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December 22, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (1:59 PM)

Happy Holidays everyone! Excited for another weekly chat, let's dive right in.

Mike (IL)

I'd like to nominate the Central division as the best division in the NHL... 1 team has the most points in the NHL, 3 have 40+ points, and a fourth is knocking on the door. Also, how tough will that division be next year when Minnesota and Dallas both join? Going by next year's realignment, only Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, and St. Louis would make it while lesser teams get in. That's rough but exciting.

Craig Custance
  (2:02 PM)

Thanks Mike, your nomination has been accepted.The Pacific would have been my choice as toughest heading into the season but the Ducks have been horrible and the Kings haven't lived up to expectations. I'm with you on the Central, especially with the emergence of the Blues. The Central loses points for being the home of the Blue Jackets though. My pick right now might be the Atlantic. The Flyers continue to win without Pronger and have the best young player in the game in Claude Giroux. The Rangers are hitting their stride and Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. The Penguins always find a way. Plus, Pete DeBoer has the Devils playing well offensively. No easy nights in the Atlantic.

Sean (Seattle, WA)

So Emery finally loses a game (not his fault) and Crawford returned between the pipes last night. Crawford played very well (including a spectacular paddle save) and will most likely be back to his starting role. With that said, do you think Q continues to ride the hot hand or will he let Emery get more starts down the stretch to save Crawford for a playoff run?

Craig Custance
  (2:06 PM)

This is Crawford's job but I think Quenneville is smart to stick with the hot goalie. It's a long season and it's a luxury to have a player like Ray Emery on your roster who can step in and rattle off a few wins. But I watched that game last night and Crawford looked strong in goal for the Blackhawks. Having two good goalies will allow Q to keep Crawford's workload manageable as the postseason gets closer.

Matt (Sunrise, FL)

With 6 forwards currently out for the Panthers do you see Dale Tallon going out and picking up a top 6 forward? If so who?

Craig Custance
  (2:10 PM)

I haven't spoken to Dale yet about his plans at the trade deadline but my first inclination is that this is a team on a budget that also is developing one of the deeper organizations around under Tallon's leadership. I would tend to believe that he'd give some of his younger players an opportunity to expand their roles when injuries come up. The one thing this organization has is excess goaltending, so maybe he'll shop a goalie at some point for help up front.

Rich (canada)

I use to be a Ryan Kessler fan,but latly after watching him i am realizing my opinion of him is becoming less, he is a good hockey player but watching him run around sticking, slashing, trash taking cheep shots at other players then turn around and calls Kronwall out after a big hit saying he needs to answer the call out! i have seen him chicken out a bunch of times when called out by tough guys, but Kronwall who is not a fighter hits then he acts tough! lost alot of respect for him!

Craig Custance
  (2:11 PM)

Rich - I thought Pierre made a strong point in our daily debate this morning. There's no need for a guy like Kronwall to fight if the hit isn't a cheap shot and I didn't have a problem with Kronwall's hit. As an American, I'm required to like Ryan Kesler so I can't join you in your criticism of him.

Greg (Philly)

Your take on Steve Ott going after Laviolette last night? Do you think Giroux is the best player in the NHL right now?

Craig Custance
  (2:13 PM)

I think there was plenty of blame to go around in that incident. I would love to hear what Ott said to him and maybe we'll get that chance on HBO next week.As for Giroux, I think he's one of the three best forwards in the game right now. I'm not ready to crown him as the best player, which changes on a nightly basis between him, and guys like Stamkos, Toews and Malkin. But Giroux is definitely in the conversation. I'm really glad to see him back on the ice.

alex (fla)

When the Wild get healthy they will be back to being the best team in the nhl!

Craig Custance
  (2:15 PM)

Love the enthusiasm Alex. Koivu injury is huge for them. If they make the playoffs, this season is a huge success for Chuck Fletcher and company. That team will be even better next year.

GBK (Lincoln Park)

Rich brings up a good point. I don't understand the need to fight after every single big hit in a game. And Kronwall doesn't help his team if he's sitting in the box for 5 minutes if he fights.

Craig Custance
  (2:16 PM)

Yup.

Tim (San Jose)

Ironic that the Sharks explode offensively last night in the first game of Havlat's injury absence? Or was it simply due to facing a mediocre Lightning squad?

Craig Custance
  (2:17 PM)

I thought that comeback win over the Avs was huge for the Sharks last week. That's a confidence builder but I think the Lightning had a lot to do with the offensive outburst last night. If Steve Yzerman still wants to compete for a playoff spot, he needs to do something soon about that defense/goaltending.

rick (boston, ma)

which two teams would you like to see play a seven game series?

Craig Custance
  (2:18 PM)

Great question Rick. Saving it for my mailbag.

Jason (Long Island, NY)

Happy Holidays Craig! Can the Rangers continue to sustain their success even with their depleted blue line?

Craig Custance
  (2:20 PM)

You too Jason! I'm done underestimating the Rangers. They showed their mental fortitude last year in overcoming all their injuries to make the playoffs and continue to impress with the way they've competed without Staal. At this point, I think there's only two players that an injury would be too much to overcome - their goalie and their captain.

Keith (Hamilton, MA)

Who do you think will be the biggest name moved this season?

Matt (Cleveland)

What is going to happen with Bobby Ryan?

Craig Custance
  (2:23 PM)

I think Matt might have answered Keith's question. If the Devils keep winning, I think a Zach Parise trade becomes less and less likely. David Poile has a tough decision to make in Nashville. So that makes me think that Bobby Ryan may emerge as the biggest name moved at the deadline. He was taken off the market when Bruce Boudreau was hired but if this team continues to tank as we get closer to the deadline, Bob Murray has to consider shopping Ryan again.

Corey (NY)

Merry Christmas. Bruins peaking or do you think this squad has the intangibles to stay strong (albeit surely coming down slightly from this high)?

Craig Custance
  (2:25 PM)

Merry Christmas! The success of the Bruins may be the single most impressive thing to happen so far this season. I'll be the first to admit I was wrong about the BRuins. I've had enough players and coaches tell me that the hangover is brutal after winning a Cup and it's hard to overcome. So I had low expectations for the Bruins. That the Bruins are winning the way they are says a ton about that group. Tim Thomas is back in the Vezina hunt as is Chara for Norris. They have to be considered the favorites in the East.

Matt (Detroit)

Craig, did I miss the new rule that you're allowed to push a goalie out of the way and then sit on him in order to score a goal?

Craig Custance
  (2:26 PM)

Haha. Yeah, they snuck that one in after realignment at the Board of Governors meeting.

Jason (Toronto)

Which Classic NHL jersey do you ask for Christmas?? I'm thinking Whalers or Rockies?? What's your favourite??

Craig Custance
  (2:27 PM)

My awesome wife already got me the one I wanted last year - the Nordiques. How long do we have to wait until a Thrashers sweater is considered a classic? 50 years?

jay (stl)

how far do ya think the blues can go in the playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (2:29 PM)

I watched Jaro Halak carry a team to the conference finals so I wouldn't want any part of the Blues in the playoffs. That said, if the playoffs started today they'd be playing the Canucks. I'd pick the Canucks in 6 or 7. That's the problem with the West. If you don't win your division you're getting an impossible matchup. Sometimes, even if you do win your division.

Jerry (San Jose, CA)

What type of return can Antero Niittymaki bring in a trade? I keep reading about teams having goalie issues, so...

Craig Custance
  (2:31 PM)

First of all, he has to prove he's healthy. If he can do that, he might be worth decent prospect or draft pick. I don't think he'll get a huge return though.

Jason (Toronto)

Kadri playing with Connolly and MacArthur to showcased or Toronto keeping him??

Craig Custance
  (2:32 PM)

I think they keep him. Dreger reported that the Coyotes asked for Kadri when they were shopping Turris and the Leafs shot that one down. Unless they can land a star for him, he has to be considered a guy who will be part of their long-term plans in Toronto.

Craig (Los Angeles)

From one Craig to another, happy holidays...!Alright, now that he has finally been introduced as the new coach, will Darryl Sutter make a difference for my Kings...? What is your gut feeling...? Thanks...!

Craig Custance
  (2:35 PM)

You too Craig! My initial reaction was very lukewarm to the idea but I have a ton of respect for Dean Lombardi and believe he knows how to build a playoff team. This is such a huge hire for him and I'm going to concede that he has a better knowledge of what this team needs than I do. If I had to bet right now, I think the Kings still get in the playoffs. I'm just not sure who I'm taking out of the current top eight. Phoenix?

jason (chicago)

I see that you wrote in an earlier post that Giroux is the best young player in the game. One question. If you had your choice to start a francise, would you take him over Johnny Toews? I think not. Opinion?

Craig Custance
  (2:37 PM)

Awesome question. I'm building around Toews. He does so much to help teams win. Great defensively, wins a ton of faceoffs. He's scoring as much now as he has at any point in his career and he gets better every year. IT's not a slight on Giroux, but I would start with Toews, give him the C and go from there.

Steve (New York)

What is going on with the sabres? Is it time for owner Terry Pegula to make a move?

Craig Custance
  (2:39 PM)

That roster could use a shakeup but Pegula hasn't even been there an entire year yet. If I'm him, I'm letting this season play out, evaluating my GM and coach and going from there. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have earned as much.

Jerry (San Jose, CA)

Do you hear of...or project...any future trades for the Sharks this season?

Craig Custance
  (2:40 PM)

I'd be stunned if Doug Wilson didn't do something at the deadline. Huge year for the Sharks and he's always aggressive about improving the team. They'll be in the mix come trade deadline.

Jeff (Buffalo)

Is Ryan Miller going to be traded?

Craig Custance
  (2:42 PM)

I know he's struggling, but I'd still be very surprised if he was dealt.

mark (seattle)

Craig, do you think Patrick Roy will be Colorado's coach by the end of the year?

Craig Custance
  (2:44 PM)

Interesting that he mentioned Colorado when he was asked about the Montreal job wasn't it? Joe Sacco has the Avs playing well, especially at home right now and this home winning streak might have saved his job. I'm not sure it can continue though so I wouldn't be surprised if we see Roy behind the bench next season in either Colorado or Montreal.

Andrew (Toronto)

So what's happened with Jimmy Howard? Always talented, his GAA has dropped nearly a goal a game. Has he just gotten that much better, or did Detroit alter its system?

Craig Custance
  (2:46 PM)

Andrew - There's been a slight system change with the addition of two new assistants which may be part of it but when you talk to people in the organization about Howard, they mention his growth and confidence. Ty Conklin has been shaky at best (he'll go tonight in Calgary) so the Red Wings need Howard to maintain this pace. Mike Babcock has already said that he doesn't mind riding Howard a bit. He's still young and they think he can manage the workload.

jason (chicago)

I've seen on one of the bigger blog sites that the hawks have been in talks to aquire a big name D man from an eastern conference team. Have you heard anything on this?

Craig Custance
  (2:47 PM)

Nope. I get the sense that Stan Bowman isn't in a rush to do anything dramatic. They need a No. 2 center and defense but I'd expect something closer to the deadline rather than coming out of the roster freeze.

Richie (Philly)

Craig, can the Flyers be Cup contenders with the defense as is? I know they have enough scoring from their forwards, but are Kimmo, Carle, Coburn and Mesz enough come playoff time?

Craig Custance
  (2:50 PM)

I know Paul Holmgren likes his top four even without Pronger and wants to give some of the kids a chance but I think they need to add another defenseman at some point. To make a Stanley Cup run, you need depth on D and there's no guarantee the four you mention are going to be completely healthy come playoff time. Holmgren will be working the phones.

Alex (Anaheim)

Giguere, always a favorite of mine from his Ducks days, has been a nice story lately. Is it crazy that I might root for him against my moribund Ducks next week?

Craig Custance
  (2:51 PM)

Giguere is a great story. Alex, I think it's okay for you to root against the Ducks for the rest of the season. It's a great draft this year, especially the kid expected to go No. 1.

Rick Nash (Columbus)

Heard a rumor that i might be traded? is a Red Wing jersey in my future???

Craig Custance
  (2:51 PM)

Rick - Do you really think Columbus would really trade you to someone within the division?

jon (Jersey)

If you were Zach Parise, would you leave NJ? I sure would. Coaching instability, no playoff success since he has been there, bankrupt team, be honest please. I would sign with the Wild

Lance Uppercut (Los Angeles,CA)

Who will win the West?

Craig Custance
  (2:55 PM)

Jon - For some reason my Parise answer didn't go through. So my short answer: I'd sign with Minnesota if I were Zach Parise too. It's home and that's a team on the rise.Lance Uppercut - I refuse to come off my preseason pick of the Sharks. San Jose is coming out of the West, even if they're making me nervous lately.

Keith (Hamilton, MA)

Call me crazy but I see the Wild missing the playoffs, or at the very least an easy 4-5 game match up for one of the higher seeds... This team just isn't that good... they have won 4 games already in the shootout as well as only having a goal differential of under 10...

Craig Custance
  (2:57 PM)

They're certainly a different team with Koivu out of the lineup. The interesting thing to me is that they have so many guys who played and won with Mike Yeo in the AHL. There's a real solidarity in that dressing room plus they have strong goaltending. That's a good mix that should keep them in the hunt all season.

Jason (Toronto)

going from Jersey to Minni?? That's really depressing, I'd like to see his talent in a more offensive system!!

Craig Custance
  (2:59 PM)

The biggest priority for Parise is winning. I don't think he's the kind of guy worried about putting up big stats. He's a competitor. Detroit will also have a bunch of money to spend this summer so I expect Ken Holland to be in on every major free agent come July 1. That'd be a heck of an offense for him.

GBK (Lincoln Park)

Parise should go to Detroit. He could play with centers name Datsyuk or Zetterberg...

Craig Custance
  (3:01 PM)

Well everybody, that's a wrap. I sincerely hope everyone has a great holiday season. Thanks as always for the questions!