Kings are just lurking (16 points and playing well under capacity) Do you think they could start flying soon? Until recently none of their centers had scored (Kopitar, Richards, Stoll, Lewis), Brown is starting to get healthy, Mitchell has been slowly reintegrating himself, and Quick has been mediocre.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Kings will be fine. This is a team built for success in the postseason. When the games start to tighten up as the season progresses, Los Angeles will start piling up points. I love the Kings.
Craig, thanks for the chat. As i'm sure several other people on here are, i'm a die-hard hawks fan. Do you think they can get rolling again this year for a repeat?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
You're welcome Taylor, thanks for the question. Chicago may be better built for a repeat than any team in the post-cap era but I still think it's too much to ask of this team. Last year was an absolute grind. Short summer. A ton of players in the Olympics. Condensed Olympic schedule. Then you have to come out of the West which is a gauntlet. They're going to be exhausted.
Hi Craig,Who are your top 3 teams in each conference?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Adem - As in Cup-contending or current level of play? I'll go with ranking teams I'd bet on to win the Cup: East - 1. Pittsburgh 2. Boston 3. Pass; West - 1. San Jose 2. Blues 3. LA/Chicago tied
Steve (Las Vegas)
If someone held a gun to your head who would you take between Bergeron, Kopitar, and Datsyuk? I think Kopitar has the advantage because he is better at holding the puck and keeping it in his zone, but all 3 are amazing 200 ft players.
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
That'd be a strange request for a gunman, but you can't go wrong with each of these guys. I love all three. But I'd pick Datsyuk by a hair.
Ben (San Jose)
Sharks without Boyle/Burns/Havlat/Torres right now. Do they need to add a piece to really complete the package? Maybe a 2nd/3rd line right handed D-man?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
You know you're good when you're worried about the third-pair right-handed defenseman. Sharks just need to be healthy when the playoffs start. I like the depth of that team.
I don't understand the uproar about the Vanek-Moulson trade. Considering that the Islanders did not give up a top 5 first rounder, have a higher probability of resigning Vanek than they did of Moulson (and higher than Buffalo's chances as well) and are getting a player who plays well in all THREE zones. Moulson is a great finisher and loved his commitment to a team that was terrible for 85% of his stay, but you can't deny that Vanek is a significant upgrade and the Islanders are a better team today than they were before.
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
No argument that the Islanders are better today than yesterday. Vanek is an elite player and I have no problem with this deal if he re-signs with the Islanders. If he doesn't, that's a lot to give up for a rental. Especially for a team that still needs help on defense and in goal.
The Senators have an outstanding lineup this year along with a very talented coach and one of the best starting goalies in the game right now, not to mention his stellar backup...what's wrong?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
The Senators are firmly in my "They'll be fine" column. Like you said Greg, they have the coaching, goaltending and balanced lineup. They got a heavy dose of the West to start the season which is the biggest reason why I think they've struggled.
Which is more likely to happen, Vanek re-signs with the Islanders, Moulson re-signs with the Sabres, or both end up on other teams in the summa?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Hmmmm. Hard to say. When I spoke to Vanek's camp on Sunday it was too early to say how he felt about signing long-term. And typically, the closer a player gets to free agency, the better chance he utilizes it. But I don't think Garth Snow makes that trade without a plan to sign him and Snow has successfully acquired and signed guys in recent years. So if I had to guess, Moulson tests the market and Vanek stays. But we'll see.
Many people have picked the Canucks to finish near the bottom of their division before the season started. Some even picked them to miss the playoffs. Are you surprise as the way they have been playing?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Jason - Yeah, i am surprised. Tough to transition to a new coach and immediately have success. And they don't have the depth up front that some of those powerhouse Canucks teams did in the past. But this is the ideal start for Tortorella who will get more buy-in from his guys because of the start. I still like the Sharks and Kings better in that division but Canucks have been impressive.
Jeff E (Creve Coeur)
I was a huge fan of the Atlanta Thrashers before the team left and have been a huge fan of yours. What are your thoughts on Atlanta getting an expansion team and who else is next in line to draw a nice crowd?
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Jeff - Appreciate the kind words. I'm in the small camp who thinks that a team in Atlanta could still work but you need an owner in the city who wants to make it happen. That person doesn't currently exist. It may never. That ends the Atlanta talk before it begins.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone, thanks for the questions! Have a great week!