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 (1:00 PM)
Hey everyone - great playoff races, award races and plenty in hockey to talk about. Let's jump in!
Will the Wild buyout Danny Heatly in the offseason? They are already pushing the cap limit and it cuts down next season and hes making a whopping 7.5mil next season. Dont they kind of have to? He hasnt been very good this year too, and they have plenty of really good forwards. There is no way he makes the top 2 lines either because they already have Parise, Koivu, Coyle, Zucker, Cullen, Seto and Pominville who are all better options for the top 2 lines and thats 7 skaters. Idk what they are gonna do but they have to do something about his huge cap hit.
Craig Custance (1:04 PM)
Andrew - First, I haven't had a chance to really look at everyone's cap situation this summer, which is something I'll definitely be tackling at some point. But the Wild are certainly among the teams with decisions to make. They've got to get Backstrom signed, assuming that's the route they want to take in goal. So that's another consideration. Leipold has already shown he's willing to spend, so if a buyout makes the most sense for a team that wants to contend for a Cup next year, it has to be on the table.
The Wild have looked really good at times and really shaky at times. Could that be caused by the lack of chemistry throughout the team? Half the team is new this year and they have only played 40 games together and didnt have a pre season and barely get to practice. They were fine until Cullen went out and they had to shuffle the lines, and Pominville came to the team. They looked like the beginning of the season again when they were trying to get chemistry and find the right lines.
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
Back-to-back Wild posts. I promise, we'll spread the love but I wanted to answer this one because it's not a Wild-centric problem. I was just talking with Jets coach Claude Noel about the same issue. Teams have been streaky this year and it's been a roller coaster ride for nearly every team except the Blackhawks. When you don't have practice time and you're playing every other night and there's a ton of parity, every team is going to deal with inconsistencies. The Wild are in good company there.
Mike (Ithaca, NY)
Is it inevitable that the Caps and Rangers will meet in the playoffs for the 4th time in 5 years? Who you got in that series?
Craig Custance (1:07 PM)
It's looking that way, eh? I love a good Caps/Rangers series and this would be a great matchup. To me, it comes down to the health of the Rangers, especially defensively. I think the Rangers are going to be a tough out in the playoffs and I'm looking forward to Rick Nash's return to the postseason. I remember well how dominant he looked on the big stage at the Olympics. I'd take the Rangers in 7 in that series right now. Maybe six.
Hi Craig,The Hawks are on a roll! What are the chances that they represent the West in the SCF?
Craig Custance (1:09 PM)
Sarah - They look great and you can feel good penciling them in for a long run. Here's my biggest concern about Chicago. They haven't played a meaningless game in weeks. They're going to be playing some No. 8 seed in the west that is in full playoff mode, and they're going to have to match that intensity immediately. If they can fight through that, it should be a fun spring in Chicago.
What are the three fairest press boxes for Three Stars? And which are the biggest homers? Also, I miss having the opponents come out for the quick acknowledgement. I think that level of respect is what sets the sport of hockey apart from other sports.
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
It's an interesting question Tim because every team does it a different way, so you're comparing apples to oranges. When I was in Atlanta, all the attending media had a vote each night. In Detroit, they pick one person each game to do the three stars. I would say that it depends on who gets the call each night. One thing to keep in mind, and it's one of the reasons I hate picking 3 stars is that often the selections are made with 5 minutes left in the game. So if the game is close or tied and something crazy happens, sometimes that isn't taken into account in the ballot and you can look pretty stupid. Which isn't hard for me.
Hi Craig, Outside of Chicago, who do you feel could be a real threat to come out of the west? Thanks!
Craig Custance (1:17 PM)
I'm thinking really hard about leading the Vancouver Canucks bandwagon. I'll be doing team-by-team scouting reports for my Insider blog and have now just started talking to opposing scouts and coaches about each playoff team so that will definitely shape my opinion when it comes time to shape my playoff picks. Last year, I had a couple coaches say they wanted no part of the Kings. I didn't have the guts to pick the Kings to win the Stanley Cup, but those guys did convince me enough to pick the Kings in every playoff round. Then again, some of those same coaches/scouts were just as convinced the Penguins were poised for a long run. But, to me, the Canucks are in a position to make a run now that Kesler is back. He's the key to the whole thing. Without him, they're not the same team.
Will (Brooklyn, NY)
Hey Craig, What are your ideal (realistic) first round matchups in the East?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Love these questions, Will. Here would be a couple of mine, based on entertainment value, interest and cities I'd love to cover a series in (which is half the battle when you talk to a sports writer) -Rangers vs. Penguins; Montreal vs. Toronto; Chicago vs. Detroit; LA vs. Anaheim.
Mike H (Maryland)
If the current seeds hold in the East and the stars align just right, we could see a Penguins/Capitals Eastern Conference Final. Ovechkin vs. Crosby.....orrrr the Caps could fall apart down the stretch and miss the playoffs entirely. One or the other. Or a thousand other possibilities. What a great time of year!
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Amen Mike - I can't wait for the playoffs to start. Best time of the year is coming. Especially the first round. That's the best for me because so many hockey fans are invested. I can't wait.
Mary st paul mn [via mobile]
Will the mn wild make the play offs
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Mason (Los Angeles)
Craig, I understand the reason for always have Toews and Datsyuk at the top for Selke consideration, but why isn't Anze Kopitar put up in that category? This is one of life's many mysteries.
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Mason - I agree. Meaning of life. Chicken or the egg. Kopitar for Selke. This year may be different though because we all got such a good look at how valuable he is to the Kings in the playoffs last year and how complete a player he is. There were a lot of voting members of the PHWA watching him dominate on the PK or play both sides of the ice during the playoffs. That exposure helps.
Justin (TC )
I am not feeling good about my Wings and their playoff chances. If things go south and they miss out on the 8th spot, will we finally see a roster shake up over the summer?
Craig Custance (1:24 PM)
Justin - It's a tough call. I think they're trying to get younger which is a bit of a shakeup. I'd expect that to continue this summer. But what would constitute a true shakeup? They're locking their goalie up long term. Datsyuk and Zetterberg aren't going anywhere. You don't want to let Fil walk for nothing, so you have to get that contract done. What's that leave?
Timmy G. (Clovis, CA)
I keep hearing people suggest Havlat as an amnesty buyout candidate? How serious of a possibility is this? If so, then that will give the Sharks a ton of room to move forward. I wasn't under the impression that they had to do this or that they really want to throw money away like that.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Timmy - The San Jose Sharks have traditionally been very cautious with their money. They're conservative in the length of their contracts and they weren't burying guys in the minors when it was allowed under the old CBA. When things are going well, that team still loses money which makes a buyout a tough call. But there's also the reality that Havlat hasn't been particularly good this year. I think injuries have slowed him down. Speed was his huge asset and it's not like he's a physical player. His struggles are one of the reasons Burns has had to play forward. If he was going well, I think we'd see Burns back on defense. There will have to be a decision made there.
Will P.K. Subban's weak even strength production and limited penalty killing time keep him from winning the Norris? If so, who wins the Norris?
Craig Custance (1:29 PM)
Nick - It's hard to project but traditionally voters seem to prefer someone who has put up offensive numbers. Speaking for myself, I'd like to see the Norris go to someone playing the toughest minutes, contributing on both special teams and putting up numbers. That was why I voted for Shea Weber (barely) over Karlsson last year. But obviously I was in the minority. So to answer your question, I think PK's offensive production will keep him in the mix.
Rick (Evanston, IL)
Craig, How good would the Blackhawks be if they could actually score some goals on the power play?
Craig Custance (1:31 PM)
Rick - That's another of life's great mysteries. That power play should be really good. But it's not a dealbreaker when it comes to the playoffs. I've said it a million times but I'd much rather have a dominant PK in the playoffs. Maybe I'm overly influenced by NJ and LA last year and Boston was really good on the PK two years ago. But you can win a Cup without a good PP.
What is your early hunch for the top 6 D that make the US team in 2014 (Assuming NHL players included)?
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Kyle - Hmmm. I'm thinking on the fly here, so I might miss somebody. Ryan Suter is the anchor. Jack Johnson is a Team USA regular, I'd expect him in the top six. I think you also look hard at Brooks Orpik from the 2010 team and Erik Johnson. Keith Yandle leads the newcomers. He's on my team for sure and in my top six. Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Martin and Ryan McDonagh are in the mix too. Tough call on Byfuglien, not sure what to do there. His versatility is a plus. And what about Seth Jones, what do you do with him?
Andrew (Boston, MA)
The Rangers appear to have turned things around (post-trade deadline) and look to be a tougher team to play against. Any chance they pick up momentum and can make an LA Kings-like run in the playoffs? King Henrik is 'Quick-ly" catching fire at just the right time of the season...
Craig Custance (1:36 PM)
Andrew - I think there's definitely a comparison to make between the Kings and the Rangers. Both teams struggled scoring goals during the regular season. Both have elite goaltenders and demanding defensively focused coaches. It may come down to matchups, but that's still a team capable of making a run. Replenishing depth with the Gaborik trade helps.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Any time I see someone ask about increasing scoring, the answers are always PP based. I don't want to see any changes to the PP rules, it will only result in more diving. The issues isn't goals, it's style of play and that can only be fixed by changing 5 on 5 play.
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
Marc - Not only that, but I'm starting to be convinced that something needs to be done about net size. I'd go bigger, I really would. Goalies now are huge and so is their equipment. They need to be protected so I don't know how many changes you can do there. Bigger nets might be the most logical solution.
Craig, how far can Niemi carry the Sharks in the PO? Do you think Torres is the toughness the Sharks did not have in the past post seasons?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
I like Niemi. He's been good all year and really, he doesn't need carry that team. They have enough talent where he just needs to be good. When he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, he wasn't overwhelming. If you look at his numbers, they're not crazy. But what he did during that run was make one or two big saves almost every game at opportune times that helped Chicago win it. He was a big part of that. As for Torres, I understand why the Sharks added him. He adds toughness and can play too. But I'm not a fan. I don't think he makes or breaks their playoff success.
What rookie (or rookies) do you see having the biggest impact in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:44 PM)
Great question Jack. I might have to devote an entire blog to that. I think Brandon Saad is the kind of big body who can have success and he's playing with the right guys. I'd start there. Jonas Brodin is another one. He's not going to blow anyone away in the playoffs his consistent presence is crucial for the Wild. And of course, Brendan Gallagher. He could end up having a Brad Marchand like impact on these playoffs. Love his game. Absolutely love it.
What are the bottom half seeds in the East? I think with the fall of the Devils the only team currently outside looking in with a chance are teh Jets.
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
ASN - Yeah, I said here last week I thought the Devils would get in based on their history and pedigree. Not afraid to admit I was wrong. I wrote about the Jets today and they are the only team outside the top eight I would give a shot to. Their schedule is reasonable with games coming up against the Lightning and Hurricanes. Then a HUGE game against the Islanders. That right there could decide it.
In the past the Wings were the team to clinch the division if not the conference at times up to a month before the season was over. They then would find themselves getting knocked out in the early rounds of the playoff. This year things are reveresed. Do you think they are a team that can cause some disturbances come the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Chris - Yeah, coasting into the playoffs won't be a problem for Detroit this year. I think they make the playoffs but it's hard for me to see them getting beyond the first round. They just don't have the scoring depth up front like they used to. And it's not it's going to get any easier scoring goals in the playoffs. If they win a round, it's going to be because of Jimmy Howard. He's capable of stealing one.
Craig, how far do you think the Ducks go in the playoffs? They beat up on the Hawks this year, but I can't shake the feeling that I should be more concerned about teams like Vancouver and LA in the West.
Craig Custance (1:50 PM)
Dan - Ducks fans hate when I say this, and I would too, but I'd put them behind Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver and maybe even St. Louis among the West contenders. They have the scoring depth now they've lacked in the past but I still have concerns about their defense. And Bruce Boudreau's system has a spotty playoff record. I'd love to be proven wrong though because Bruce has done a great job in Anaheim and there are some great guys/players on that team. I think most hockey fans could get behind a Teemu Selanne playoff run.
Is LA looking to mimic last year's SFC tactic? Lay low for 70% of the season, then kick in the afterburners and tear through the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:51 PM)
Chris - Don't know if it's a tactic or how this team is built. They also had some injuries on defense early in the year that cost them and Jonathan Quick dealt with the same slow start many North American goalies dealt with post-lockout. But I wouldn't want to play LA in the playoffs. That team will be ready.
Rick (San Diego)
Hi Craig. What do the Ducks need to do to get the winning Mojo back? These last couple of weeks have not looked very good to me. Also, why is almost no mention made of Ryan Getzlaf's season. He has done everything, in every situation and is this teams Most Valuable Player. Why no Hart love?
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
Rick - Getzlaf will definitely be getting some Hart consideration on my ballot. I just had this conversation with a Western Conference coach. He said Getzlaf definitely deserves to be there, pinpointed his improvement this year as the single-biggest reason for the Ducks turnaround.
I know every team that makes the playoffs has a chance to go to the finals, but do you really see anyone other than the Bruins or Penguins coming out of the East?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
They're definitely the favorites but I can envision a run where the Rangers pull it together and come out of the East. I'd like to see Carey Price play a little better before I pick Montreal to do anything. Ottawa to me is a bit of a wildcard. If they can somehow get healthy at the right time, would you be shocked if they made a run? Something special about that team.
Which of the two potential 1st round matchups in the Kings-Sharks and Canucks-Blues is more intriguing? Who wins those series if they see each other in the playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Dan - Wow, both of those series would be great. I'd be on board for either one. Kings would be a tough matchup for San Jose. I'd take LA in that one. Canucks Blues would be great too. Vancouver in 7.
Any chance the NHL keeps only intra-conference games in upcoming seasons? Got to admit I love seeing the tight playoff races as a result! Plus won't ever have to miss a game when an Eastern Conference team travels out west.
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Nope. With realignment next season comes home and homes with every team in the league. So in fact, it'll be the opposite. But I prefer that. Every fanbase deserves to see the best players around the league. I think next year's schedule is going to be fun, I'm looking forward to seeing how things shake up in the new system.
This may be kind of random, but do you foresee players getting "pushed out" of the NHL with the impending salary cap reduction? Each team will have a considerably smaller pool of money to throw around with which to pay players.
Craig Custance (1:58 PM)
Dougie - There may be a squeeze on the middle class, like some veteran free agents might have to take less than normal. But teams still have to fill out rosters. PLus, I think it's going to be pretty temporary. It looks like revenue is growing again for the league and a long CBA allows the league to focus on growth. That cap won't be low for long.
As is stands, the Isles could match up with either MON or WAS in the first round - both teams that they have played very well this year. If people want to continue to ignore how well they're playing right now, please do so. How far can they go?
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Joe - That Rangers/Islanders game on Saturday was as good a regular season game as I've seen this season. And I've watched a ton of them. Islanders are playing well and if they get Montreal or Washington, the series should be pretty even. Realistically, I think the best case would be a first-round win which would be considerable progress as they get closer to Brooklyn.
IF the Coyotes move to Quebec City, can we PLEASE get them their name back? I miss the Nordiques and the Whalers. Make it happen Craig!
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Haha, I'll see what I can do Matt.
Craig Custance (2:01 PM)
Alright everyone. Awesome questions, I can feel the enthusiasm for the playoffs already. If I missed you, hit me up on Twitter (@CraigCustance) or in my mailbag: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/mailbag/_/id/40243/craig-custance