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October 4, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (2:02 PM)

Hey everyone - looking forward to my first ESPN.com NHL chat and talking some hockey. Let's get started!

tdiddy (winnipeg) [via mobile]

Any predictions for my Winnipeg Jets this season. Playoffs? Deep run? Scheifele Rookie of the Year?

Craig Custance
  (2:05 PM)

Let's start with the Jets, since it's a franchise I once knew well. In our podcast yesterday, I set the over/under on points for the Jets at 85 and if I had to put bet, I'd put it at the under. I love some of the young talent there - Scheifele is going to be really good, although I'd prefer one more season in junior for him. Evander Kane is ready for a breakout and I've always felt like Toby Enstrom is underappreciated. But I don't think they're a playoff team yet. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will get them there, just not this season.

Chip (NYC)

We're coming up on it - who gets the final spot for the Rangers, Sean Avery and his 2 mil cap hit or Erik Christensen at 900k?

Craig Custance
  (2:09 PM)

Chip - Avery was waived today so Christensen wins the spot. The next move for Avery will be an interesting one. Like I posted earlier on Twitter, one GM I checked with said he seriously doubts Avery will get claimed. Friend and co-worker Pierre LeBrun says that Avery will consider all options, including Europe. Once the NHL reigned in his game, Avery never could be the effective player he once was in New York.

Timothy Somers (@BlueLineBadBoys) (Ottawa)

What are your thoughts on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele as positive contributors to their respective teams. To be sure they will see the ice but will they have an impact? And as a Leaf fan ... do you see playoffs in our future this season? Thanks.

Craig Custance
  (2:12 PM)

Lots of questions here - I've already shared my thoughts on Scheifele. I love Nugent-Hopkins as a playmaker and it looks like he's going to see time on a line with Hall and Hemsky which is a heck of a way to start your NHL career. If that sticks, I do see him making a big impact. He has incredible vision and seems like a natural for a goal-scorer like Hall.As for the Leafs - we just turned in our predictions and I have the Leafs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The drought is over!

Zac (Indianapolis)

Just picked up Nabokov off of waivers hoping he gets traded...any chance? If so, who are the likely suitors?

Craig Custance
  (2:16 PM)

It looks like the Islanders are going to start the season with three goalies, with Rick DiPietro the favorite to start opening night. Nabokov is a wildcard, especially for those looking for fantasy goaltending. The problem is, there just aren't any teams in need of goaltending right now. I'd monitor injury situations closely to start the season - can Hiller return to full strength following his battle with Vertigo? Can Steve Mason carry the load in Columbus? Does Roloson have enough left in the tank? If any of those situations falter, the Islanders may be about to talk trade. Until then though...

Scott (Boston)

The Bruins won with the worst power play in history. If they improve the PP and stay healthy, who can beat them?

Ed Shore (Boston)

Do you think the Bruins can ge to the finals again?...Banner being raised on Thursday night!

Craig Custance
  (2:19 PM)

Lots of questions about the Bruins. Here's the deal - I'm a big believer in the Stanley Cup hangover. I'm based out of Detroit - I've seen it up close here. I've seen it nearby in Chicago. Unlike some other recent winners, the Bruins brought everybody back and I give GM Peter Chiarelli credit for managing this team and the cap in a way that he was able to do it. But the reality is, this group dealt with a short summer and the constant demands that come with winning a Cup. It's such a grind to repeat and teams in the East like NY, Pittsburgh and Washington should be better this year. That's my long way of saying, I don't see a repeat in Boston.

Chris (Lockport, IL)

What is your feeling on when Crosby may be back?

Craig Custance
  (2:23 PM)

I think we've seen a lot of bad Crosby predictions over the course of the last nine months, or however long he's been out, so predicting concussion recovery is something I hesitate to do. But that said, every indication from the people I've spoken with is that he's really close. He's initiating contact with teammates. He's been available to the media more and more and is preparing to handle the Western Canadian media crush he's about to get. You don't do that if you're not feeling pretty good. If I had to predict, I'd say Nov. 1.

kurt (Buff)

did the sabres make enough moves to contend for the cup this year? i thought our biggest weakness was defense last year, and i think we improved in that area tremendously.

Craig Custance
  (2:27 PM)

The Sabres are one of the most fascinating teams to watch in the East this year because I'm not exactly sure where to slot them. Like I mentioned earlier, I like Washington, Pittsburgh and New York. Then Philly and Boston. I'd put Buffalo right in that second tier. Ryan Miller should be better and like you said, Kurt, the defense is improved. Tyler Myers should be much better to start the season than he was last year. We've all kind of forgotten about the Robyn Regehr addition and we shouldn't. I wasn't as excited about the Ville Leino addition as some others, that was a ton of money to pay for him, but he still adds skill. I think they win the Northeast, but fall short of the conference finals.

Conor (Michigan)

Hey Craig, What are your expectations for the Red Wings this season? Also who do you predict will be the most improved player from the previous season?

Craig Custance
  (2:33 PM)

Hey Conor - I've got the Red Wings finishing second to the Blackhawks in the Central but it will be close. Once they get in the postseason, they're as dangerous as any team in the West. Losing Brian Rafalski is a huge blow, but Mike Babcock said he's excited about the Ian White addition. He said he likes guys who have been kicked around a little and have motivation to make it work in Detroit. The Red Wings have a history of making it work with guys like that. Playing with Lidstrom certainly helps his cause. As for most improved, I'll pick Jonathan Ericsson. I know fans here in Detroit were frustrated with him last year and confused by the money he got before free agency, but it started to make sense when the prices shook out on July 1. He's hitting his prime, has the security of a three-year deal and Detroit needs him to be better.

William (NYC)

Hey Craig, as a Devils fan this year is going to be a roler coaster ride in my opinion. I actually like the direction the team is taking in terms of going with youth. I think if the Devils make the playoffs it'll be as a 7th or 8th seed. What are your thoughts on the Devils this year. Thanks.

David (Rutherford, NJ)

Should the Devils be sending Christmas cards to Edmonton, Colorado and Florida for passing on Adam Larsson?

Craig Custance
  (2:37 PM)

David - Yes, they should. The Devils love Larsson and rightfully so. There were some good players taken in the spots ahead of Larsson, so it's no disrespect to those guys, but Larsson has given every indication in camp that he'll challenge for the Calder and provide that blueline a presence they need. To get to William's question though, I'm not sure they're a playoff team yet. I like the infusion of young talent and David Conte will keep it coming but I think they're still transitioning. They'll be in the mix but if I was betting, I'd put them in the 9-11 spot.

Leon (Yuma, AZ)

To Rask or not to Rask, that is the question. Should the boys in black and gold give Tuuka more of a chance in net and hope for a repeat of stats from 09-10, or leave Timmy Thomas between the pipes and hope he doesn't run out of gas?

Craig Custance
  (2:40 PM)

Leon - I don't think we gave Tuukka Rask enough credit for how he handled things last season. He was professional, never caused any waves when Tim Thomas won the job. Could have demanded a trade this summer, and didn't. I think he should get every opportunity for playing time despite Thomas coming off a Vezina season. Thomas isn't getting any younger and at some point they will have to put a transition plan in place. I'm not saying that needs to happen this year but I think he should play more than he did last year and if he outperforms Thomas, should have a chance at starting in the playoffs.

Mike (Mission Viejo, Ca)

True of False. The Kings win the cup in the next three years.

Craig Custance
  (2:41 PM)

True

Marc (Malden, MA)

Last night...I touched the Cup

Craig Custance
  (2:41 PM)

Congrats!

Chris (Lockport, IL)

What is your prediction for the Blackhawks this season?

Craig Custance
  (2:42 PM)

Division champs and a trip to the Western Conference finals. Corey Crawford is rock solid in goal and I loved what he showed during the playoffs. I expect a major bounce-back season from Duncan Keith too, he should be right back in the Norris conversation.

Jesse (New York)

Should the Leafs be worried about a weak showing by Reimer this preseason? Do you still have them as number 8 even if Reimer isnt starting by the end of the year?

Craig Custance
  (2:44 PM)

No. I don't see them at No. 8 if he struggles. I should have couched that. If Reimer doesn't play at the level we saw last year I think Ron Wilson's job is in trouble and they miss the playoffs. Carolina, New Jersey and Montreal would be the benefactors.

Cody (Mankato, MN)

Do you see the Wild sneaking into the playoffs after missing it for the past 3 seasons? Why or why not?

Craig Custance
  (2:45 PM)

I don't, Cody. I think Chuck Fletcher is building the right way, but I have concerns about their defense and think some of their best young talent is still a year or two away. I'm not a big Dany Heatley fan either.

Dan (delaware)

Chances on Geno Putting 50 in the net this year?

Craig Custance
  (2:47 PM)

Dan - I don't see 50 goals, but I do see 100 points and a Hart Trophy. I'm firmly on board the Evgeni Malkin bandwagon.

Jerry (NYC)

Ranger fans are excited about the upcoming season but w/ Staal down w/ post concussion issues i am very worried about the team. What are your thoughts?

Craig Custance
  (2:49 PM)

I would be concerned about Staal's concussion issues too. It's a serious injury and having him out of the lineup changes things considerably for the Rangers. If they're completely healthy, they're a team I see advancing to the Eastern Conference finals but the Staal recovery concerns me. At some point, they may need to add a veteran on D.

Scott (Chapel Hill)

Craig, What do you think about the Hurricanes young squad? Does Jeff Skinner have the talent to be a Superstar in the NHL?

Richard (Greensboro, NC)

I doubt the Hurricanes have the firepower to pass the Caps for the Southeast crown, but do you think they are the best shot for the 2nd spot? What is most likely to keep them out of the playoffs?

Richard (Greensboro, NC)

Is signing Kaberle and moving Corvo an upgrade for the Hurricane defense or more or less a push from your perspective?

Craig Custance
  (2:53 PM)

On Kaberle, I'd vote for push. On Skinner, I'd say he's already a star and I think he gets better. He has the makeup of a kid who won't be satisfied with what happened last year. I'm curious to see how long they wait until he's consistently centering his own line in Carolina. Richard - I think Washington wins the SE, w/Tampa second although the formula used by ESPN the Magazine in our season preview had the lightning missing the playoffs completely. As usual, I think the Hurricanes will be in the 8-10 spot in the East. If one of these two young defensemen (Murphy or Faulk) turn out to be the real deal this season, Carolina gets in.

Ed Shore (Boston)

Are you one of the whiners who want Detroit in the east? Chicago was so far over the cap they had to give away the team after they won the cup!

Craig Custance
  (2:55 PM)

Nope, not one of those. I don't have a dog in the hunt but I am fascinated by the idea of realignment and think it's one of the more fun off-ice debates going on right now. Much more fun than talking about concussions. And yes, Boston is in a better place than Chicago was coming off its Cup. Still not sold on a repeat.

DANNY (Minneapolis)

Do you see Alex Semin staying through the transfer window in the new year or offered as trade bait? If so, what do you expect as a reasonable return for the wandering winger?

Craig Custance
  (2:57 PM)

Danny - Here's the problem in trading Alexander Semin: There's no way the Capitals will get anything close as useful for a Cup run this season in return. Typically, players like Semin fetch a roster player, prospect and draft pick at the trade deadline. That doesn't do the Capitals any good. They're trying to win now, so they're better off hanging on to Semin and trying to win in the playoffs. To me, a more likely scenario is the Caps keep Semin all year, into the playoffs and let the chips fall. Then he walks as a free agent and they use that money elsewhere.

Matty (NC)

Can you explain how Vancouver was the odds on favorite to win the Cup last season, made the Finals and went to 7 games and lost 1 defenseman. Why are they experts ignoring them this season and seemingly writing them off as a fluke?

Craig Custance
  (3:01 PM)

Matty - I think it's a fair question. To me, if they were going to win it, it was last season. Everything aligned. They were dominant. Other teams in the West were a little down. And yet, they still didn't do it. I think they're still going to be really good, but just don't think you can immediately bounce back from what the Canucks went through last year and ascend right back to the finals. I don't think last year was a fluke at all but they're already banged up and the season hasn't started yet. It's too much to ask to go on that kind of tear again.

Craig Custance
  (3:03 PM)

Alright everyone, that's it for this week. Thanks for joining in. Really appreciate the questions and apologize to everyone I didn't get too. Let's do it again soon!