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 2 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Hey everyone! Great to do another weekly chat. Let's get started, lots to talk about early on in the season.
Overall take on the Leafs' opening weekend? I mean, a win is a win, but that was a scary near-choke against the Sens in the 3rd.
Craig Custance (2:04 PM)
I liked what I saw from the Maple Leafs this weekend. I'll excuse the ugly third period against the Senators especially considering their first five periods of the season were so strong. As it stands right now, Phil Kessel sits atop the NHL in points (5) and James Reimer is 2-0 with a .922 save percentage. If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs, and I picked them to do so, those two need to keep it up. I also expect Brian Burke to be active in upgrading this roster because of its depth.
Sergei (Madison, WI)
Craig, since you used to cover the Thrashers in Atlanta, how long do you think they'll last in the Peg? They are the same old team that won't make the post-season year after year and their new fans will get sick of seeing the new "Thrashars" pull the same trick.
Craig Custance (2:08 PM)
On Monday morning, I received a text from an old friend in Atlanta that read simply: "They're still the Thrashers." That wasn't the start the Jets were looking for and I don't think that's a playoff team in Winnipeg. That said, I do think it's a new start with fresh management something that is crucial to burying the failures of the past. Kevin Cheveldayoff is a smart hockey man and that organization will have more support from ownership than the Thrashers ever had in Atlanta. So ultimately I think it'll be a success in Winnipeg, just maybe not as quickly as some fans want.
shoot straight to me...what is Dallas' future looking like this year? I went to our home opener (we won) and it seems the offensive roles of golig. and souray compliment a new style of Dallas hockey. what can I expect outta these new boys? fiddler, ryder, burish, dvorak, etc..
Craig Custance (2:11 PM)
The Stars are another team I think fall short of the playoffs unless Kari Lehtonen decides to cash in on the talent he's always had and put together an incredible season. He's certainly capable. Souray could end up being one of the biggest bargains in hockey and Goligoski has star potential on defense. But they're ultimately a victim to the best division in hockey and a tough schedule. I'm looking forward to when Joe Nieuwendyk has a committed owner in place and he can spend like his divisional counterparts. I don't think Dallas is that far off.
if the Leafs make the playoffs, what team that made them last year do you see missing out?
Craig Custance (2:12 PM)
That's always the tough question. If I had to pick right now, I'd say Montreal a team that doesn't seem to have any luck when it comes to injuries.
Seth (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Hey Craig, 'Yotes fun here. Power Rankings have my Desert Dogs at 28th in the Power Rankings; while I understand that the loss of Bryzgalov is huge, but isn't that a bit low for a team that has made the play-offs the last two years?
Craig Custance (2:16 PM)
While I don't contribute to the power poll (blame Scott and Pierre) I would actually side with them on this one. I respect the heck out of Dave Tippett and Don Maloney but I think this is one of those years where they might be better off long-term finishing at 28th and adding a high-end offensive talent. It's not just the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov that concerns me, it's consecutive off-seasons in which they lost Zbynek Michalek and then Jovo. I'm not sure they ever really replaced Z. Without any high-end scorers, there's not much room for error in Phoenix which puts even more pressure on Mike Smith. Factor in Turris' holdout and it could be a long year in Phoenix. But I'd love to be wrong. Some great people in that organization.
Thoughts on CBC "bashing" Atlanta market during the Jets opener?
Craig Custance (2:20 PM)
I thought Jesse Spector was spot on when criticized CBC for ripping Atlanta. The one comment I thought was particularly out of bounds, and I forget who said it, was the comment that fans in Atlanta wouldn't know Carey Price's first name. You can celebrate hockey in Winnipeg, and you should, but there's no reason to dance on the grave of the Thrashers to do it. There are plenty of knowledgeable hockey fans in Atlanta, some of whom were smart enough to stay away from a failing product.
Jason (Long Island)
Hey Craig!Thoughts on Rangers slow start. Cause for concern?
Craig Custance (2:23 PM)
Hey Jason! Yeah, two points in two games wasn't exactly the start fans were expected with the high profile addition of Brad Richards. My biggest concern isn't the lack of wins after two games, it's the health of Marc Staal. We know the Rangers are resilient but if this injury drags out, Glen Sather has to do something on defense.
Shez (Los Angeles)
Looking at the preseason allstar picks, not one of you guys picked Anze Kopitar. He has to be the most underrated player in the league right now. agree?
What kind of season do you see Kopitar having now that some pressure is gone with richards now on the team? Kopitar is shooting more this season so far do you think he can crack the 100 point plateau?
what are your thoughts about Kopitar and the kind of season he will have?
Craig Custance (2:27 PM)
Lots of interest in Kopitar and rightfully so, he's been great so far this season (four points in two games) For really the first time in his career, there's another line opposing teams have to be concerned with. That's the thing Terry Murray was most excited about with the addition of Mike Richards. Kopitar could be the biggest beneficiary. You guys are right, we might have underhyped him heading into this season. He could be in for a big one, especially if he can stay healthy. Although he's had fast starts before that derailed.
Hey Craig, What do you think about Jagr and his return? Will he be able to hold up for the entire season and keep producing like he has?
Craig Custance (2:30 PM)
He looked good in that opener, didn't he Dave? I liked the instant chemistry between him and Claude Giroux. I am concerned about the grind of a long season at his age, I think Peter Laviolette's handling of Jagr will be crucial to the Flyers. So far he's been in the 14-16 minute range, and I'd prefer the low end.
Craig, Please tell me youre a believer in the islanders
Craig Custance (2:30 PM)
Craig - I'm not. Sorry. Not yet.
hey craig, the jackets lose 3 tough ones to start the season, it just seems like they need that little bit more, what needs to change to turn things around?
Craig Custance (2:32 PM)
James Wisniewski will be a difference-maker in that lineup. The power play has been useless so far and that will be upgraded when he returns to the lineup. That's a tough division though, they can't afford to fall too far behind while he serves his suspension. They need to find a way to pick up points in the meantime.
Craig, what are your thoughts on the Penguins with the injury bug still plaguing them. Crosby, Malkin, Orpik, and Jeffrey all hurt. How much longer can they hold up without these guys getting healthy?
Craig Custance (2:35 PM)
Eric - If there's a team that can survive these injuries it's the Penguins. Dan Bylsma has that group so well coached that it seems like it doesn't matter who is in on a nightly basis. Kris Letang has been fantastic so far this year and unlike last year, I think he keeps it up for a full season. Matt Cooke is playing inspired hockey and appears changed, even if I was skeptical that could happen. I think they can hold up just fine, and you've just got to hope the key players are back when it matters most.
The million dollar question: WHEN WILL SID BE BACK!!!
Craig Custance (2:37 PM)
Diana - As we've learned with concussions, it can be very speculative. He's closing in on being cleared for contact which is a huge hurdle. That could happen this week. If I had to bet, I'd set the over/under on his return at Nov. 1.
Sure is a good time of year, no? By this time next year, where are the Coyotes playing?
Craig Custance (2:39 PM)
Amen, Scotty. I still think they'll get something done in Phoenix.
With Rafalski's retirement and Kronwall, Stuart, and Lidstrom all slated to be free agents going into the offseason. Do you think the Red Wings need to do something for their blue before next season? Will there be a play to aquire Weber?
Craig Custance (2:42 PM)
This is a crucial off-season for Ken Holland and the Red Wings. I think Ian White could be solid in Detroit but he's no Brian Rafalski. I expect Kronwall to get a deal done, not sure about Stuart. I know he still has family ties out west and has to make a decision about where he wants to play. The Red Wings will have cap space this summer so you'd better believe if Ryan Suter is available, Holland won't hesitate to call Neil Sheehy the moment he is allowed.
Dont worry Craig, the isles will make believer out of you and barnaby soon. Capuano for coach of the year
Craig Custance (2:43 PM)
Love the optimism.
tdiddy (winnipeg) [via mobile]
Let Sergi know that the Jets are going nowhere in the next 20 years. We have some of the best and loyal owners (with DEEP pockets) in the NHL and fans will not forget how bad it was when they left in '96.
Rob (San Antonio)
Do you think the NHL is hoping for a cancelled NBA season? And do you think it would help the league?
Craig Custance (2:47 PM)
I love this question. I remember talking to a few key people about the potential for a NFL lockout and wondered if they thought it would benefit hockey. The consensus was that they didn't want to build hockey's popularity on the back of another league's struggles. They felt they didn't need to. But I do think a cancelled NBA season would help the league. The NHL is in a great spot right now, with the talent-level and action as good as its ever been. Parity makes every game crucial and my experience with hockey is that, anyone who even gives it the slightest chance falls in love with it. So come on over NBA fans.
Matt (San Jose)
Craig, congrats on the new ESPN gig. The Sharks are pretty deep and for the first time don't have to go out and add a #1 defenseman mid-year. Doug Wilson never stands pat at the trade deadline, though, and could add some pieces. Do you see them being a player for a big guy like Hemsky or Doan, or just shoring up lower lines with a guy like Frans Nielsen (I think it would be great fit)
Craig Custance (2:49 PM)
Thanks Matt! Doug Wilson made some pretty significant changes this off-season, so I think right now they'll play it out and see how it comes together. There isn't a glaring need in San JOse right now, like there has been in the past on D. I think it'll come down to injuries. If they're healthy, it may just be a depth move. But there's pressure to win in SJ now, so if they're banged up Wilson might do something more dramatic.
Shannahan has been dealing out some rather long suspensions. The two game ban on Bouchard, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Do you think these types of punishments are going to have a negative effect on the league? If so, what could help remedy this? A third party may not be the best option either.
Craig Custance (2:52 PM)
Luke - First, let me say that I support Shanahan's heavy hand when it comes to suspensions. I think that's the only way to get real change when it comes to dangerous hits. But you're right, there's backlash building right now. I expect his name will be brought up in November's GM meetings in Toronto. I wrote about it earlier this week in my Insider blog, but there are a few agents suggesting a panel versus one guy handing out justice. I'd be open to that idea but wonder how much the league would fight against it.
Brian Doyle (Virginia)
Al Montoya, fo you think he is going to keep the starting job on the Island or could Rick DiPietro or Evgeni Nabakov take it from him. Montoya has looked amazing so far in his 2 outings
Craig Custance (2:53 PM)
They'll play the best goalie and Montoya's success is now stretching back to last season. I wouldn't be surprised if he seizes this job and hangs on to it. If so, Scott Burnside is a genius because he's been firmly on the Montoya bandwagon since mid-summer.
Where will Turris ultimately land?
Craig Custance (2:55 PM)
Jay - I'm fascinated by the Turris situation. Don Maloney doesn't want to trade him but you have to wonder how patient he'll be. Turris clearly wants out. The problem is, unless somebody steps up and offers fair market value, now is not the time to trade him. The Coyotes wouldn't get nearly enough in return for a high-end talent like Turris. Because of that, I think he ends up playing in Phoenix this year.
sean joplin (arizona)
do you see Shanny giving out a 3 game suspension to Ovi in march from a blatant hit to the head? That's when the real pressure will come.
Craig Custance (2:57 PM)
Exactly, Sean. There's two big questions I still want to see answered from Brendan. How will he handle a player like Ovechkin? How strict will he be in the playoffs?
Craig G. (Fairfield, CA)
Hey Craig, it amazes me how many teams almost equally split time between two goalies. Who are your top pairs? Thanks!
Craig Custance (2:58 PM)
Lots of Craigs in here today. For me, it's tough to top Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. I see Rask playing a lot more this season and wouldn't be surprised if he even earns an opportunity in the playoffs, which is crazy when you think about how unstoppable Thomas was in the postseason. You know what? I'm saving the rest of this answer for my mailbag. I want to dig into it a little more.
Tom (Lincoln Park)
I don't understand the backlash against Shanahan in all this. The players say they want more protection, yet complain when the punishments are handed out. Until the players start respecting each other more, it's going to keep happening. And who better than Shanahan, a guy that scored a lot of goals and was no stranger to contact/fights?
Craig Custance (2:59 PM)
Craig Custance (3:00 PM)
Tons of great questions today everyone. Thanks so much for jumping in and talking hockey. I'll try and grab some more of these for my mailbag, they're too good to pass up. See you here next week!