Chat with Craig Custance
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, 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 Monday at 1 p.m. ET!
Craig Custance (12:59 PM)
Happy New Year's everyone! NHLPA expected to counter-offer today, lots to talk about as 2012 comes to a close. Let's dive right in.
Barry (Isles Country)
Happy New Year Craig. If by some miracle an agreement is completed before the 11th, would the season start earlier and have a couple of more games or is the 19th when the season would open no matter what. Thanks!
Craig Custance (1:01 PM)
Happy New Year Barry! Believe me, they'll cram in as many games as possible once a deal is made so if there's a breakthrough in the next couple days, we'll see games before the 19th and a schedule longer than 48 games. But the way these negotiations have dragged on, it seems like both sides are determined to go to the bitter end. We'll see.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Do you think that the First Time we will see NHL Hockey will be October of 2013?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Chris - Throwing me a changeup early on. I like the diversion from your usual question. I think we'll see hockey in January this year. Losing an entire season would be a complete disaster.
Hi Craig Custance. As a way to bring back the fans, I would prefer for the teams that do not reach the Stanley Cup playoffs to compete in a playoffs of their own for a new trophy, and with that tournament ending the series before the Stanley Cup finals. That way, the Toronto Maple Leafs can finally have their team in the playoffs, I mean, that way the fans of every city can always have their team in the playoffs.
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Hi Chatardio. So you want to see a loser's bracket? That'd be interesting but it won't be happening anytime soon. I'm a proponent of expanding the playoffs for this season only though. Maybe a play-in game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seed. The challenge will be getting all of it in during a tight calendar. Plus, in your scenario, the World Championships would get squeezed out of players.
I like the new draft lottery system in the NHL's latest CBA offer. However, I think it would be better to reverse the draft order of non-playoff teams. In other words, the team with the best record out of all the non-playoff teams picks #1. That way, teams that go for it and just miss the playoffs still get rewarded instead of teams that dump salaries at the deadline and finish in the bottom.
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
Bill - If it's any consolation, we adopted your rule in my fantasy baseball league ten years ago and it has worked out well. I actually kind of agree with you because it seems like mediocre teams that actually try to compete for a playoff spot instead of tanking get punished in the previous system. We saw it with Florida, Calgary, Minnesota and others. But at the very least, a weighted lottery including all non-playoff teams is a good start. I'm glad to see the league moving in that direction.
StinkyTulips (South Bend, IN)
Every indication is that if the season were to get rolling, there would be a one week "training camp" before the season would begin. What, logistically, are the plans for all of the players playing overseas? Are they cleared to leave their new teams and go back to their respective NHL teams as soon as a deal is signed?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Hey StinkyTulips - A lot of players overseas have quietly made their way to North America during the holidays but the moment there's a deal guys will be heading to the airport to training camp. Their contracts in Europe have an out for once the CBA is done. Also, some of the European deals were only through December with players heading back if the season is wiped out.
Was the latest proposal by the NHL a last minute tactic they will use in court to help prove/boost their claim that the NHLPA "is not negotiating in good faith", because they are assuming the NHLPA doesn't accept the offer? Or are they actually trying to make a deal because they are afraid that if this goes to court, they will lose? God save Hockey...
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Jeff - I'm going to give the league the benefit of the doubt and say that they're trying to get a deal done. If this thing goes to court, everybody loses. But considering the league came off previously non-negotiable issues like contract length and compliance buyouts, there's a least some positive movement. Very curious to see what the players counter looks like. Players really don't like the salary cap plunge to $60 million next year.
Hey craig, with Hockey either close to starting or close to ending which 5 teams would you see going the furthest if there is a 48 game season?HAPPY NEW YEAR
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
I think teams with players playing right now in the AHL or Europe will have an early advantage. Also teams with strong goaltending during a short season should do well. But ultimately, my five favorites don't look all that different than what they would have in October. Probably something like - Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Rangers, Blues and maybe now that they're well-rested the Kings. Los Angeles may end up looking like the biggest winner.
Craig,Which franchises do you think would prosper from a shorter season and which franchises would be negatively effected?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Clay - I'd be most concerned with teams that have a lot of older players training locally rather than playing competitively. Detroit, to me, is a team that could struggle in the short season, especially in the post-Lidstrom era.
Ari (New York)
Happy New Year Craig, How do you see the Islanders doing in this possible shortened year?
Craig Custance (1:18 PM)
I don't think the Islanders are a playoff team in an 82-game season so the shortened season only helps. Time in the AHL this year has been great for Nino Niederreiter who is on a point per game pace for Bridgeport. They could make a run at it with young legs but I still don't see this team in the top eight. Concerns on defense.
Ran into darryl Sittler here in south florida and asked him for an autograph. Was a real nice guy, signed my stick. Was shocked I knew who he was.
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Sully - Not surprised to hear he was gracious. Hockey players old and current among the best guys in sports.
Jacoby (Tampa Bay, FL)
Craig, your gut feeling...does the NHLPAs counter lead to additional discussions? or flat out rejected by the league as has been the case with all of the limp offers the NHLPA has thrown on the table..
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Well, I don't think it's going to be accepted in its entirety by the owners but if the NHLPA presents a comprehensive offer, rather than trying to just cherry pick portions to negotiate, the league should use it to further talks.
Jack (Lancaster, PA)
Craig, to piggyback on stinkytulips' point...do any of the players overseas have the right to tell their NHL teams 'no thanks' and continue playing in more "stable" territory?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Not if they have an NHL contract. We've heard the threats from the Russian players, but if they have an NHL deal and a CBA is agreed to, they risk Olympic participation by staying in Russia.
james dolan (msg)
I know I know Gary doesnt like me. But is that knucklehead trying to hurt us by dropping the salary cap so much. it seems like a personal venedetta. am i wrong?
james dolan (msg)
oh yeah by the way Happy New Year. I will invite u to the owners suite to watch us lift the cup
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Very kind of you Mr. Dolan. Not a personal vendetta to drop the cap to $60 million. Just a simple cost savings on player costs across the board. Players see it as a rollback. Players want something in the $67 million range. We'll see how negotiable this is but it's a big issue for both sides.
gregg (Columbus OH)
I get Bettman has to keep his job and needs to do what owners direct him to. But what is his job description? I believe as commissioner his overriding priority is to protect the best interests of the game. Would be shocked if that is not in all sport commissioners job description. #justdropit
Craig Custance (1:26 PM)
Gregg - His priority is to get the best possible deal for the owners he can. Just like it's Don Fehr's No. 1 job to get the best possible deal for the players. If the best interest of the game was the priority for them, there would be hockey right now.
You read my mind. I was thinking there should be one last chat before the new year. Do you think the league will actually do something like offer free Center Ice? I'd really like to see a playoff 24/7 too.
Craig Custance (1:28 PM)
In my opinion, Center Ice is the least they can do for the fans. Plus, it'd be a great marketing tactic for next year because for me, it's impossible to watch hockey without the Center Ice package. I think if you expose more fans to it, they'll get hooked. As for a playoff 24/7, it'd be awesome but there would be a lot of resistance from coaches. Was actually surprised when Bruce Boudreau told me he'd do it (in a blog last week). I give him credit, he understands how positive an impact it would have on growing the game.
Should a deal be finalized and players resuming camps/games/etc., who or which players do you feel will come in "game-ready" so to speak? Will there be a significant difference in the players who went overseas compared to those who stayed home and trained? Or even some of the guys who went down to lower leagues like the ECHL? Obviously the competition is very different than the NHL but it makes me wonder if we're going to see top-notch hockey right out of the gate.
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Luke - That's the big question. I think there definitely will be an early advantage to those players who can come in immediately in game shape. I have no idea how long that advantage will last. It'll be a player to player issue. I just wonder if some of the guys playing in Europe will be gassed come playoff time if there's a condensed schedule and a grueling playoff run.
Craig, the specifics of these negotiations have been confusing to me thus far...From what i understand, the majority of the offers from both sides have been kind of lame to this point. Has the newest offer by the NHL crossed the line into the realm of a "reasonable offer" that both sides can work with? Its tough to say since the media always seems to put a positive spin on offers and we are constantly let down (no offense, i realize this is your job).
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Joe - I would say it's more our job to take a critical look at offers rather than put a positive spin on them. That said, I think the NHL's latest offer does at least move closer to the realm of a reasonable offer. There are still some sticking points for players who don't want to see the cap drop to $60 million next year and still don't like the contract limits but it's closer. The key, for me, is that we're not hearing anything about 'take it or leave it.' There's still some work to do there.
Will the players decertify in 2 days?
So the big question, is whether the NHLPA files their "disclaimer" by tomorrow's deadline (as outlined in the player vote/approval) - OR, whether the eschew that option and continue to negotiate with the NHL. Even though the sides are a lot closer, there is very little chance that an agreement in struck today or tomorrow (given how many issues remain) - so what do you think Fehr and the PA do?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Lou & John - That's the big question and I think it hinges on how much progress is made today and tomorrow. I know players aren't eager to disclaim but will do it if they don't believe there's another alternative. But even if they do, it's not like CBA negotiations immediately stop either.
Craig, Does Fehr go the wrong route and see this as a weakness on the owner's part and try to tighten his imaginary noose?
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Chris - Yes, I do believe that Don Fehr will try to squeeze every last bit of movement from the owners as long as he thinks there's the opportunity to do so. That's his job.
Harry (new Jersey)
Should the lockout end, what team do you thinkwill have the slowest star?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Harry - That's a good question. What I'll do at some point is figure out which teams have the most key players playing competitively right now and try to project it that way. Can't say I feel great about your Devils, assuming you're a Devils fan. Lose Zach Parise and have a couple older goalies who aren't playing. That's not a good formula for a fast start.
If the season is salvaged, will we see a Winter Classic-lite type game in Canada or somewhere else?
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Erik - I'd be surprised. That's not really an event you can do half-baked. I think the Winter Classic ship has sailed, which is a shame since it's such a great event.
Hey Craig, very simple question (I hope): Is the proposed $60 million cap for 2013-14 the cap number for the duration of the proposed CBA or will it fluctuate based on HRR/growth of the sport? I would imagine if its a flat cap for 7 years the NHLPA won't be happy with that at all...
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
The proposed $60 million cap is for the 2013-14 season. Cap is tied to league revenues after that.
Craig- if they end up going with a more regional schedule as indicated. Phoenix typically has a solid record vs divison and with Tippett calling this team this season the best he has had yet. Could this be the team that gets over the hump in the desert?
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Matt - Here are my concerns with the Coyotes: A goalie and key veterans who haven't been playing. An inexperienced but talented defense and forward group light on goal-scoring. I'd like to see them spin Yandle into a high-end center if possible. Phoenix went to the WCF last year, so I think they've already gone over the hump and they always exceed expectations. I've learned never to underestimate a Dave Tippett coached team but I'd be surprised if they duplicate last year's success.
any big trades you foresee happening during the truncated season?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
We'll see some movement. The biggest trade will be Roberto Luongo. It makes too much sense for all involved for Toronto and Vancouver not to make that deal happen.
Mike (Los Angeles)
I would rather pay for Center Ice this season since the fee would be less and have it paid for next season! Or they could do both!
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Good idea Mike! Two for one.
Happy New Year! What do you think the chances are of us seeing some NHL Hockey this year!?
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Happy New Year! My current percentage is at 75 percent that we'll see hockey this season.
Last season, hockey fans in Toronto became so disgusted with the incompetence of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, that they started throwing waffles onto the ice during some games, which interrupted those games. If ever there is a new C.B.A. signed, then due to the incompetence of the owners and the players having interrupted at least half of the 2011/2012 season, they deserve for hockey fans in every N.H.L. city to throw waffles onto the ice during every game, in order to interrupt those games.
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Wow, I forgot about the waffle incident. That seems like a lifetime ago.
World Juniors at this point: Canada's to lose?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
A 4-0 start certainly makes them the favorite. That team is loaded and I like the move of Jonathan Drouin to the top line. People love him and after hearing about a two-horse race for the No. 1 overall pick, you're suddenly seeing his name in the mix. Statement win over the Russians too. So yes, this is definitely Canada's tournament to lose. And not only because I'm trying to jinx them.
as a consolation prize for losing in the finals.. what if they gave the loser the winter classic? I mean they would still have all the hype from being in the finals.. would be a nice way to include a lot more teams then say the 6 that seem to keep rotating.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Matt - There's a reason you keep seeing the same teams in the mix. It's a game that's made for TV. NBC would much rather have the Winter Classic in Detroit feature the Red Wings and Leafs than in Newark because of the Devils playoff run. I agree though, it's time to spread the Winter Classic love a little bit.
You mentioned the draft. What's the strength of the 2013 draft, relative to the past two years?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Rahn - When you talk to scouts, they always seem to like next year's draft better than the current year's draft because they haven't picked the players apart yet. But the 2013 draft is holding up pretty well, I think it's safe to say it's better than the last couple. Jones and MacKinnon are franchise players and Drouin has star potential. One scout compared Monahan to Toews, when I asked about him. So there's a lot to like at the top of this draft.
Shane (Isles Country)
hey Craig any chance we lose the shootout, it is such an annoying gimmick. I understand it was instituted to attract fans, but i feel that most true hockey fans feel as i do that it is a stupid way to end an NHL game. If it is so fair and useful why isn't used in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Shane - Haven't heard much of an appetite from either side about dramatic rule changes immediately. I'd be surprised to see the shootout wiped out. Although, I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see another layer added into overtime before getting to the shootout. It may not happen immediately, but we could see the drop to 3-on-3 after 4-on-4 or maybe another overtime session. GMs and competition committee will have plenty to discuss when deal is done.
Jon (St. Louis)
Now with the football season over (here at least) it makes me miss hockey that much more. This lockout is killer for a team like my Blues with the season they had last year, especially for fan base. That being said how do you view the Blues chances at the cup especially with this "possible" shortened season? The only major roadblocks in the West I see are the Kings and Canucks (Who I'm not totally sold on until I see Schneider in action for the yaer)Thanks
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Jon - The Blues are on my short list of Cup contenders. Loaded with young talent that is now playoff experienced. Plus, now you have a guy in Tarasenko who could be a Calder winner. He's another weapon to a forward group that is one of the deepest in the West. I'm not as concerned about Schneider as you are though. I like him and would still put the Canucks a shade ahead of the Blues at this point.
as a proud Canadian living in the US, I hope your wrong!
Not too many Sharks playing overseas through the lockout. Slow start for them, or will the rest do the aging fins good?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
They're such a strange team to me at times. It seems like they coast through half the regular season anyways so maybe a shortened season will motivate this team from the start. Either way, the window is closing fast in San Jose. I'm a little concerned about a lack of San Jose players competing right now but they're a veteran group that has been together awhile with the same coach. They can overcome it if they're healthy and motivated.
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Alright everyone - great questions as always. Be safe tonight and hopefully we're talking about training camp soon!