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 noon ET!
Craig Custance (12:02 PM)
Hey everyone! Hope you're having a great week, lots to cover today. Let's jump right on in.
What are your thoughts on the Vanek situation? I think Snow needs to do everything possible to resign this guy. That line among the best in the league right now and would only get better with more time under their belts.
Craig Custance (12:05 PM)
Last time I checked in with the Vanek camp (which reminds me, I should definitely circle back. It's been since December), there definitely wasn't any rush. They were firmly in wait-and-see mode and you can't blame Vanek. He'd be one of the most sought after free agents on the market but I'm not sure how many opportunities there would be to play with someone of Tavares' caliber on the open market. In the last ten games, the line of Tavares, Okposo and Vanek has eight goals, which puts them second in the league only to the Vanek line. That's production. All that said, if the Islanders don't have him signed shortly after the Olympics, I think Snow has to trade him and get back some of the assets sent to Buffalo.
Henry (US but so close to Canada)
Thanks for chatting Craig. I know that R. Miller is the potential top trade deadline move, but if I am a contender looking for help in net - and not many are - does Tim Thomas make sense because of the presumably smaller cost and great potential reward? Thomas is probably an A+ backup on a contender (StL, Chi, SJ) if he wants to go, no?
Craig Custance (12:08 PM)
Henry - I absolutely agree. Miller is going to cost a team a fortune at the deadline and Thomas has been strong in January with a save percentage of .931. Florida is still kicking in the playoff race but if that changes, I would definitely trade Tim. My biggest concern with Thomas is his durability. At this point in his career, there's always the risk of injury.And the other concern is there's the potential of distraction for contending teams if he's your backup. Imagine if Pittsburgh or Chicago trades for him and Fleury and Crawford give up five goals in the playoff opener. The Tim Thomas talk would begin immediately. That's an issue for the starter.
Matt Cooke (MN)
Why was Jamie Been NOT suspended for his hit to my head?
Craig Custance (12:10 PM)
The argument is that it was a defensive hit rather than a predatory hit. There's a distinction made by the NHL's department of player safety.
Good afternoon! How good did the Panthers look against the Pens last night? Sometimes they show such glimpses of hope for the fans. What do you think they are going to do with the Jacob Markstrom problem? Doesn't look like he is an NHL goalie, do they go after a starter next season?
Craig Custance (12:12 PM)
Yes, I think Florida makes a play this off-season for a No. 1 goalie. Thomas was stop-gap and Markstrom isn't ready. Maybe he won't ever be, I don't know. You've got an owner willing to spend and a team that has to win games at some point in their existence. If I'm Dale Tallon, I'm calling Vancouver and rekindling Roberto Luongo trade talks and starting there. I wrote about it earlier this week, but there's going to be a lot of teams shopping for goalies and not too many real No. 1s available.
Andrew (Santa Barbara)
Here is my concern over the Ducks come the playoffs: they don't seem to have a particular identity. They aren't completely defensive minded like the Kings or Bruins where they role four lines and sacrifice a bit of offense for better defense. Yet even though they are great talent in Getzlaf and Perry, they don't have enough of it to fully play like the Penguins or even as the Blackhawks can. Plus Hiller's numbers really aren't that good aside from the win total. There's a reason for that and I bet it comes back to cost them a game or two in the playoffs. Are these concerns legitimate of ill-founded?
Craig Custance (12:16 PM)
Andrew - I hear you but I think they've started to form an identity under Bruce Boudreau. This is a team that plays with speed, with and without the puck. They capitalize on turnovers and eliminate space for the opposition. The stat I pay attention to most with goaltending is save percentage and Hiller was at .929 in December and .917 so far in January. I'd say that's good. Not out of this world but nothing to complain about. In the playoffs, I still prefer a big, heavy team like the Kings or even the Blues but at this point, it's impossible to discount the Ducks.
Thank you for your insight in these chats, Craig. They are always enlightening. Have you heard any names regarding who the Pens might target to replace Dupuis? Ryan O'Reilly would look great playing with Kunitz and Crosby in my opinion, but I don't think the Pens can afford him under next season's cap given what they would have to qualify him at.
Craig Custance (12:19 PM)
Hey Chris - Oh man, O'Reilly would be great on the Penguins but that's just a luxury moving forward I don't think the Penguins can afford. I can see them looking at a guy like Steve Ott or maybe even Matt Moulson. Mike Cammalleri would be the guy I'd like to see them get but a concussion has him on the IR which has to be a concern. This team needs forward depth. They can win the East, but right now don't stack up with the best teams in the West.
Hi Craig. I am hoping that the AVS don't trade O'Reilly or Stastny. But if the AVS were to trade one of the two, which one would get more interest and get more back for?
Craig Custance (12:22 PM)
Thomas - The way things are going in Colorado, I'm with you. I'm not sure I would want to trade either guy. The $6.5 million QO for O'Reilly complicates things, but the fact that teams would control his rights beyond this season should give him more value. Stastny's value as a rental would put him in that first-pick, prospect range. And if you're Colorado, why would you do that when you're in a playoff race? I think there's potential for a bigger return for O'Reilly as well as an actual hockey trade.
Christian (Athens, OH)
If and when the Wings get healthy (and I know that's a big if), it seems to me that they're going to have some big decisions to make in terms of who they keep up and who they send down to the Griffins. Is there any chance Holland keeps guys like Jurco and Sheahan and possibly tries to cut ties with Cleary, Bertuzzi or Samuelsson?
Craig Custance (12:25 PM)
Christian - You know what? We've all been wondering who the Red Wings are going to move once they get healthy and I'm finally coming to the realization that that's never going to happen. It's all hypothetical. Ken Hitchcock was just saying yesterday how impressed he's been with how much bite the younger guys on the Red Wings roster are playing with. And Babcock singled out Sheahan as a player who has been a revelation during the injury crunch. He's a legit NHL player. That said, the second half and playoffs is exactly the time of year when you want Bertuzzi and Cleary around. Don't see them going anywhere.
Craig, given the stupidity of the Flames/Canucks game, are you surprised there wasn't more discipline handed out? How did Hartley escape with nothing when it seems pretty clear what the intention was? I'm all for fighting, but only within the flow of the game. This was just fighting for the sake of fighting. It wasn't even to "send a message."
Craig Custance (12:28 PM)
Tom - I actually thought the league got this one right. I might have come down a little harder on Torts. I thought what he did during the intermission was inexcusable. I have a way bigger issue with Tortorella than I do Hartley in this exchange. I still can't quite figure out why he lost it between periods to that extent. Yes, Hartley wasn't innocent but at least you can understand what he was trying to do.
If you are the Sabres, do you trade Miller for whatever you can get, knowing full well he will probably not re sign after the season? With the starting goalie market traditionally soft at the deadline, they can't possibly get what Miller is worth, right?
Craig Custance (12:30 PM)
Kurt - If I'm Buffalo, I'm doing anything I can to re-sign Miller. I know that's counter-intuitive during a rebuild but they've already gathered a bunch of prospects and picks. Miller gives them stability and world class goaltending. Tim Murray could spend the next ten years trying to find another Ryan Miller. But Miller will have a say in that, he may not want to be part of that process. I'd offer him a legit contract extension, if he doesn't sign, then I'm dealing him.
If you could build a 4th line in today's NHL, would it have players such as Brian McGrattan or Marcus Kruger?
Craig Custance (12:31 PM)
Hmmmm. Would I pattern my roster after the last-place Calgary Flames or the only team in the league to win two Stanley Cups in the salary cap era? Yeah, my fourth line would be as skilled as possible. I love how teams like the Blackhawks and Blues are built. They would be my model.
Kevin (In property class)
Craig, Girardi, Callahan - decision time is fast approaching on these two guys - whats your thoughts on the situation? It's gotta be either pay them or trade them, IMO
Craig Custance (12:34 PM)
See, I disagree. You're not alone in that thought process Kevin but the East is wide open. The Bruins and Penguins are much better than anybody else, but come playoff time, you can still see the Rangers making a run with that roster. In my opinion, no way you punt that opportunity just for picks and prospects, which is what you'd get for those two at the deadline. My first choice is to sign both, if not I'm letting it ride during the playoffs and dealing with that situation afterwards.
Leafs have won 5 games in a row. Time to map out the parade? Other than Kessel being on a tear, this team is still outshot in 4 of the 5 games (margin of 10+ in most of games). Do you see this more as a "luck streak" as opposed to a "win streak" and do you see the Leafs in the playoffs this season?
Craig Custance (12:36 PM)
Peter - I wish I had a good answer for you. I honestly don't know what to make of the Leafs. I hate that they are out-shot all the time and typically that doesn't project into future success. But when Kessel is scoring and they're getting high-end goaltending from Bernier, they win. If I were betting, I'm still betting against them making the playoffs though. They're in a playoff spot right now, but they're on fire and have played more than anyone in the East. I'm selling on the Leafs.
Erik Bruckner (Pittsburgh)
Would the Pens be best suited to see what they could get for Olli Maatta?
Craig Custance (12:37 PM)
No. Absolutely not. No way.
I'm a leafs fan, painfully. And people here love Kadri. Sure the kid has hands, but do you think he's the real deal? Montreal was probably his best game of the season, if not career, last night he coughed up the puck like a champ. Also, do you think Clarkson turns anything around or is he a dud for the year? (or future?)
Craig Custance (12:39 PM)
I think Kadri projects as a solid No. 2 center. There's nothing at all wrong with that, although that doesn't necessarily solve the Leafs concerns down the middle. Clarkson is who we thought he is. He's not a 30-goal scorer but he's still a guy you love to have on your team. It's just a really steep pricetag for a guy best-suited on the third line.
Nash seems healthy again and I think Talbot's great play has Hank re-focused. You can really see the benefit's of AV's system already on the PP, etc. How good is this Ranger's team and are they more a reflection of their early season struggles or this recent 15 game stretch?
Craig Custance (12:43 PM)
Kev - I like the Rangers. I didn't see Lundqvist's struggles coming, but even the best go through slumps and I'm sure that contract weighed on him. Assuming he's healthy, I can totally see him having a great Olympic tournament then riding that wave down the stretch for the Rangers. I wish their even strength production was a little better but they have a top ten PP and PK. Outside of Pittsburgh and Boston, they're probably the Eastern Conference team I feel best about.
Any thoughts on the Carolina goaltender situation? I personally think Khudobin is a starter and Cam Ward (beloved by the fans here) hasn't played with the same confidence and calm. Would Edmonton part with one of their talented young wingers for him?
Craig Custance (12:45 PM)
Greg - Don't tell the fans in Raleigh who love him, but I'd part with Cam Ward even if I wasn't getting one of Edmonton's talented wingers back. I'm just not crazy about his contract and durability and like Khudobin better as a cheaper option. If Jim Rutherford can move that contract, that gives him flexibility moving forward.
John (Derivates Securities Class)
What do the Blues need to do to produce against West coast teams? They seem to have the pieces in place but cannot execute.
Craig Custance (12:48 PM)
I've seen the Blues live three times in the last week and when they play like they did last night against Detroit, they look as good as anyone. I don't know what their offensive zone time was but it seemed like they were in the offensive zone the entire game. They have so much depth and structure, it's easy to be impressed. But when I saw them against the Kings, it was a different story. It was almost like the Kings out-Bluesed the Blues. They just need to learn how to operate at the same level as the Kings and Blackhawks. I think the talent is there.
Biggest difference between Colorado's success and Edmonton's failure at their respective rebuilding plans???
Craig Custance (12:52 PM)
Jeremy - To me, it's simple. When you're building, you build with franchise players down the middle and then from the back end, forward. Then you add the scoring wingers when you're ready. At least that's how I'd do it. Colorado has a group of centers as good as anyone. They have a goalie playing great in Varlamov. Still have concerns about their defense but Sakic/Roy are well on their way in Colorado. Edmonton, meanwhile, built down the wing. They don't have the goaltending and they also have concerns on defense. Part of it was a circumstance of who was available for the Oilers but they need to somehow get bigger, stronger, fortify the middle and defense and goaltending, even if they have to move some of those wingers to do it.
Do you think it would a good move for the pens to give away one of their young players for evander kane? especially because he has 3 years left on his contract. He would look awfully good playing alongside crosby and kunitz
Craig Custance (12:54 PM)
Depends on which player (I wouldn't trade Maatta) but I honestly don't think the Jets are going to move Evander Kane. To me, the piece to move out of Winnipeg (and I'll be writing about this later this week) is Dustin Byfuglien. If the Jets are willing to trade Kane in a deal that doesn't include Maatta, then the Pens should jump at it. But I just don't think the Jets would do that.
Devin ((St. Louis))
The more I think about it, the more I believe the Blues need someone like Ryan Miller to lead them through the playoffs. The Blues would immediately become Cup favorites with Miller. It has to be a thought that Doug Armstrong is having as well. Have you heard anything more regarding a trade for Miller by the Blues? Also, with Paul Stastny set to become a UFA this offseason, what do you think the chances are that he comes home to STL?
Craig Custance (12:57 PM)
It's a tough call. Armstrong didn't drop a lot of hints regarding Miller when I was in St. Louis other to say that he didn't think goaltending was the issue in the playoffs last spring. He also said he didn't have any interest in trade Jake Allen (who he's gotten calls on), which might be a requirement in dealing Miller. To me, the Blues are only trading for Miller and giving up real assets if they think Miller is part of the long-term solution in St. Louis not just a rental. Don't know if Buffalo would do this or not, but if they gave a negotiating window to the Blues to talk extension, maybe that would warm Armstrong up to the idea.
Who is your front-runner for coach of the year so far?
Craig Custance (12:57 PM)
Jon Cooper. And I'm not even sure it's close.
Hi Craig-Please explain the playoff format in a nutshell for me (I understand the 1's play the wildcards and the 2s play the 3s in the first round). What happens if a wildcard beats a #1? Is this a static bracket or do they re-seed after the first round?Thanks,
Craig Custance (12:59 PM)
If the wildcard beats a No. 1, which isn't out of the question especially if the Pacific gets five teams in the playoffs, they stay in that divisional playoff. There is no re-seeding. Let's say the Kings are the last Wildcard and they play the Blackhawks in round one and win. They would face the winner of the Blues/Avs series.
Craig Custance (1:00 PM)
Alright everyone. Sorry, I couldn't get to all the questions. So many good ones this week, I really appreciate it. I'll try to tackle a few of them in my Friday mailbag or hit me up on Twitter @CraigCustance. Have a great week!