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 (1:04 PM)
Hey everyone - just finished up the #AskInsider chat live from the Board of Governors here in Monterey and ready to dive into our regular weekly talk. Let's jump right in.
Am I crazy to think that Corey Perry sometimes gets underrated?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
Maybe. Hard to say a Hart Trophy winner is underrated but a group of us were watching the Ducks game here after the BOG meeting and were blown away by that goal he scored last night. I think the Ducks as a whole have been underrated this year. Despite all the injuries, they continues to find ways to win. They don't get enough credit.
Craig, I hate to say this, but it might be time to eliminate fighting and really pare down/eliminate the hitting and transition to a more European-style of play. Guys are just too big, fast and valuable today. Careers/lives are being potentially ruined due to concussions...
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
It's a fine line. I want fighting out but I still want to see hitting and physical play in hockey. The game has changed dramatically - guys are huge, fast and equipment is bigger and harder. Players need to be protected and I think there are still rule changes to be made that can do a better job of it. But if you're going to get rid of the players ability to police themselves, the league has to be stronger in punishing those who cross the line.
Dom (Brooklyn, NY )
Hey Craig? With the news about next years salary cap going up...Do you see the Pens adding another winger before the deadline?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Talked with a couple GMs yesterday on how the rising cap impacts teams. The big change will be this summer when teams are putting together their roster for next year. Rising cap for next year doesn't necessarily help those up against it in the short term. That said, Ray Shero is always one of the most aggressive GMS at the deadline and I don't imagine this year will be any different.
Orpiks check was legal...Ericsson touched the puck right as he was hit (although he did not have control). Orpik did not fight Thornton because he can't afford to be in the box for 5 mins. The engelland and lucic fight should have ended it. But, Neal doesn't avoid Marchand right in front of Boston's bench and Thornton loses his head and puts what was a great game the other night under a dark cloud. Both sides lost their cool last night and the end results were not what hockey is all about. We should showcase skill, speed and teamwork instead of vigilante justice and reckless/classless displays as we saw from Neal and Thornton. Shameful.
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
It was interesting to hear execs talking about the situation. There are still plenty of people in the game who think Orpik should have fought Thornton, despite it being a clean hit. Also, not everyone thinks it was clean. The argument is that Orpik could have ended everything right there by fighting and he could have done it in a way where he isn't exposing himself to injury. I don't necessarily agree but that's the mindset.
Jason (St. Louis, MO)
Craig-who do you see as the favorite for gold at the Olympics? I think the U.S. has a very good shot if the goaltending holds. Very good production on the wings bodes well for scoring and the defense will as a whole skate and move the puck very well.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
To me, U.S. hopes hinge completely on Quick. If he plays like he has the last two postseasons, they're in the mix. My favorite and pick for gold is Sweden. Lundqvist in goal. Defense is loaded with OEL, Kronwall, etc. Up front you have the Sedins, Zetterberg, Steen - plus I like the European teams on the big ice. Swedes will be tough to beat.
Ben (San Jose)
Was Orpik's hit on Eriksson a good hockey hit? Watching replays I didn't see anything wrong with it. It was a hard hit but there didn't seem to be anything malicious to it. Neal on the other hand...that was one of the nastiest plays I've seen.
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
I agree on the Orpik hit and have been surprised by the backlash I'm hearing on it. Neal was ugly, I would have been fine with him getting more than five games. Helps that Marchand wasn't hurt. Could have been worse for Neal. Maybe should have been.
Ed (Queens Village)
Isles are in free fall at what point does Capuano get fired?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Problem is bigger than the coach but something needs to be done there. Heading to SJ tonight to see the game and looking forward to seeing them live. It's been a brutal stretch for a group that looked capable of making strides this season. Vanek trade hasn't paid off and goaltending still an issue.
Tyler (Louisville, KY)
The Avs are in the 8 spot but they are a few games behind everyone else as far as games played... How do you think they'll end up?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Good young talent there and like what Roy and Sakic are doing but think at the end of the day Colorado is on the outside looking in. Issues on defense and the West is just too tough. Put Colorado in the East and it's a different story.
ted (cape cod)
I really doubt banning fighting would put a stop to dirty cheap shots.
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Ted - You're right. And a ban on fighting wouldn't put an end to fighting. You'd still see it, like you do bench clearing brawls in baseball. But if you're seriously trying to cut down on concussions, I'm not sure how you continue allow fighting. I think the threat of litigation may be the biggest reason for change there.
Loved your Kane/Toews interview. 8 Million for 8 years sure seems like a solid deal for both sides this summer. Think that could be reality? Any chance they take less to keep the deal together longer?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Thanks Colin, really appreciate it. Those two guys were great for that, they told some stories I hadn't heard. With the rising salary cap, I don't think they need to take less than $8 million to keep the group together. Considering their age, I don't know how you do anything less than $8 million per season for max term.
Ben (San Jose)
Seems that Havlat's time has ended in San Jose after this last stretch. Can they offload him before the deadline (assuming they eat some of his salary)?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
I think he's all but immovable.
The Avs seem to have settled in to .500 play as of late. Is that indicative of their true talent? Do they still need a defenseman? As good as MacKinnon has played, I can't help but think where this team would be with Seth Jones in his stead.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Hey Matt - Yeah, I think it's fair that they're settling into what you'd expect. The beauty of their strong start is that it'll keep them in the playoff hunt the rest of the season. I don't fault Colorado at all for taking the franchise center at No. 1, even as good as Jones would look in Colorado. To me, the bigger question is with Tampa Bay. Jones would look pretty darn good on that Lightning defense right now.
Brandon Saad's gotta make the US squad, yeah?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
It's going to be tight. They love him but the Americans are so loaded on the wing. I think when the rosters are announced, we're going to be very surprised at some of the wingers who didn't make the team.
Thornton's actions were deliberate, vicious, and calculated. Julien kept sending him on the ice knowing that he was getting more aggressive towards Orpik. Neither Orpik's clean hit nor Neal's dirty hit justify what Thornton did. Time for the NHL to crackdown hard. Do you see them doing that or punting? Anything less than 20 games for Thornton is a joke in my opinion. I'd ban him for the rest of the season + the playoffs, and fine the Bruins and Julien as well.
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Brandon - I see a big punishment coming. Maybe not what Penguins fans want but I'd set the over/under somewhere around 15 games. To Thornton's credit, he realizes what he did was wrong. Still doesn't excuse it though.
Talk of an outdoor game here in Phoenix is intriguing. Does the league really think doing a game that coincides with the Super Bowl is a good idea? How do you think the NFL would react?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
I think they like the idea of cashing in on some of the buzz and media attention that comes with the Super Bowl. I certainly don't think the NFL would be threatened by it. I know Phoenix is very interested in making this happen as are most teams that haven't had an outdoor game. I want to see how some of these Stadium Series games are attended this year before I get behind more outdoor games outside the Winter Classic for next year.
Dara (Boca, FL)
At the Board of Governors meetings, are they talking about getting rid of the horrid shootout. I CAN'T stand that part of the game. Hockey is a team sport and should not be determined by a few superstars (especially when you are a Panthers fan and have no one). I'd love to see 3 on 3's
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
Dara - That's not on the agenda here. Overtime is something the GMs will debate in their spring meeting in Florida. I don't see the shootout going anywhere but I wouldn't be surprised to see OT expanded in some form before getting to the shootout. I like the idea of 3 on 3, but there are some GMs who think that is just as gimmicky as the shootout.
I agree and maybe its a personal choice, but I like the finesse game better. Not sure I agree with the need for players policing themselves. Only sport where fighting is part of the game. How do I explain to my 4-year old daughter who sits and watches the game with me and loves to yell "goal" when two players start to fight?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
The appetite among hockey fans has completely shifted on this issue, especially in the United States. Many people just don't seem to have the stomach for that part of the game anymore, although proponents will say everybody in the stands leave their feet and cheer when a fight occurs.
Hi Craig, would it make sense for the blues to trade for Ryan Miller? Elliot has been atrocious in net and Halak has been questionable. It seems as though all they really need is a solid goalie and they can go as far as they want?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Spencer - I'm firmly in the Blues should trade for Ryan Miller camp. They're right in the middle of their Stanley Cup window and you'd hate to see inconsistent goaltending sabotage it. Ryan Miller in Hitch's system, with that defense would be incredible.
Jon Hartman (Michigan)
What backup goalie will win away starting position by seasons end. Giguere, Raanta, Shrivens or someone else?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Hey Jon - None of the guys you mentioned would be on my short-list of players who could steal the No. 1 job. My top candidate for that would be Robin Lehner in Ottawa. He's such a talent, it's going to be really hard for the Senators to keep him out of net.
What are Cam Fowler's chances of making Team USA?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Cam's chances are pretty darn good right now. I wouldn't give him lock status but he's right in the middle of the discussion. One area to monitor when it comes to the Americans will be injuries on D to Orpik and Martin. To me, the fascinating debate on defense for Team USA revolves around guys like Keith Yandle and Byfuglien. Are you willing to put up with some defensive deficiencies for what they bring offensively?
Neal (Menlo Park)
Think the Wings are happy to be in the weaker Eastern Conference given their play of late?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Absolutely. I'm not sure they're a playoff team in the West considering their injuries and inconsistent goaltending they're getting from Jimmy Howard.
Brandon (New York)
I'm curious when the Kane/Toews interview was conducted. Why did Toews say "If we have a chance to go" to Sochi? Just being humble or before NHL players were approved?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Brandon - Yeah, that's just him being humble and not wanting to assume anything. Sat down with those two in mid-November.
A co-worker brought up an interesting idea that if a player is suspended as a repeat offender (within the CBA designated guidelines) that his team must play one player short from their dressed roster for the duration of the suspension. Helps with the players who only play sometimes causing team harm and not just missing games they would have anyway being benched. More food for thought before doing something dangerous?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
Not sure either side would sign off on that idea but I like anything that makes people think twice about dirty hits. I think there should be more fines for teams and coaches.
Neal (Menlo Park)
Which player has surprised you the most this year by their play (good or bad)?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
The offensive production from Alexander Steen has been the biggest surprise for me. He's always been a player I've liked and he's a responsible two-way player who plays the game the right way. But I have to admit, I didn't see this coming.
"But if you're seriously trying to cut down on concussions, I'm not sure how you continue allow fighting."What does fighting have to do with concussions? How many fights this year can you recall that ended up in a concussion (except for Parros' slip)?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Matt - If I'm trying to cut down on concussions, which are caused by blows to the head, I'm eliminating the one area of the game where players are encouraged to hit each other in the head repeatedly.
Ben (San Jose)
Bright spot in the game right now: the play of Josh Harding. Guy battles MS and is putting up Vezina-worthy numbers up this year. I hope he sustains his play and gets the trophy this year. That would be an incredible feat for him.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
It's an unbelievable story and capping it with a Vezina would be unreal. He's certainly in the mix. Last night over pops, we were just debating that. Would put Carey Price and Fleury in that discussion as well.
Is Carey Price the frontrunner for the Vezina? if you were starting a team today, factoring in age, Would Price be the first goalie you choose?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Yeah, I'd put Carey Price at the top of my Vezina list. If I were starting a team and picking a goalie to be my long-term goalie, I'd still go Jonathan Quick over Price. He's still just 27 years old.
To Keith in NYC.... its a man's game baby. watch bubble guppies instead then ay.
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Haha. Bubble guppies.
Craig, Canada will have a loaded roster as always. Shouldn't they be the de facto favourite going into every olympic mens hockey tournament?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
If the game was being played in North America, for sure. I think the games being in Sochi hurts Canada slightly. That said, they're still an absolute powerhouse.
Should I be worried about Eriksson and his 2nd Concussion in a month?? Or can i expect him back in regular form in a few weeks?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
You just never know. Every player reacts differently but I'd definitely be concerned over a player who has multiple concussions. One doctor explained it this way - each one is like bruising a banana. In his opinion, those bruises don't go away.
Craig, I don't think it's fighting that's the problem, it's the cause of some of these fights that's at issue. Over the last few years, it seems like any time there's a big hit, even when legal, it results in a fight starting. In the old days fights used to be about dirty tactics or hits, not hockey plays.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
I agree and there are players I've spoken with who feel strongly about that. They think it's ridiculous that guys have to answer the bell after a clean hit. But the goal of the guy fighting is to make the player think twice before lining up their teammate next time, even if it's clean.
Do you still like Nichushkin for the Calder this year, or is Hertle the clear favorite?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Nichushkin was my preseason pick and a slow start from him doesn't help the cause. He's been really good lately so I'm not giving up hope that I could be right in this one. Krug, Hertl, Jones, Kreider are all guys in the mix. I wouldn't label anyone a clear favorite right now.
Garth Snow (Long Island)
Craig, when I made the Vanek trade everyone immediately assumed that I would try to re-sign Vanek and the Sabres would flip Moulsen again at the deadline for another first round pick. But seeing how things have played out, do you think I might be the one that flips Vanek again at the deadline to try to recoup some of the assets I originally gave up for him.
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
If the Islanders are out of it and Vanek won't sign an extension, I think Snow has to trade Vanek. The optics won't be good though because I don't see how the return will be as strong as what he gave up.
Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh, PA)
Craig, what do you think is more likely to happen regarding the Canadian Oympic team....I make it because of my experience producing with Crosby....or James Neal doesn't make it because of his inexperience producing without Malkin (current suspension not withstanding). If familiarity and consistency is truly as much of a priority as Team Canada execs say it is, wouldn't a Kunitz-Crosby-Neal line make sense? Everyone plays their natural position.
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
I think Kunitz has a stronger Olympic case than Neal although both in the mix. Wonder if Neal has a better shot at LW for Team Canada.
Read/Couturier/Downie is a beast line. The Flyers aren't dumb enough to trade one of them away right?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
That line has been great for Philly lately, although predicting what that organization will do next is impossible.
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Alright everyone, these meetings are close to breaking up. I have to run. See you next week!