Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, 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 Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Just got back from Coyotes morning skate. Let's dive in!
Julian Bercu (Boston )
What do you think of the Wild moving Backstrom for the Devils' Parise?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
That's an interesting thought Julian. I saw the Wild play in San Jose and was very impressed with the effort I saw out of rookie goalie Matt Hackett. He replaced an injured Josh Harding and we're discovering that the Wild are a goalie-rich organization. I expect the Wild to be in the mix for Parise if he hits free agency but if I'm the Devils, I'm looking for a younger option in goal than Backstrom to ultimately replace Brodeur. There may be some good young goalies available this summer.
I was at the Ducks/Kings game the other night and Kings fans were taunting the Ducks fans after the game even though Anaheim won. I say the Kings are missing the playoffs too. Your thoughts?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
Gotta love the Kings/Ducks rivalry. I still think the Kings make the playoffs. They've been inconsistent this season and tonight should be a great test against the Wild, currently the best team in the league. When I spoke to Terry Murray last week, he said Drew Doughty is getting more and more comfortable on the ice after his holdout. The Mike RIchards injury is a huge one though and a situation to watch. This is such a crucial year for the Kings that I don't think Dean Lombardi would sit tight if this team goes sideways.
Luke (Saint Paul)
Backstrom has a NTC and a 6 Million salary. He is going nowhere. Harding is cheap, and showing he has what it takes(if he can stay on the ice). He has a much better shot of being a piece in a deal for Parise or anyone else for that matter.
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Thanks for weighing in Luke.
Did you see the toe jab OV gave Chris Neal for a retaliation hit? It was hockey ugly and deserves a suspension.... and I'm a Caps fan.
Who do you like tonight Flyers or Pens? Another game winning goal by Giroux?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
I hated to see that Sidney Crosby is sitting this one out, but certainly understand the Penguins being cautious. The Penguins have played so well without Sid in the past but I wonder if this latest setback might be deflating. I'll take Philly in a close one.
What's your take on the spearing by Ovechkin on Neil last night? How can the refs call the unsportsmanlike conduct on Neil for that? It was a clean hit followed by a dirty hit by Ovechkin. Did the refs just totally miss the ball on this one? Will Shanahan be reviewing this?
Craig Custance (1:21 PM)
Bryan Murray weighed in on the hit this morning in a conversation with Pierre LeBrun and said he didn't think it was vicious. I'm sure Brendan Shanahan will take a close look.
After reading Nieuwendyk's comments on the Fistric suspension, I've come to one conclusion: former hockey players have the potential to make great GMs if they're on par with their business savvy. Obviously Joe didn't like Brendan's decision, like many other GMs who have their players suspended, but it's part of the game. "We'll live by the suspension," said Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. "I think it's a very difficult job that Brendan Shanahan does and I respect the job that he is doing. We'll live with it." This type of mentality is great for the game. It seems apparent that Joe's character is a big reason why Dallas has been winning the past couple years despite what writers and fans predict. Match that type of NHL Hall of Famer character with impressive GM fundamentals (not an easy thing to learn/know) and you've got yourself one heck of a GM. What's your biggest Nieuwendyk compliment/criticism since becoming a GM?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
That's a heck of a comment/question Mike. Way to work in a quote. No complaints from me on the Joe Nieuwendyk era in Dallas. He's made some tough decisions, whether it be cutting bait with veterans like Modano and Turco or firing Marc Crawford. But he's kept that team competitive in a tough time when he was working on a tight budget while the franchise was sold. There's no question he's a class act who knows the game and he's used his experience as a player to assemble the kind of team he thinks wins. He's a great fit there and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does when his budget is loosened under new ownership.
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Sorry Keith, was having a technical issue on this end. I think it's resolved. We'll keep it moving.
Much has already been said about the unbalanced conferences that came with the re-alignment, and how teams in the 7-team conferences have better odds of making the playoffs than teams in the 8-team conferences. Do you think that the NHL will fix this eventually so it is more fair? And if so, how long do you think the current system will be in place?
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
I'm not sure it's the huge competitive disadvantage a lot of people are saying it is. Maybe I'm wrong. I think it will still ultimately come down to who is in your conference, not how many teams. My prediction, and it might take awhile, is that we'll eventually see two more NHL teams through expansion to even things out. But that may be down the road, and when I asked Gary Bettman about it in Pebble Beach, he said expansion was not discussed.
Mike (Columbia, MD)
Dale Hunter moved Alex Semin up with Ovi, and suddenly Ovi has more room, and gets numerious scoring chances. His goal wasn't even on his best chance last night.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
You're right Mike, Ovechkin had a lot of jump in his game last night. That game may prove to be the one that revives him, we'll see.
Do you like the new format of 4 conferences, or do you think there should still be an east/west conference with the east winner playing the west winner for the cup? How will they figure out which conference winner plays which conference winner?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
I really like the four different conferences. My hope is that, after two rounds of conference playoffs, they will reseed the final four teams based on regular season records. It could make for some great matchups in the finals regardless of where they are located geographically. The GMs will work with the commissioner to iron out the playoffs.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Forget expansion, there should be contraction.
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Marc - You're not alone in that thought process. The NHLPA would fight contraction pretty heavily. They're not about to lose those jobs.
Ice Ace (Alabama)
Where do you see the Blues finishing in the West as of today? With the hiring of Hitchcock, their play has been a lot better that includes 2 win over the Red Wings and one over the Penguins.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
My preseason prediction had the Blues finishing No. 7 in the West and I'm sticking with it. Love what Ken Hitchcock is doing there and the goaltending has been phenomenal. Watch out for Chris Stewart who is finally heating up. He's on a four-game point streak.
Following up on your response to me about expanding to two more teams, while it makes things much nicer for the playoffs to have 32 teams than 30, the fact that teams keep re-locating means that since the NHL can't even keep their teams in the same location, why would they want to add two more teams? And where? (Unless they secretly really like selling and relocating teams...)
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Money. League owners make a lot of money when a new owner pays a huge fee for the right to enter the league. So there would be a big payday for current owners, it'd even things out competitively and you could add a team in southern Ontario, Seattle, Quebec City or KC depending on what happens with Phoenix. Again, it's probably years away from happening, but I'm not ruling it out.
Marc (Malden, MA)
If you could change any rule, what would it be? I would get rid of the instigator penalty and not allow the referee to call both tripping and diving, it's one or the other.
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Like the question Marc, I'm going to save it for my mailbag so I can think on it a little bit. But based on what we're learning, I'd have to take a long look at fighting.
How come Backstrom (Caps) isn't underperforming like Ovie and Semin? Is his secret simply not being bored/wanting a new coach or did he really change something about his game after last season?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
Fabian - You're right, Backstrom has been really good for the Capitals. I think it may be as simple as Backstrom being healthy this year after being banged up last season. By the end of last season, you could really tell he was struggling with his confidence but he's a special player.
Do you think Rick Nash is regretting the contract signing and playing for that team? I cant see any shot at all at a championship for the jackets in the foreseeable future...
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
I can't speak for Rick and I haven't asked him that question, but if it were me there would definitely be regret. He signed after the Blue Jackets made the playoffs and there were signs this was a young team, with a great young goalie on the verge of growing into a annual contender. Obviously that hasn't happened and it doesn't look like it's a quick fix.
Need some fantasy advice, Craig. I foolishly and impatiently traded away Hartnell and Fleischmann early in the season (both LWs) to stock up some talent at RW & D. Now my LW is pretty weak. Are they're any LWs in the league you see ready to make an impact between now and year's end? Ideally under the radar type guys who I could get while undervalued? Thanks.
Craig Custance (1:46 PM)
What about Guillaume Latendresse? I know concussions are always risky but you might want to monitor his recovery closely and grab him when he becomes available. As good as the Wild are going, they still need help on the power play and a guy like that might be the answer.
Craig, what's going on? Why is Detroit in the wrong conference once again? Logically, they should be with Boston and Toronto. This would also give one "Eastern" conference eight teams.
Craig Custance (1:48 PM)
Sergei - The system that came out of Pebble Beach was one of compromise. Not every team got everything it wanted. But don't feel bad for Detroit. The Red Wings are thrilled with the results of realignment. They cut way down on travel especially in the playoffs and will get better start times for their road games, which will boost TV ratings. They also wanted the home-and-home schedule, which they got. So realignment was a big win for Detroit.
Is it possible for the C to be taken from Ovechkin and givin to Backstrom? I think that as a leader Ovie is not the one.
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
George McPhee has given no indication that the captaincy is up for grabs. In fact, quite the opposite. I don't think we'll see a captain change in Washington anytime soon. Hypothetically, if there was, I'd put a C on Brooks Laich before Backstrom.
tdiddy (winnipeg) [via mobile]
Coming from Atlanta, have you kept in touch of any of the players that are now in Winnipeg? if so, what's the general attitude about coming here? It would'nt be easy moving from a steamy Atlanta to frankly, a cold Winnipeg, but it must be nice for the to be rock stars and have a packed house every
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
tdiddy - I just spoke with Don Maloney who said Winnipeg was the toughest environment the Coyotes have played in yet this season. He said the passion was unbelievable from the fans there. I spoke to a few guys this summer but haven't doubled back yet this season. I'm looking forward to seeing the Jets this weekend in Detroit. Ask me again next week and I'll give you a better answer on their feelings.
I heard a rumor that if there was expansion that Toronto could possibly add a 2nd team. Do you think there would be enough following for Toronto to have a second team?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Yes. Without a doubt. You'd just have to convince the Leafs and Sabres that a second team in that vicinity wouldn't hurt their bottom line. But I've felt for a long time that Toronto could support a second NHL franchise.
How come Don Cherry is still on TV?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Shawn - Don is an institution. You may not agree with everything he says but he's entertaining and whenever I can, I make sure I catch Coach's Corner.
Coyotes situation, staying or moving? QC is ready to go why is it taking so long for this sale or lack thereof to be finalized?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Jared - I happened to see Greg Jamison when I was in San Jose. He's trying to assemble a group to purchase the Coyotes and he said he's still optimistic a deal will get done to keep the team in Phoenix. The league has dragged this thing out now for two years so they clearly are trying to make it work. In Pebble Beach, Bill Daly said there are still two interested groups in Phoenix so the door isn't closed yet. But we're getting close to that point.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Alright everyone, I have to run to parent/teacher conferences. Hoping for good news about my first-grade son. Thanks so much for the questions, you guys are awesome.