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 (1:01 PM)
Hey everyone! Just wrapped up a Ducks practice here and ready to take some questions. Let's jump right in.
Does Andersen get demoted again when Fasth returns from injury?
Craig Custance (1:02 PM)
Hey Alex - Yeah, that's the assumption, even though Andersen has been good. IT's not ideal for the Ducks but you really only want to keep three goalies around if you're at risk of losing one like the situation in Carolina. Hiller getting the start tonight in Detroit.
Craig, any updates on the Sabres GM search? Have you heard any indications that Calgary firing Feaster has accelerated Buffalo's timeline?
Craig Custance (1:05 PM)
They've certainly been thorough in their search. I really believed that they would have one named by Christmas but we're getting close. If the Flames opening hasn't added a sense of urgency, it should Brian Burke made it clear that he's very aware that there is competition in this hire and the last thing the Sabres want is to lose their guy because they're dragging their feet. That said, I think if they truly had a guy who was a clear-cut No. 1, the search wouldn't have expanded the way it has.
What do you make of Adam Oates's decision to start Grubauer over Holtby these last couple of games? Do you think he's just giving his overworked starting netminder a rest? Or is he sending a message? Or is it possible they are giving Grubauer a trial at the NHL level so they can explore options in trading Holtby or Neuverth?
Craig Custance (1:08 PM)
There are some who believe that Grubauer is the best of the bunch in Washington, although I feel like we've heard that before with some of the young goalies who have gone through there in recent years. I think if they could get anything of consequence - like an NHL defenseman - they would have already traded Neuvirth. The problem is, the goalie market is soft. There are now multiple cities where goaltending is piling up. That's why guys like Bernier and Bishop don't get the return you'd think they might. It's not easy trading a goalie.
So what is the deal w/ my sharks. Starting to turn into last years Jackel and Hyde team.
Craig Custance (1:10 PM)
I think sometimes there's a tendency with the Sharks to lose focus during stretches over the course of a long 82-game season. As frustrating as that might be for fans of the Sharks, they always figure it out, always make the playoffs and this is a group more than capable of making a run. The West is impossible so it'll come down to matchups but I'm not worried in the least about the Sharks.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What Outdoor NHL Hockey Game will you be Attending this season?
Craig Custance (1:11 PM)
I'm part of Team Winter Classic, hands-down my favorite regular-season event the NHL has. I've only missed one, and that was the original WC in Buffalo because I was covering the Thrash full-time back then. Sadly, they were not invited.
When will they get rid of a point for an OT or shootout loss? Looking at the standings there are teams in playoff contention almost solely on their OT losses.
Craig Custance (1:12 PM)
Yup. That's kind of the point. The more parity the better, even if teams are artificially inflated with loser points. Fans seem to hate it but the league likes the playoff race it creates. Not sure there's any movement to get rid of it, sorry Harv.
Ray Stinger Jr (Pittsburgh)
Hi Craig. The NHLPA supports Shawn Thornton to appel his susp. but where's the NHLPA love for Brooks Orpik?
Craig Custance (1:13 PM)
Funny you should ask Ray, because we just had a chat with Craig Adams on that topic. I think it's one of the biggest challenges the PA faces. Hold on, lemme dig through my notes to give you Craig's response...
Craig Custance (1:14 PM)
Okay, here we go. This is from Craig Adams: "It's something we've talked about over the year. IT's a question i've brought up to them before. It is tough. You've got two people representing two parties. You don't want to pick sides. The way we do it is we assign one side fo the case to somebody and assigne the other side of the case to somebody else. Just like in the legal system, you'er entitled to your defense and entitled to make a case.It's one of those things where you want everyone to be protecting but certainly you put emotion in it, when it's your team or it's you, you feel like, hey why are we defending this guy? IT's the way it has to be."
What do the Pens do with this glut of defensive talent they have? Are Orpik and and Niskanen gone after this season. It's hard to imagine the Pens without Orpick at the defensive helm.
Craig Custance (1:16 PM)
Asked Ray Shero about Orpik negotiations in California and it's something he said they have to discuss internally still. The rising cap certainly helps the cause there and a Cup contender like Pittsburgh isn't going to let one of their veteran defensive cogs walk easily. Just look at the injuries this season - you almost need eight or nine defensemen over the course of a season to put up with the injuries. Niskanen has been great for them in the midst of all the injuries. PLayed a ton when I saw them on Saturday. But he may be the odd man out.
From your columns and chats, it's obvious you want fighting out of the game. That said, what did you think of Eller's hit on Tavares on Saturday night? 15 years ago, would a player like Eller even think about delivering a hit like that, let alone go through with it? By taking fighting slowly out of the game, it's become open season on star players. Clean hits? How many clean open ice hits did Lemieux, Gretzy or Yzerman take in their prime?
Craig Custance (1:19 PM)
John - Here's my problem with where the NHL is right now. It's caught in between where the players kind of police the game and the league has ramped up its suspension policy but not quite enough where it's having the impact you'd want. My solution, if fighting were outlawed and you're right, I think it should be - would be to put the policing on the shoulders of the league with fines and suspension for teams, coaches and players with considerably more teeth than we're seeing it now. NFL has gone down that road, might be worth watching what the most popular sport in North America is doing.
In your opinion, what is wrong with the Sens this year? It has to be more than Alfredsson...Thanks.
Craig Custance (1:20 PM)
Hey Harry - They're playing better lately, can't ignore that. Big win over the Blues. Was talking to an NHL coach about them recently and he said you can't underestimate the loss of Alfredsson, especially when things went sideways to start the year. He had a calming affect on that team. He also pointed out the loss of Sergei Gonchar, which isn't brought up enough. They're still figuring out how to replace him. I'm not ready to give up on the Senators as a playoff team just yet though.
Hey Craig, question about expansion here: I understand that Toronto is a breeding ground for hockey revenue, but if expansion spawned a new team in the city, how would they generate a fan base? Leafs fans are some of the most diehard fans in sports so who is going to jump off the Maple Ship and board a catamaran?
Craig Custance (1:22 PM)
You know what Alex? That's a great question. I guess the assumption would be that a bunch of fans in the area who can't afford to go to Leafs games or are way down the waiting list might jump ship. It's not like the Leafs are rewarding their fans for their diehard loyalty right now.
Paul (St Catharines Ontario)
I hated that Lindy got let go last year, but the only guy I could support taking over was Ted Nolan. I know they are struggling, but do you see a chance of him returning next year?
Craig Custance (1:25 PM)
To me, it comes down to who gets the GM job. If I'm interviewing for that job (which sadly, I'm not) part of the deal would be I would get to pick my own coach. That's part of the reason he got hired with an interim tag. You don't hire a guy to run your team and then pick the coach for him. At least you shouldn't. So I would say there's a chance he returns but it comes down to the hire.
Neal (Menlo Park)
Given Stamkos' is skating why aren't there whispers of PEDs? Seems an awfully fast recovery.
Craig Custance (1:27 PM)
Maybe I'm naive, but I just don't see it. Stamkos has always been in incredible shape. Works with Gary Roberts and takes everything he puts in his body very seriously. If there was an NHL player who would come back early from an injury, it was him. Also, not sure how wise it would be for a potential Olympian to go down that path with Olympic drug testing.
Gumbo (Brockton, MA)
As a Bruins fan, I have to put up with my idiot hometown columnists calling for a ban on fighting every time somebody sneezes violently. Can you tell my Boston media to chill out and just learn to appreciate a sport they clearly never played?
Craig Custance (1:30 PM)
Sorry Gumbo, but I'm on their side on this issue. Hockey is the best sport on earth and the skill level it takes to play in the NHL is off the charts. Fighting has become a sideshow, and a dangerous one at that. There are legal liabilities that come with it too and I think it hurts growing the game in the States. If you're trying to get rid of concussions, there's an easy place to start - the part of the game where players repeatedly pound on each other's head.
This year, the Pens aren't being looked at as one of the NHL's elite. Besides injuries, what is holding them back?
Craig Custance (1:32 PM)
Really? Who doesn't consider them in the league's elite? I realize there are questions regarding Fleury which is why I think Ray Shero will get another goalie at some point but they're one of only two true Stanley Cup contenders I would pick out of the East. Boston being the other.
Who do you see will be the biggest name traded before the deadline?
Craig Custance (1:34 PM)
The same as it's been all season. Ryan Miller. Some team (looking at you St. Louis) is going to get him before the deadline and improve their Cup chances dramatically.
Gumbo (Brockton, MA)
Do you really believe a ban on fighting will cut down on the "violence" in the game? Come on now.
Craig Custance (1:35 PM)
Only if it is accompanied by considerably harsher fines and suspensions from the department of player safety. Also, fighting will never be totally removed from the game. Ever. It's not in other sports. So if someone totally crosses the line, fighting is still an option to police it.
Ben (San Jose)
Thornton appealing his suspension sends the wrong message in my mind. He fully deserves 15 games. By appealing I think he is not owning up to what he did, regardless of what he said to media.
Craig Custance (1:37 PM)
Ben - there's a lot to consider there though. He has a clean record so maybe he and the NHLPA didn't want to let the league set that precedent without a fight. I hear what you're saying but I don't think wanting to return to the ice with your team means he's any less sorry for what he did. I believe his remorse was real. Even the Penguins will tell you that Shawn is an honest player who had a severe lapse in judgement.
Hey Craig, what direction do you think MacT goes this offseason with his young core? I think it's blatantly obvious to the fans and outsiders that they have too much of the same thing.
Craig Custance (1:39 PM)
Joe - It's a huge offseason for Craig who can't be satisfied with status quo. Not only do they have too much of the same thing, I think they're too small up front to truly compete with the best teams in the heavy West. It sounds cold but he's going to have to look at some of these young players as assets to address needs. THe best thing that can happen would be for a guy like Yakupov to get going, have a great season so the Oilers are potentially dealing from an area of strength. The worst thing he could do would be to sell low on any of these guys. THey're too valuable.
Jason (Portland, OR)
A prediction of my own: Nathan McKinnon, who now seems to have found his groove, heats up and runs off with the Calder. Agree or disagree?
Craig Custance (1:42 PM)
Disagree only with the wording. I don't think anyone will be running off with the Calder. It's a great race this year. Hertl got a lot of buzz early. Kreider is getting recognition. My preseason pick Nichushkin is starting to come for Dallas. I'm also in the camp that Olli Maatta and Hampus Lindholm need to be in this conversation. And Torey Krug. It's a great race and McKinnon is right in the thick of it. But don't listen to me, I thought Jonas Brodin should have won last year and lost that battle.
Bettman recently announced how great the franchises are doing. Does the very low attendance in Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus, the Island and even a lot of empty seats in St Louis, along with the empty arena in Florida concern him at all.
Craig Custance (1:45 PM)
Oh, I'm sure there's concern there but I think more importantly from a league perspective, those franchises now have stability in ownership which is the most important thing for those teams. Attendance figures fluctuate around the league based on win/loss records so they have to take a bigger view of that. Stabilizing ownership in markets like Dallas, Florida, St. Louis and Phoenix were the biggest priority and you have to give Bettman credit for doing that. I don't know where he always finds these guys.
Miss Manners (Advice Column)
Craig, when trying to figure out the acts of rampant violence and vigilante justice that are plaguing the NHL these days, one thing that the regular fans never see or consider is the amount of trash talking that goes on behind the scenes. We all know teams employ professional "agitators"...and I would not put it past any of these guys to unleash some of the most vile insults known to man about topics ranging from lifestyle choices, wives and kids, family disabilities, financial status, drug use, etc. We have all seen the youtube video of the infamous Trottier-Stevens-Bellows exchange during the 1991 Finals. Sometimes a guy can only take so much before he snaps. You don't know what one guy was saying to another before he eventually lashes out and elbows him in the head. Right or wrong, what would you do in the press box if somebody was verbally bashing your young kids or a family member having a tough time. Just saying.....
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Miss Manners - It's a very fair point. There are guys really good at their jobs as agitators but as a professional athlete you have to know that going into a game. You know who the agitators are, you know what kind of material they have, like Eminem in 8 Mile. You should hear the abuse I take from guys like Nick Cotsonika and Kevin Allen in the Detroit press box. Those two are relentless.
Neal (Menlo Park)
Is there any question Prices is the starting goalie for Canada in Sochi?
Craig Custance (1:49 PM)
Any chance the Rangers see they don't have an elite team and become sellers of some of their UFAs?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
No. Although maybe there's a hockey trade to be made along the lines of the Gaborik deal last year. Here's the reality if you're the Rangers: You may not be elite but the East is horrible. So you make the playoffs, have one of the best goalies in the world and hope to go on a postseason run. If you can get out of the East, you hope whoever represented the West is so beat up by going through that gauntlet that you have a fighting chance.
Do you see the Penguins trading for scoring depth before the trade deadline? Maybe moving one of their young d men?
Craig Custance (1:53 PM)
Yes. Third-line winger would be a nice add for the Penguins. Look at how the best teams are built - it's four lines that can play. There's a fairly significant dropoff in Pitt after you get through the first two lines.
Any chance Marc-Andre Fleury makes the Canadian Olympic team?
Craig Custance (1:54 PM)
You never say never, but I'd say no chance.
Craig, all I know is that I played hockey, football and rugby, all tough guy sports with the potential to "take liberties" with your opponents. If I fought in football or rugby, I'd be out of that game and for probably a couple more after. I don't see what's so special about hockey that "requires" fighting to keep the peace while the others don't.
Craig Custance (1:56 PM)
Because it's always been part of the game, so people lean on history. But, and I'm sure I've said this before here -- what if fighting wasn't allowed in the game? What if it had never been a part of the game? And then one day, I wrote a column saying, 'YOu know what the NHL should do? It should have a guy on each roster that plays three minutes a game and over the course of the game, action is stopped and those guys fight each other.' You guys would hammer me.
Glenn (Rhode Island)
How is it that Garth Snow...who was a goalie...can't seem to realize how bad goaltending is killing the Isles. Instead of building on last year, they have regressed mightily. Tell me there is hope.
Craig Custance (1:57 PM)
I've wondered the same thing, Glenn. The hope is that you have one of the game's best young captains and more young talent coming. But I'm not sold on the GM, coach and the owner is highly questionable. Other than that...
Follow up to Alex, which potential expansion franchise would do you better attendance wise? Seattle or Toronto 2.0?
Mark (Denver, CO)
How does the R+R Hall of Fame induct Cat Stevens while ignoring the Replacements and Deep Purple? There is no justice here...
Craig Custance (1:59 PM)
I can't imagine a scenario where a second Toronto team wouldn't succeed and do incredibly well attendance wise. It's the best hockey market in the world. It needs two teams.
Craig Custance (2:02 PM)
Alright everyone. That's a wrap. Great questions as always. You guys are the best, have a great week.