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 (1:01 PM)
Hey everyone! Time for the weekly hockey chat. Hope you guys are more forgiving than Flyers management.
Was Quick's blooper last night one of the worst you've seen?
Craig Custance (1:03 PM)
Yeah. That was pretty bad. Hard to imagine it being any worse and knowing how hyper competitive Jonathan Quick is, it had to drive him crazy. On a positive note, I have McDonagh in Pierre's fantasy pool. Even the great ones make mistakes, which gives hope to the rest of us.
bob nj [via mobile]
hi craig who is the rangers next gm when hopefully glen sather retires?
Craig Custance (1:06 PM)
I wouldn't look any further than Jeff Gorton, the assistant GM in New York. Did a great job in Boston drafting and developing young talent and has done the same thing in New York. Strong contract negotiator too as we've seen with Stepan and MDZ. That would be a plumb job though. I wonder if they would try and find a way to lure Don Maloney away from Phoenix? That would be a coup too.
Ed (Queens Village)
In hindsight Flyers should of fired Peter at end of last year. The new coach needs time to implement his system. Is this team a mess from management to players?
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
Yeah, that's a head-shaker. If you're that unsure about Laviolette, you have to do it after last season. Like I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, the coaching pool was so much deeper then. They could have had their choice of Torts, Vigneault, Ruff, Eakins, etc. That said, give them credit for promoting a guy the players like and being decisive about it. An interim tag for Berube wouldn't have been good. It's reminiscent of when the Thrashers fired Bob Hartley after six or eight games and then didn't immediately promote Brad McCrimmon to head coach. That season would have looked much different if McCrimmon gets the job immediately like Berube.
Henry (US but so close to Canada)
Just two games but new personnel and assignments have Bruins PP looking to be potentially effective for the first time in years. Does its success look sustainable to you Craig?
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Bruins are north of 28 percent so we'll see that come to earth a little bit but I've been impressed with the improvement coming out of Boston. Usually the Cup runner-up has a bit of a hangover and that hasn't happened. Part of that is the influx of new talent. Having guys like Krug and Iginla playing serious power play minutes is a nice boost for the Bruins.
I get the feeling the Rangers will not wait long to make a big trade if the team doesn't perform. What big offensive names do you see available this year?
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Ohh, good question. It's a little early for trade speculation but there could be some good offensive players available. If Columbus struggles, I wouldn't be surprised if Marian Gaborik is moved but doubt the Rangers want to go down that road again. How about Thomas Vanek? He's not looking for an extension right now in Buffalo and if they're terrible, there's no reason to think that will change. He'd be a great addition for somebody.
Dave (New London CT)
The Chief apparently has the chops to coach in the NHL, but was the problem the coaching, or the players? Will Berube be able to turn this team around? Given the last 24 hours, what are your predictions for the Flyers this season?
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
It's a fair question. But if the players stopped competing for Laviolette than it was a combination of both. That happens sometimes. I'd like to see at least one game with Berube behind the bench to make predictions but usually teams get a bump with a new hire, so I'd expect some wins here in the short term. There's still more than enough talent for Philly to make the playoffs. In fact, I still expect them to.
Kevin (Pittsburgh, PA)
Hey Craig, How big an impact is losing Charlie Coyle for the Wild? He may not be a household name now but one of the most well rounded young players in the game. Also do you think Brett Connolly gets the call to finally get a realisitic shot at being an everyday NHLer?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
Yeah, the Wild had high hopes for Coyle at center and the knee injury doesn't help. That a big loss, but the reality is there is enough young talent in Minnesota to make up for it. They need a guy like Granlund to step up and make up for the loss in the short term.
John Meyers (Detroit)
Will the Blues reach the Stanley Cup?
Thoughts on the St. Louis Blues so far this year?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
Lots of Blues questions rolling in. I love the Blues this year, although picked them to lose to the Kings in the Western Conference finals. Roy and Morrow have been good fits and they're getting the goaltending they didn't get at times last year. I had a good chat with coach Ken Hitchcock on Sunday and he said he was immediately impressed with the fitness level of Jaroslav Halak this year. Doesn't hurt that he's playing for a contract. I don't see the Blues scoring at the pace they're on now for the entire season but they're so deep up front that different guys are capable of contributing each night.
How likely is Vanek to Minnesota?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
It makes sense from a need perspective and I'm sure he wouldn't mind returning to the state where he played college hockey. But it's going to be a steep price to land him and I'm not sure Chuck Fletcher is too eager to trade another first-round pick and prospect(s). Cap teams need that steady influx of young talent coming in and that well dries up fast when you're trading first-rounders. Plus, Vanek is a hefty cap hit $7.1 million. That has to be considered too.
Stefan (Halifax, NS)
Hey Craig, while he's never really played behind a great defense, Devan Dubnyk seems to have proven over time that he is not a #1 NHL goalie and the goalie stick rule change will no doubt affect him given his height. What do the Oilers see in him that I don't?
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Hey Stefan - It seems like it's popular to pile on Dubnyk right now but you can't ignore his .921 save percentage last year. And like you said, it's not like he had the Coyotes or Blues team defense in front of him. I honestly think he's earned more time to prove himself this season that what we've seen. All that said, at some point somebody is going to sign Ilya Bryzgalov and look pretty smart because of it. Bryz is still a good goalie.
Suburban Rhythm (Pittsburgh)
Other than hiding calendars from MA Fleury so he doesn't know it's spring time, what is Pittsburgh going to need to be serious contenders in May and June?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Haha. Hiding the calendars might just do the trick. I'd like to see a little bit more depth up front. The drop off from top six to bottom six is fairly severe in Pittsburgh although that might say more about the talent of the top six than anything. But really, not to oversimplify, but there's enough talent up and down the lineup to win a Cup if they stay healthy and get the goaltending. Depending on Vokoun's health, Ray Shero has to look hard at bringing in a proven veteran at the deadline. I'd feel a lot better with Ryan Miller than I would Fleury in the spring.
Every year there's a surprise goalie in the league that has an awesome year. Who are the top candidates this year?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
My pick would be Semyon Varlamov who looks great in early going for the Avalanche. He worked hard this summer to get ready for the season, training for a week in Switzerland with new goalie coach Francois Allaire and then spending more time in Montreal w/Allaire and Giguere. Doesn't hurt to have Patrick Roy as your coach either. His biggest thing is consistency, so he still needs to prove it over the long haul.
Am surprised at how many experts picked Ottawa over the B's in the Atlantic, because they look to be tough to beat this year and maybe even better than last year.
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
Guy - I was one of those people and realize that there's a risk picking against the Bruins. THey look really good early. Part of my thought process was that last year took a lot out of them. That was a grind that went into the summer, plus you had Bergeron's long recovery. Factor in new faces and the loss of Seguin, Pevs, Horton, etc. and I thought a healthy Senators team could pass them. We'll see.
Why do you think Marty Erat is in Adam Oates doghouse? An overrated Brooks Laich and an over the hill Jason Chimera currently occupy the 2nd and 3rd line LW slot. There is no rational explanation that can be given for Erat on the 4th line.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Pat - I asked Adam about that yesterday and he said he's still trying to get a feel for playing time and chemistry. Said it was more of a numbers problem than a problem he had with Erat. That's a lot of money to spend on a fourth-liner though. Not to mention the steep price McPhee paid. I have to imagine this is a temporary issue.
Gene (San Diego)
Do you think Penner's return to the ducks will help bring the cup?
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
No. Lots of good young talent coming in Anaheim but I see that as a team in a bit of transition. I think they'll be better in two years than they are right now.
Do you think this will be Alfredsson's final season?
Craig Custance (1:38 PM)
I do, but you never know with these guys. I thought last year was going to be his last year. He can still play though, I don't blame him for sticking around.
With Duchene, O'Reilly, MacKinnon and Stastny the Avs have a log jam at center and are in need of defense. Who do you see getting moved and for what type of player?
Craig Custance (1:40 PM)
You could have made an argument for O'Reilly as soon as that was allowable but he's endeared himself to Roy. Of that group, I think Stastny is the one to go. Contract is up after this year and it doesn't necessarily make sense to spend a bunch of money to bring him back. The trouble is, it's hard to make a pure hockey trade. Ideally, they'd be trading Stastny for a defenseman who can help now but teams looking to trade for Paul aren't going to want to trade players from their current roster. Typically it's picks and prospects.
Is Jarome Iginla an upgrade over Nathan Horton? Never seemed like Horty really wanted to shoot the puck.
Craig Custance (1:43 PM)
Horton had no trouble shooting when it counted. That's a tough call because that line with Horton was something special to watch in the postseason. To me, the difference-maker has to be Eriksson. Still in his prime and plays a two-way game that's perfectly suited for the Bruins. My prediction is that we see Eriksson score a huge goal or two for this team at some point this spring.
Which two do you start tonight, Tim Thomas, Cam Ward, or Mike Smith?
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Fantasy questions! Alright, I'll bite. Assuming they're all starting (I haven't checked), Mike Smith for sure. The tough call is between Thomas and Ward. The Flyers are going to come out hard for their new coach but have struggled offensively. Ward is facing the Penguins. I'd go Smith and Thomas. Tough one.
Chris (Durham ,NC)
What are your thoughts on Carolina's revamped defense?
Craig Custance (1:47 PM)
Still seems a bit patchworked to me, which happens when you lose a guy like Pitkanen. I'm a huge Justin Faulk fan and realize I'm far from alone there. He's a legitimate stud. That plus-2 next to Ryan Murphy's name is encouraging too. They need him to contribute all year long. Still work to do defensively in Carolina though.
Could the always overlooked Coyotes be a legitimate threat just because of owneship settlement ? I love they're team but it's pretty much the same except Ribeiro . What do ya think ?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
They're definitely legitimate because of the caliber coach they have in Dave Tippett. It hinges on Mike Smith. If he returns to form, they're a playoff team. Ekman-Larsson is one of the game's best young defenseman. Maybe even a Norris finalist this year. Lots of depth on D. Would still like to see them add another scoring winger.
If the Isles were to pick up Ryan Miller midseason, where would you put them in the East? Where do you see them now? O looks good and JT hasn't even scored yet.
Craig Custance (1:52 PM)
As constructed right now, I think they're just outside a playoff spot. Still like Penguins, Rangers, Capitals and Wildcard better. If they pick up Ryan Miller that changes everything. I would love to see the Islanders do that, fans there deserve it. That would catapult them right behind Pens/Rangers.
Riley (St. Louis)
With the Team USA goalies not looking so hot this early, do you expect the goal tending race to run until the olympic break?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
I really think it's only a race for spots No. 2 and 3. Unless he starts letting in a bunch of goals like last night's (which he won't ever do again), he'll be the American starter in Sochi. They're going to announce the roster at the Winter Classic but I fully expect the race to go right until January 1.
If you could choose one :Ryan Murphy, or Ryan Murray ?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
Ryan Murray. Without a doubt. Love his calm, poise. He's going to be really good.
joe (cubicle hell)
Are the Bruins that much better than the Red Wings? How much did 3 games in 4 nights contribute to the game?
Craig Custance (1:55 PM)
Hey Joe - Which stage of hell is cubicle hell? To answer your question, no. Can't measure those two teams on one game, especially when one was playing as much as Detroit was at that point. I expect both of those teams to battle for the division title right until the bitter end.
any chance varlamov could be starting for russia in the olympics? i mean, it's him or bobrovsky, right?
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
Yeah, Al, I asked him if he was extra motivated by the possibility of starting in the Olympics and he gave the stock answer - he's focused on winning for the Avs. That said, I don't think it's a coincidence that his extra training coincided with an Olympic year. We've seen a lot of players come in extra focused during an Olympic year, with Ryan Miller a good example of that.
Panthers have any chance of sqeezing into playoffs?
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
Cory - I felt better about those chances before they got steamrolled by the Blues. But yeah, i think they're an interesting team. Lots of bad luck last year, especially with injuries. Doesn't hurt to have Tim Thomas in net either. A lot would have to go right but there's good young talent there and a Vezina winner so I don't know how anyone can count them out definitively.
Baron (Large, PA)
Is Fleury even tradeable at this point (meaning getting a decent pick or player)? Thanks
Craig Custance (2:00 PM)
Sure - he's still young and talented. If he's gets off to a hot start, he has value. And how often do we see goalies really establish themselves in the league on their second and third teams? His contract hurts the cause a little though.
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Alright everyone, thanks for all the questions! You guys are the best. I'm putting together the first mailbag of the season this week. If I missed you, send in the question here: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/mailbag/_/id/40243/craig-custance