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 (1:21 PM)
Hey everyone! Sorry about the delay, let's get jump in!
Neal (Menlo Park, CA)
Will the NHL ever move to a format where the top 16 teams overall, regardless of conference, make the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Neal - I was just having a similar conversation with someone about how to revamp the current system. I don't think we'll see anything that dramatic especially after the recent restructuring but when you look at some of the imbalance right now, there could be flaws in the current system. You have to take travel into consideration though too.
PaulieP (Enemy Territory)
Phoenix or Dallas?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
I've been on Team Dallas in this debate all year. I think they'll get in although that FLorida loss hurt. Having the tie breaker is a huge factor here and I wouldn't be surprised to see it come down to the final game but I like Dallas to get in.
Are Kane and Toews going to be back for the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
Yes, the expectation is that both will play in the first round. The question remains how the time off will impact them. Let's say they start on the road in Colorado and there's some rust, there's opportunity there for the Avs to grab some early momentum.
Do you think there are ever instances where a rash of injuries can be a blessing in disguise? Take the Wings this season, for example. It seems like, other than the hardship of simply losing their best guys for extended periods of time, the biggest problem caused by all the injuries was disruption to the team's chemistry. With players dropping like flies, lines were constantly being shuffled around and lots of the young guys or new additions to the team didn't have time to settle into a defined role or a particular line. However, as time went by and guys like Zetterberg and Datsyuk stayed out, guys like Nyquist and Tatar began to step up. They were given the opportunity to play in situations they may not have gotten the chance to play in had the Wings been healthy. Now, obviously, I'm not saying I'd rather guys get injured; but it does seem like it gives emerging talent the chance to develop. What do you think?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Matt - both Tatar and Nyquist said that the injuries were big for their development. It gave them more icetime and opportunity on the power play and things like that. With that icetime came confidence and production. Now the track is maintaining that high level of play when everybody is back in the lineup. The challenge Mike Babcock faces is making sure his young players don't defer to Datsyuk and Zetterberg if both are healthy in the playoffs.
Garrett (Long Island)
Besides the Bruins, which teams in the east do you think the Rangers would not beat in a 7 game series?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Besides the Bruins, I think it's a crapshoot. I like the Rangers but I could see them losing to any of the other playoff teams, it's that wide open. If healthy the Penguins aren't going to be an easy out. Detroit is a fascinating team as they get healthy with their young players. Ben Bishop could carry the Lightning past the Rangers. The Flyers are a wildcard. There's a lot of cases to be made there.
Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)
Craig, let's be honest here, the Pens benched several stars (including Crosby) on the second game of back to backs this weekend because they are resting them for the playoffs...not because of some "undisclosed injury." First of all, does the CBA require them to list an injury to make the paying fans not feel slighted, because that would be a farce (remember this was an issue in the NBA last year for the Spurs). That being said, how should the Pens play out their next two games against Detroit (likely first round matchup) and Philly (possible second round matchup)? Play the whole team and try to make a statement with decisive wins? Or rest everybody to avoid further injuries resulting from meaningless shenanigans (especially in the Philly game)?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
I would still spot rest guys. For me, the better strategy might even be to limit icetime rather than completely rest guys. You don't want them to lose their legs but if you can cut icetime by three or four minutes, that's significant.
Three years ago I thought the Leafs had some great young talent and were moving in the right direction. Right now, I'm preparing for another 47 years without the Cup. Do you see any reasons for optimism?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Actually, I do. I really like the young D in Gardiner and Rielly. I like Kadri. I think it would be a mistake to trade any of them. This is a team that will spend to the cap and the anticipation is that the cap is going to go up significantly in the next several years. They have to be careful with Bolland though, I wouldn't go crazy there.
Stephen (Anaheim, CA)
With Hiller's recent struggles and Gibson's strong debut, who do you think takes the net tomorrow for the Anaheim Ducks when they play the San Jose Sharks?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
What a tough call, eh? That's a lot of pressure to put on a young kid but Gibson has the mentality to handle it and he's played in pressure situations before. If it's me, I'm starting Gibson but that's easy for me to say. You also want to give Hiller the opportunity to build some confidence going into the playoffs. My guess is Hiller will start.
In the last three seasons where the NHL participated in the Olympics we saw a surprise team make the finals (Carolina 2002, Edmonton 2006, Philly 2010). Maybe the longer season leads to more upsets than normal. What low seed do you think has the best shot at breaking through and making the finals?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Good question Scott. I wrote something on Monday on that topic in my blog. I like Detroit to be a tough out in round one because of the way they're playing right now. I can see them pulling off an upset. I don't think they get in but I really liked the Devils as a team capable of pulling off an upset. They always play close games and Schneider gives them the goaltending they need. It's harder in the West but Dallas with Lehtonen and their top line could be a surprise team.
endroit12 (San Francisco, CA)
Hey Craig,what potential first round match up has you the most excited to watch? apart of me is hoping to see Ducks\Kings or Red Wings Vs Penguins and think both will be entertaining long series'
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
I don't think it would get any better than a potential Sharks/Kings first round matchup. It would be a brutal draw for both of those teams but from just a hockey fan's perspective it would be great hockey. Both of those teams are capable of winning a Stanley Cup, it's crazy to think one might be done playing after the first round.
Is this Cam Ward's last season as a Hurricane? If Carolina trades him this summer are they better off trying to acquire players or draft picks? Thanks...
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
It'll be a fascinating off-season for Carolina. By the start of next season you could have a new coach, a new GM and a new starting goalie. To me, it doesn't matter what the return is for Ward. I think it's more important that they get out from under that contract. That's a budget team and the money they're spending on Ward could better be used elsewhere.
Todd (Fort Wayne, IN)
Big CBJ's fan, but im not a hockey expert, with that being said who would be the best possible 1st round matchup for Columbus?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
The options are Pittsburgh and Boston. Of the two, you want to play Pittsburgh. They've been crushed by injuries, aren't as deep up front as they used to be and it's asking a lot for that team to come together in the postseason. Plus, that would be a fun series because of the proximity.
All opinions regarding Edmonton's lack of success lead to the D-line's lack of talent. But with young talent like Marincin, Klefblom, Schultz and farmhands Nurse and Musil (and maybe Ekblad) isn't the future more promising?
Craig Custance (1:41 PM)
The future is definitely more promising. If they add another high-end D in this draft (which I would want them to do rather than trade the pick), that would help the blueline. I still think they should also trade one of their talented by smallish forwards for help on D. That combination of moves would really go a long way.
Are you really tending goal for the Sabres tonight? At the rate they are losing players, there may not be anyone left to waive over the summer.
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Let's just say, I'm ready to go if Tim Murray calls. Had a good conversation with Ted Nolan the other day and despite all the injuries and struggles this team is dealing with, he's seeing real progress with how his team is competing and battling. It's hard to see now, but Buffalo is on the right track.
Jay (St. Louis, MO)
Hi Craig,... dying for a stanley cup in St. Louis! Year after year though we've been relegated to disappointment in St. Louis. Last few years have seen optimism... followed by early playoff exits. Too many to count. And now with injuries, (Steen & Tarasenko) we were owned by the Ave's and Hawks over the weekend... who are suffering from injuries themselves... which adds to the concern. Are we stumbling again at the wrong time of year? Are you still optimistic or pessimistic on the cup chances? I'm scared at how anemic the offense has looked the last few games. Give me some hope!!! Thanks!
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Jay - I feel for St. Louis fans. I loved Scott Burnside's piece on the Cup drought in St. Louis. You guys definitely deserve a long run this spring. But yeah, I'm a little concerned about the Blues. Scoring has been a problem for them in the playoffs in the past and they need those guys healthy and producing. On the bright side, Ryan Miller is the kind of goalie who can ease pressure on the forwards. That's your hope.
Didn't think I'd have to ask, but can the Rangers totally trust Henrik in the playoffs? He's had some real bad stretches this year and Talbot's been good when asked.
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Yes. They can trust Henrik. He'll perform when the lights are on.
Ian (New York)
Why aren' the Habs getting more credit as a threat to come out of the east? Arguably the hottest team in the NHL, a bunch of key players coming back from injuries, second highest goal scorer in Paccioretty plus great goaltending. All seems to be coming together AND they have Boston's number.
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Ian - It's a fair question. They're the one team that I think could give Boston some trouble in the East. That said, people I talk to aren't crazy about their defense. Markov isn't the player he used to be. Subban is a great player but isn't afraid to turn the puck over at an inopportune time. But if Carey Price is on his game and that Vanek line keeps cruising, they have a shot.
If everybody is healthy by playoff time and MAF plays like he did during cup year, do you think the pens could beat the bruins?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Yes. But Ben, those are some big ifs. But if you're telling me the Penguins are absolutely healthy and they're getting strong goaltending from Fleury, they can beat anyone.
Please talk about the Senators... this epic collapse must have a light at the end of the tunnel. Most disappointing team this year, but firing Paul Maclean is not the answer, is it?
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Nope. Sure isn't. The guy doesn't go from genius to idiot overnight. Believe me, I'm as disappointed in the Senators as anyone since I picked them to win the East. Yeah. But I don't think firing the coach is the answer there.
Can we please acknowledge that the Hart Trophy is annually given to the best forward each year - not the leagues MVP. Case and point is Nick Lidstrom. The guy wins 7 Norris trophies in 8 years and not once was he even nominated for the Hart! That's ridiculous and is the overwhelming example of why something needs to change with regards to Hart nominations. I agree that Crosby should win it this year but it's time to let the media vote on best forward, goalie, defenseman etc... but let the players vote on the MVP. I think players have enough respect for the game to vote unbiasedly and to put friendships/teammates aside. I bet you if this system was in place Lidstrom would have been a Hart finalist plenty of times - maybe even won a few as he probably should have. Plus, I think it would bring a little more prestige & honor to the award if the players voted for the leagues MVP. What do you think?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
I bet you if the players voted this year, they'd pick Crosby as the Hart. He's going to win. The other argument is for goalies too. I debate this often with other voters who don't like to put goalies on their ballot because they think the Vezina is for goalies. I don't think players voting is the answer but I do think there's room for more critical thinking among the voters.
Zane (New Mexico)
The Avs seem to be doing okay without Duchene (get well soon, Dutchy!) but can they beat Chicago without him?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Zane - They can. I'm not saying they will. But the way Varlamov is playing and the way Roy has this team going, I think they can play with anybody. Even without Duchene. If Varlamov is this good in the playoffs, they'll be a fascinating team.
Could you make the argument that Lee Stepniak and Marcel Goc could arguably be the most significant trade deadline additions come playoff time? (well, maybe aside from Ryan Miller) My point is that the pens biggest problem has been lack of scoring from their bottom two lines - with Beau Bennett coming back, and playing very well since his return, the pens are able to slide stepniak down to the third line with Sutter, who has also elevated his game recently (2 goals vs the avs the other day). Stepniak Sutter and Goc gives the pens a very solid third line that relieves Crosby of taking on more defensive duties while also providing a scoring threat. A healthy penguins team with this third line could be very dangerous. Goc and Stepniak could be the most underrated additions no?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Rob - You're spot on. If Dan Bylsma can get a third line he trusts made up of guys added at the deadline, that's a huge plus for the playoffs because he just hasn't had it this year. Often, the best moves at the deadline are the minor ones that help slot guys in the right positions. You might be on to something there.
Please settle a bet - you would take Doughty over Chara right?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
I need more information. For one game? Or if I were starting a team.
so who do you think the hawks would want to play more colorado or san jose? thanks
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
No disrespect to the Avs, but San Jose is the better overall team right now. If you're the Blackhawks you take your chances against an inexperienced Avs team with a suspect blueline rather than a veteran Sharks team that is coming in really motivated.
Neal (Menlo Park, CA)
IF Trotz ends his tenure in Nashville, where do you think he lands?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Great question. He'll be able to go wherever he wants and there could be a number of openings in the off-season. Not sure what Paul Maurice wants to do long term, but could see him being a fit with the Jets.
I've heard on the podcast a few times that people would never vote for an MVP from a team that didn't make the playoffs. I've also heard that this year Crosby is miles ahead of anyone else. If you surrounded him with the bottom half of the rosters of the worst 2 teams in the league, and he played exactly as well as he has, do you really think the team would make the playoffs? Would you really not vote for him?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
I'm telling you, the bottom half of the forward group in Pittsburgh this year was rough because of injuries. They cycled through guys. Crosby earned this Hart. The Hart is awarded to the player most valuable to his team. I have a hard time giving that award to a player on a bad team because if you subtract that guy, the team is still bad. What's the difference? If you subtract Crosby from this year's Penguins, they'd be significantly worse. There would be a major difference.
Craig... I keep hearing the Bruin's system is why they win and their goalie is not a Top 3 goalie. Personally I think credit has to go to Peter Ciarelli for adapting his management of players to Julien's system. There are no Sidneys or Evgelnis or Ovechkins, but would you agree that their GM/Coach combo is the best in the NHL?
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Who says their goalie isn't top three? I'm a huge Rask fan. You have to have the players to play the system and buy in, which Boston has. I agree that the Chiarelli/Julien combo is as good as it gets. Also in the conversation is the combo Holland/Babcock, Hitchcock/Armstrong, Lombardi/Sutter, Bowman/Quenneville, Wilson/McLellan and I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone, gotta run. Thanks for all the great questions! Have a great week!