Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, 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 Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (12:59 PM)
Hey everyone! Nothing like some hockey talk to get us through the dog days of August. Let's jump right in, the questions are already piling up!
Jason (State of Hockey)
Hi Craig,There is a sense that Lebron returning to Cleveland has prompted a new sense of pride of bringing a championship to your home town. Given the Wild have already snagged Parise and now Vanek should we carve out a budget for McDonagh/Wheeler/Byfuglien/Okposo/Bjugstad etc?
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Jason - Haha, I like where your head is but I wouldn't count on it. Minnesota could build a heck of a team with just natives but I think the Wild team you see now is pretty locked in for the next few years. GM Chuck Fletcher did well to get Vanek at the term he did and if they get goaltending, that's going to be a fun team to watch this season.
Craig, i'm a little nervous that my Sabres have done enough to take them out of the mcdavid/ eichel sweepstakes. If they get good goaltending, and some contributions from younger guys like reinhart and ristolainen, could they be a sleeper playoff team?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Kurt - I love what Tim Murray is doing but I still think they're a ways off. I love the character and leadership new additions like Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges will provide but they're not the kind of impact players who will move the needle towards the playoffs. And it's asking a lot for the young players to make the kind of jump necessary. They'll be back in the playoffs in the next couple years, I just don't see it happening just yet. And if I'm a Sabres fan, I'm fine with that next season.
Chico (Los Angeles, CA)
Predict the West. Does anyone overtake the Kings this year?
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Chico - I love the Kings, picked them to win it last summer and Kings fans should be thrilled that Dean Lombardi was able to keep Gaborik. But it's just so hard to repeat. Almost impossible considering the West. If I had to pick right now, I'd put my money on the Blackhawks coming out of the West.
Ryan Dillner (Minneapolis, MN)
What's going on with the Wild's goaltending situation? Do you think Backstrom has the ability to handle the role as the starting goaltender?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
To me, it comes down to Kuemper. The Wild are in a tough spot with their goaltending right now. Chuck Fletcher really can't do anything to upgrade until he knows the health of Backstrom/Harding. There were stretches last season where Kuemper carried this team and if he stays healthy and plays that way, they'll be fine. But there's definitely risk there. It's hard to count on that kind of consistency from a young goalie.
Zack (Washington, D.C.)
Do you think that the Caps have a legit chance to make it not only into the playoffs, but deep with the additions they have made and a more consistent Brayden Holtby?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
I think any team that makes the playoffs in the East can make a long run. The parity is that widespread. I still think Boston is the best team but last year showed that they're beatable. The Capitals in hiring Barry Trotz and shoring up the defense are back in the playoff mix, which puts them in that group of teams capable of making a long run. It's so wide open in the East, it's going to be a wild season.
Mike (Oak Lawn)
Who improved the most this offseason?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Jonathan P (Nashville, TN)
With just about every team in the Central Division upgrading this offseason, how do you see the Nashville Predators doing? Are the playoffs a possibility with such a tough division & conference?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Jonathan - Playoffs are a possibility and I like what David Poile did this off-season. But that division is brutal. I wouldn't put them among my playoff teams and that's not a slight on the Preds, it's a reflection of that division. Who would you take out to put Nashville in?
Mike (Oak Lawn)
Which division will be the strongest this upcoming year?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Mike - Top to bottom, I'd say the Central. Even Winnipeg, a team that has underwhelmed us all so far this off-season, has a lot of talent.
Mike (Oak Lawn)
Who is the (very) early favorite in the East? Does NY stay at the top? Does Boston bounce back? TB, MON, PIT, PHL?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
My early favorite is Boston. I'm curious to see how Peter Chiarelli gets under the cap. He'll have to move a d-man, but I love how that team is constructed. I like Tampa Bay. I think it's going to be really hard for New York to duplicate last year's success, especially considering how their depth took a hit this off-season.
Big Jdub (Texas)
Craig, great to have NHL chat! What is the goalie situation in Pittsburgh? With MAF playing great in the regular season, but horrible in the playoffs, who do you see the Pens signing to be their #1 this upcoming season? Also, do you think the Pens can land a solid D player, with Orpick gone? Thanks! BRING ON OCTOBER!
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Great to be chatting Jdub! This is a big year for Marc-Andre Fleury. He has a new regime to convince he's the answer in Pittsburgh. The one thing you know about him is that he has the unwavering support of that dressing room. He's loved in that room. But you're right, nobody is going to be overly impressed with a strong regular season unless it's followed by a playoff run. The Ehrhoff signing by Jim Rutherford was outstanding and addresses the defense. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he gets a long-term deal before the season ends.
Yay for weekly chats being back!How do you think the Panthers did this summer? Any chance they make the playoffs? They now have a good goaltending duo and a great mix of veterans and rookies.
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
Hey Dara! I love the character Dale Tallon brought in but not crazy about the prices he paid. A full season of Roberto Luongo will keep them in the playoff mix but their playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of the young talent they've been accumulating down there. To get in, you're asking for a good 30 point bump in the standings. That's asking a lot.
As an Avs fan I'll be the first to tell you we won't match last season's success...but I'm troubled by how easily the team is being written off because of their poor advanced stats. Its an area the team needs to improve, but could the new wave of corsiati be overlooking a team's potential by fixating overly on PDO/Fenwick when its been shown a young team can win the hardest division in hockey with a totally different style of play?
Craig Custance (1:23 PM)
Yeah, the Avs are a popular pick to regress based a lot on their advanced stats. Plus, they lost Paul Stastny. That's a big loss. They're fascinating because they have the kind of speed and skill where teams spend a lot of time in their zone, and then one mistake and the Avs are on the attack. And they have such rare talent up front they're able to convert on a lot of their opportunities. I think it may be asking too much for Varlamov to repeat his big season, which would also suggest they're up for a step back. I'm a Patrick Roy fan, he's the real deal behind the bench. I'm not counting this team out.
Slater (NY, NY)
Craig, do you think the Sens could have gotten more for Spezza if they waited? Not even a first round draft pick? They got hosed! What was Murray thinking?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Slater - I think it's the opposite. They waited too long. The ideal time would have been moving him at the trade deadline. You have to factor in the fact that Spezza had a say in where he was going which limited the options and the hurt the return. That's the danger in giving out no-trades.
Bob (San Diego)
Three questions:1.How do you think the Rangers will finish next year? Will they miss the playoffs altogether? Or will they make it back to the finals?2.What are the main threats for the Rangers, postseason and regular season?3.How many good years does Henrik Lundqvist have left on him?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Bob - I'm not great at math but I feel like that's more than three questions. There's too much talent there for the Rangers to miss the playoffs, especially if Lundqvist is healthy and effective all year. Their biggest threats in the East are the Penguins, Bruins, Blue Jackets, Canadiens and Lightning. Lundqvist has a good four, maybe five years before I'd start getting nervous.
Do you think Nathan MacKinnon will go through a sophomore slump and if not how good do you think he'll be this year?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Nope. No sophomore slump. I think he'll be even better this year. He's one of the best players in the game. His speed and skating are ridiculous.
Mike (Atlanta, GA)
Same old Thrashers... I mean Jets, this season?
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
Yup. Unless there's a trade coming before the season starts.
Thanks for the time Craig, just purchased an insider account so can't wait to read all your stories this year. Any updates on Saad and the Blackhawks? Also, with Oduya currently injured and the hawks over the cap, does that mean that they are waiting for him to get healthy before they trade him?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Jeff - First of all, thanks for joining Insider. Can't wait for another season of hockey at Insider, love what we're doing there. Hope it lives up to your expectations. I think GM Stan Bowman would prefer moving Versteeg to get some cap relief, although that's not an easy task. One guy to watch would be Nick Leddy. He has trade value, he's going to get more expensive and I think the Blackhawks would move him for the right price.
Joe Bucz (Redondo Beach California)
I believe this is the final year of Bobby Ryan's contract - do you think the Sens will try to extend him or trade him this season?
Craig Custance (1:33 PM)
You are correct. This is Bobby Ryan's final season. They may try to extend him but if you're Bobby Ryan, what's your motivation to sign on long term in Ottawa? That's a budget team and if I'm him, I'm playing this thing out to free agency. And if that's the case and the Sens are out of the playoff hunt, Ryan will be one of the big pieces available at the trade deadline.
P Bradley (Anaheim) [via mobile]
Are the Kings really that good? It seems like they have only thrived in desperation.... Ya I know that's what it's all about. But seriously all the band wagon followers have no hockey education and give the kings way to much credit, am I wrong? Do they even make the playoffs this year under the new format?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
The Kings are really that good.
Is Mike Green on the Caps roster at the beginning of the season? If not, where is he?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Great question. There's no urgency to trade him but if the right deal comes along, they shouldn't hesitate. I think Detroit is a natural fit and they have the young talent to pull it off.
James T (Long Beach, NY)
Craig, I'm a life-long Islanders fan and it pains me to see the organization struggle the way it has over the last 20+ years. From a player's perspective, what makes the Islanders a team everyone wants to avoid? I'm assuming it's poor ownership/management. Does the Coliseum really make that big of a difference? I don't care about the move to Brooklyn, a winning team will attract players that want to win but doesn't someone need to start the trend?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
James T - It's ownership. Plain and simple. But I like where that team is trending. Garth Snow had a strong off-season and you're right, if they start winning players will want to play there. And one of the things about the Islanders is that once guys go there, a lot of guys want to stick around.
Lou (Pittsburgh, PA)
Another year, another off-season of GM's colludi--...woops, I mean, abiding by their handshake agreement not to pilfer each others rosters via RFA offer sheets. How did PK Subban make it to his arbitration hearing without receiving at least one top dollar offer from a team with cap space. Why has no one tried stealing Torey Krug or Reilly Smith from the seriously cap-constrained Bruins, who might struggle to match any decent offer. I still can't believe the players didn't address this during the lockout last year. What's the media's take on this topic, or do you hear of actual RFA negotiations with other teams?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
I agree, I think GMs should be more aggressive in their use of offer sheets. That said, the Canadiens were going to match anything for Subban. It would have been a waste of time for another GM to do that deal and then you're just ticking off Montreal, who would have come back after one of your players when the opportunity presented itself. Krug and Smith would be great candidates because of the Bruins cap situation but they don't have the service time yet in the league to be eligible for an offer sheet so they aren't available. Boston currently has all the leverage in contract talks with those two.
Justin (California) [via mobile]
Trying to settle a debate. Who is better? Quick or Rask?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Oh man, that's tough. I'd take either one. For the sake of settling your bet, I'd take Rask.
Mike (Oak Lawn)
Who will be a breakout star this season?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Great question. I think MacKinnon takes another big leap. Same with Nichushkin in Dallas. But the guy I'd watch as a true breakout candidate would be Jonathan Drouin in Tampa.
Marc (Malden, MA)
I know the list of "franchise players" isn't yours, but that list is a joke. 18 players received votes and Patrice Bergeron received zero? ZERO? He's only 29, just came off a season where he scored 30 goals and won his 2nd Selke in 3 years. That's a disgrace, just shows you how many awful GMs there are.
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Marc - It was an interesting exercise and fun to do. I think the reason Bergeron wasn't on there is because of his age and injury history. If you're trying to win a game right now, Bergeron is in my top three. But the way I posed the question was who guys would pick if they were starting a franchise from scratch. I'm not sure Bergeron would be in my top five either.
Pat (Linkin Park) [via mobile]
Is Brandon Saad a future all-star? He had moments in the playoffs of pure domination.
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
Yeah. He's a horse. He's a future All-Star for sure.
Rob (Chicago) [via mobile]
Do you think the Blackhawks overpaid for Toews and Kane? I think it'll be hard for them to put a team around them with their new salary cap hits.
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Nope. I think the price was exactly right. If those two wanted to push the envelope they could have demanded $12 million per season but didn't. Don't forget, history suggests the cap is going up which will give the Blackhawks more breathing room down the road. They'll need to continue drafting well and developing young players to contribute on entry level deals but they needed to do that anyways. There are 29 other teams that would gladly take on either of those two contracts.
Travis Covington (Brandon, FL)
How do you see the Lightning doing this year with all the new additions and Stamkos back to 100%?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
I like the Lightning. I think Ben Bishop has a real hard time duplicating last year's season but the Lightning will make up for it with their loads of young talent and a healthy Stamkos. Yzerman had a great off-season.
Craig- It's interesting to hear people say that it would be impossible for the Rangers to have another deep run, strictly based on the emotional and physical toll a team can take from the prior year, yet people are ready to anoint the Kings as potential West favorites to get back to the cup after playing an incredible 108 games last year. Thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
John - As much as I love the Kings, I'm in the camp that they won't come out of the West for exactly the reason you mentioned. And recent history hasn't been kind of the Stanley Cup runner-up. I think we'll have two new teams playing for a Stanley Cup next spring.
Good move by the Flyers to sign Del Zotto?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
I liked it. People I talk to aren't crazy about Del Zotto, but that's low risk, low money. If he isn't good, the Flyers aren't out much.
Some quick Rangers Q's. Will Krieder be a 30+ goal scorer? Zuc and Hagelin 25 apiece? McDonagh get to the most select Norris level?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Lots of Rangers questions today. I like Kreider but I'd put the over/under with him at 25 goals, not 30+ yet. I'd put the other two closer to 20 each. McDonagh is the real deal. He'll be in the Norris conversation.
Ian (Seattle )
Hey Craig, Wha is your opinion on the whole "NHL players should/shouldn't play" in the Olympics saga?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
I honestly see both sides. If I were an owner I wouldn't do it. But as a hockey fan, it's the best. I want them in every Olympics. The argument you hear sometimes from people in the league is that there's no tangible benefit, at least not enough to justify shutting down the league in the middle of the season. And that's fair, it may not be measurable, but I can tell you more casual sports fans know who TJ Oshie is now than they did at this time last year. What's that worth? I don't know.
CC, can't you call Marty and tell him to retire with dignity?
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Lou - These guys are great because of their competitive fire. I would never tell a guy like Marty to hang it up if he still has that fire.
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Alright everyone - great questions. Gotta run. Thanks for jumping in for a mid-summer chat! Have a great week.