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! Just wrapped up a Leafs morning skate here in the D. Excited to talk hockey as we head into stretch run. Let's dive in to these questions.
Jordan (South Florida)
Will the Capitals make the playoffs this season?
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
We're not beating around the bush, eh? They always seem to find a way this time of year, don't they? My colleague Scott Burnside wrote a great story on the Caps and impact of Kuznetsov so far. I'm not sure if it's been posted but definitely worth the read when it is. This is such a tough call, but if I were betting I'd say no. First of all, which current playoff team are you removing? You could argue the Blue Jackets aren't as talented but I absolutely love the way they play every night. I think they get in. And the Caps schedule is a bear. They've got the California gauntlet coming up. I think we'll know better where the Caps stand in the next week.
Jordan (South Florida)
Any other real contenders for the Hart Memorial Trophy other then Ovechkin and Crosby?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
It's Crosby's award to lose and I think he wins it. That said, there's a case to make for Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux, especially if the Flyers can make a strong push down the stretch. Ryan Getzlaf is another guy who should be in the conversation. And i know some guys don't like to put goalies on their ballot but I'm not sure there's been a player more valuable to his team and their success than Ben Bishop in Tampa. But again, Crosby is the heavy favorite.
Ed (Queens Village)
Which coach is on hot seat as season winds down?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
John Tortorella is obviously the biggest one. He has a 5-year deal so it's not an easy move but if the Canucks continue their downward spiral, all bets are off this summer, from the GM on down. I'll be interested to see what happens in Carolina this summer too.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What is the Worst NHL Team So Far this Season?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
The easy answer here is the Sabres but they're in the midst of a rebuild so it isn't surprising. To me, what has happened in Vancouver is worse. They've had injuries but so has everybody else. There's too much talent on that team for them to play the way they've played since January.
Penguins Fans (Scared in the Corner)
Craig, the Penguins are coasting to the metro division title but there is a good chance they could be rewarded with another first round matchup with Philly if the Flyers get one of the wild cards. After this past weekend (and recent history in general), would the Penguins even be favored in that series? That being said, what is the more likely scenario Pens fans should hope for, that Philly keeps winning and gets the #2-3 seed in the division, or that they start losing and miss the playoffs entirely?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Yeah, that wasn't a good sign for the Penguins this weekend. But, and I'm not making excuses for Pittsburgh (okay, maybe I am) but those games meant a heck of a lot more for the Flyers than they did the Penguins. If you're a Penguins fan, you root for the Flyers to miss the playoffs completely although the East is so wide open that I'm not sure the Penguins would be a heavy favorite against any team in the first round. I'd want no part of Toronto. Or even the Rangers. The East playoffs are going to be fascinating. I can't wait.
Ryan O'Reilly still hasn't taken a penalty this season, he's leading the league in takeaways and looking to pass 60 points for the first time. Is he a good bet for the Lady Byng this year and a Selke soon?
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
I haven't really dove into my research yet on some of the secondary awards, but O'Reilly definitely is in the Lady Byng conversation. Selke is a tougher animal to project. The takeaway stat doesn't do anything for me, neither does plus/minus. You want to see who is most effective against the toughest competition. I'm such a Patrice Bergeron guy, he would probably be my favorite right now. Anze Kopitar is another guy who should get consideration.
as a hawks fan I am getting nervous about the end of the season and the playoffs. Do I have a lot to worry about? any chance we get back to the conference finals? or the Stanley cup?
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Jerry - The only thing you have to worry about is health and seeding. You want Chicago to get homeice as much as possible and you want them heading into the postseason in good shape health-wise. If that's the case, there's no reason Chicago can't make another Cup run. They're as good as anyone in the league.
John (Chapel Hill)
Whats your take on the Hurricanes? Is the team core as currently constructed good enough to make the playoffs if not this season, maybe next year?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Carolina has been a disappointment and it's becoming pretty clear that the Cam Ward contract is an issue. I do like their core in that you have two great young players in Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner to compliment the Staals. But that defense is still lacking. Ron Hainsey has been a pretty good band-aid on defense but not sure he's a long-term solution. The blueline needs help.
Devils, dead or alive?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Alive, but barely. On life support. Those shootouts are going to come back to haunt them.
Craig, will the Sharks win the Pacific Division?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Yes. The Sharks are dangerous when motivated and there's plenty of motivation to win that division. It's a big swing playing a wildcard team rather than the Kings in the first round. That's so huge.
Who needs to win tomorrow's showdown more: CHI or STL?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Chicago. For sure. You want that home ice.
Marc (San Jose, CA)
The Sharks are hot 5-on-5 but they're power play is not. If they can't get it corrected by the playoffs will it be the main reason they don't win the cup?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Nope. The thing about the postseason is that you can make a long run without much help from your power play. Look at Boston a couple years ago, that power play wasn't good at all. As talented as Chicago's power play was, it didn't light things up last year either. As long as you're good 5 on 5 and on the PK you can make a run. As a Sharks fan you very much want them to be better at even strength. You can live with PP issues.
Do you think that the Hurricanes will be able to deal Cam Ward? He's been the face of the franchise so long, but his best days seem behind him, Carolina has better options in net, and that's not a particularly attractive contract. Are they stuck with him?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
To me, the only way they are able to trade him is if they take a bad contract back or maybe eat a significant portion of that salary. It's so hard to give goalies term, you just never know.
When does Claude Julien start getting some love for the Jack Adams award? Boston is beasting through the eastern conference and has held there own against the west. They are contenders year after year and Claude never seems to get the attention he deserves
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
You're right, although Claude does have a Jack Adams on the resume. The best coaches often get overlooked like Babcock and Quenneville because voters tend to award coaches who overachieve. If a coach does a good job on a good team, it's kind of expected. Because of that, I think a guy like Jon Cooper will be in the mix considering all the Lightning have done this year. Not a lot of people even pegged them as a playoff team. I think Babcock should get serious consideration if he get get that beat up Detroit team in the playoffs. But if Julien blows away the East, he'll definitely be in the mix.
B-Diddy (Munstoeville, WYO)
Hi Craig - Avs/Habs tonight, who ya got? I think the Avs win one for their coach and it won't be pretty.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
I'm with you. Colorado 3, Montreal 2
Ondrej Palat should win the Calder? He doesn't have the name of McKinnon but he does more for the Lightning overall. It isn't all about the scoring.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
True, it's not all about scoring but MacKinnon has the makings of a true superstar. He's in the drivers seat for the Calder and it'll be interesting if Palat and Tyler Johnson split Tampa votes. It's kind of like it was hard for Suter and Weber to win the Norris on the same team because people for some reason didn't want to vote for two Predators. And, in the "it isn't all about the scoring" category, Olli Maatta better get serious consideration.
Mike (New York)
Is the style of the Rangers causing Marty to have issues scoring with us? He was lighting it up in Tampa but is a dud here?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Mike - No, I think it's just the comfort level more than anything systematic. That's a huge change for St. Louis, plus you have to factor in the way it all went down. He has to be pressing. He'll come around, don't worry.
Following the Sens to Tampa this weekend and to the game on Monday vs the Lightning, I have been told I have to try cubans while in Tampa. Any suggestions?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
The cigar or sandwich?
Does Callahan resign with the Lightning if they make the playoffs, he has to see the young talent on the team for the future playoff runs?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Hannah - When I last checked in with his agent (middle of last week) there hadn't been any talks. The plan was for him to get comfortable in Tampa and go from there. Steve Yzerman told Callahan's camp that they wouldn't have traded for him if they had no intention of signing him long-term. Still, typically when a player gets this close to free agency he at least tests the market. And there's going to be tons of interest in Callahan if he does.
Neal (Menlo Park, CA)
Craig, make the case for why Canucks ownership should keep Gillis around after the season ends.
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
If John Tortorella was an ownership hire than it would be disingenuous of them to blame Gillis for Torts' short-comings. And I like some of the contracts that the Canucks have negotiated. There are good deals in there. So there's that. But you can't ignore the goalie disaster and lack of young talent.
paul [via mobile]
are the bruins favorites in the east. they have started blooming at the right time winning 9 in a row. can anybody knock them out?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
I think the Bruins are heavy favorites. I like everything about that team. My only concern is there's a lot of mileage there with them playing two condensed schedules and making a long run last year. But I love that team. To me, with all due respect to the PEnguins, it's the Bruins and everybody else in the East.
Neal (Menlo Park, CA)
Who would you choose for a game 7 cup win - Roy or Brodeur?
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Will the pens be able to afford Niskanen next year? 3rd in the league in plus/minus with 10 goals and 29 assists. Have to think he's getting between 5-6 mil for 5-7 years. What do you think - can Shero afford that big of a cap hit?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
I asked Ray Shero about him last week and he said he was open to the idea of signing him long-term. He said he thought Niskanen really liked it in Pittsburgh. But for Niskanen to stay, I think he'd have to take less-than-market value to make it work. There just aren't a lot of defensemen on the market and Niskanen will be able to cash in. Plus you factor in the good young defensemen coming in Pittsburgh and I'm not sure keeping Niskanen is a realistic goal.
Is NHL expansion really a hot topic. If so, who gets it first? Quebec, Las Vegas, Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Hamilton, Toronto 2nd team in Markum ?
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
The league continues to say that there is no formal expansion process but there is significant interest in some of the cities you mentioned. I think Seattle remains the favorite and wouldn't be surprised if there's an NHL team there as early as the 2015-16 season, although maybe that's too soon. There are still questions to be answered about an arena there.
Why is the NHL so slow to move on the issue of league expansion?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
I'm not sure they are being slow. The priority before the league could expand was first getting a new CBA done. It's only been a year since that was completed. And the league also had to shore up ownership situations among current teams like New Jersey, Florida, Phoenix, etc. It doesn't make sense to expand if you have a bunch of teams for sale. The league is in a better place now in that area. So the deck has kind of been cleared to look at other things like expansion but that's only been the case for less than a year. There's no reason to rush it.
George McPhee [via mobile]
Am I going to lose my job after the season ends?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
That's a tough one George. Your owner has traditionally been patient when it comes to team executives. But expectations from ownership are also high, so a missed postseason wouldn't bode well. I can say this, if McPhee loses his job, I don't think he'd be unemployed for long. i could see Brian Burke pouncing on that opportunity in Calgary if McPhee became available.
Sounds as if you are not giving much love to the young Avs? O'Riley no penalties all year? Roy is hands down Jack Adams Award, and McKinnion may be the new face of the NHL in 5 yrs. Show the West some love!
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
I said MacKinnon was the Calder favorite! But you're right, I shoulda mentioned Roy for Jack Adams. He's definitely a finalist.
Is there a player not named Ryan Kesler that could very likely be moved at the draft?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Yes, I think the draft is going to be very active from a trade front because teams will have cap room and there just aren't a lot of free agents available. If the Capitals don't make the playoffs, I could see them moving Mike Green although that depends on who the GM is. Winnipeg will be a fascinating team to watch this off-season, with Dustin Byfuglien a trade option. Edmonton could be active. It should be a fascinating time.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Alright everyone, thanks for all the great questions. You guys are the best. If I missed you, send me a question on Twitter - @CraigCustance.