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January 10, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Talking hockey at the midpoint of the season. Lots to get to, let's jump right in!

Bruce (Detroit)

Hi Craig - is the refusal of the NHLPA to accept the plan for reallignment the first volley in a potentially messy off season to hammer out a new CBA? Is there another plan that could be acceptable? Your thoughts please.

Craig Custance
  (2:04 PM)

Hey Bruce - My thoughts are that we'll eventually see the plan the BOG passed in Pebble Beach put into place it just won't happen next season. I got the indication from people I spoke with that the players were most upset that they weren't partners in the league's decision to realign the league instead it was, in the words of one agent, jammed down the players throats. This decision is an indication that the players are unified under Donald Fehr and will be a formidable opponent during CBA negotiations. I hate to say it, but suddenly I'm bracing for a work stoppage next season. I truly hope I'm wrong. The league is in a great place right now, I hope both sides realize that.

Shawn (clemson, sc)

when will all this talk of realignment end? Just get on with it...

Craig Custance
  (2:04 PM)

Sorry Shawn, didn't mean to lead with a realignment question. We'll move on in this chat.

Tyler (NH)

Best team in the EAST: Boston or New York (Rangers)?

Craig Custance
  (2:06 PM)

The Bruins and that's no knock on the Rangers. Boston is just crushing the opposition right now and I don't see a whole lot of weaknesses. The scary thing about Boston is that Peter Chiarelli actually has cap space to add pieces at the deadline if he feels so inclined.

Lou (Boston)

Sort of surprised we haven't seen more trades yet with the season half way over. It seems like more teams have cap flexibility that in recent years too - do you expect any big deals before the trade deadline?

Craig Custance
  (2:09 PM)

It's definitely been quiet but as the deadline closes in and buyers/sellers are clearly identified, that will start to change. Right now, there are only a few clear-cut sellers - Carolina, Columbus and Anaheim, on some level, leading the way. There are a lot of intriguing names that could be in play at the deadline making this year one of the more interesting. Last year it was guys like Tomas Kaberle and Dustin Penner being dealt at the deadline. We may see the ante raised a bit higher to stars like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Should be fun.

Andy (Houghton, MI)

What happens at the top of the central division tonight?

Craig Custance
  (2:12 PM)

Right now there are three teams with 53 points at the top of the central (Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis) and I think we'll wake up with three teams at 55 points. Detroit should beat the Islanders, even though I'm somewhat surprised Mike Babcock is going with Ty Conklin again. Assuming Columbus doesn't get the dead cat bounce under Todd Richards, Chicago should beat the Blue Jackets and I see the Blues playing hard in front of Jaroslav Halak to get their goalie a win against his former team in Montreal.

Jason (Toronto)

Lopul for comeback player of the year?? Was it injuries that have kept him down or some chemistry with Phil the thrill??

Craig Custance
  (2:17 PM)

Lupul is one of the great stories in the NHL this season with 47 points in 41 games. The biggest issue for him is he's finally healthy. I remember having a long conversation with him last year when he explained just how seriously injured he was in Anaheim. He had a bacterial infection that was extremely painful and frustrating as doctors tried to figure out exactly what it was and how to treat it. He said at one point he didn't leave the hospital bed for four days. I think he's learned to take care of his body and has a greater appreciation for being an NHL player. Anyone who went through what he went through would feel that way. He deserves all the success he's having this year after battling through it all.

Tony (Minnesota)

Do the Wild have any chance to turn things around this year, or do we have to wait ANOTHER year to see them in the playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (2:20 PM)

Tony - I believe Mike Yeo will keep this team in the mix for the No. 8 spot all season long, battling Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado to get in the playoffs. But be patient Tony, there's going to be a lot to like in Minny next year. There's going to be an infusion of young talent on the team and Chuck Fletcher has some money to spend in free agency. I also spoke with a scout today who said Matt Hackett is the best goalie in the world not playing in the NHL right now.

Justin (St. Louis)

What do you think of the blues chances to win the Central Division? Also do you think they will do anything at the trade deadline to add a high goal scorer or will they stay pat?

Craig Custance
  (2:24 PM)

First of all, my condolences to the Blues family on the loss of Ron Caron, universally loved in hockey. Despite the turnaround in St. Louis, I still think they're longshots to win the division. The fact that they're in the conversation is impressive. GM Doug Armstrong has indicated that he'll be actively looking for help at the deadline although when we last chatted it sounded like it would be to add depth more than anything. But that can change depending on what's out there.

Tony (WB)

Lupul for comeback player of the year? Come on, what about Del Zatto. From the minors last season to 2nd on defense in plus/minus. I know its not a big stat but it says something about DZ and his decision makeing

Craig Custance
  (2:25 PM)

Yup. He's in the conversation too. And what about Jagr?

Sully Sullivan (Cartagena)

Do you think the Capitals will win a cup during Ovechkin/Semin/Green's prime years? What fundamental flaws do they have that keep them from getting thru the East playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (2:30 PM)

Sully - Yes, I do. One of these years there's going to be a breakthrough with that group especially if one of their talented young goalies gets hot. I will correct one thing though - I'd replace Semin with Backstrom in your trio of core players there. I think this will be Semin's last year in Washington. If the assumption is a player hits their prime at 27, that means Ovechkin is a year away, Backstrom is three years off and Green gets there next year.

Jason (Toronto)

I'd be scared for the Caps if they met the Bruins in the playoffs....they don't even compare

Craig Custance
  (2:30 PM)

I'd be scared for anyone facing the Bruins right now.

Chris (Chicago)

Will the Hawks make a big move by the deadline?

Craig Custance
  (2:31 PM)

I can see Stan Bowman being very active at the deadline, not necessarily with a big move but with multiple moves. It's no secret, but this team needs a No. 2 center and depth on defense. They have the cap space and the assets to pull it off.

Tom (Denver)

Will Parise, Weber/Suter be in an AVS jersey next year?

Craig Custance
  (2:32 PM)

No.

Eric (Tampa)

What are your thoughts on Marchand's 5 games? Seemed a little much to me. 2-3 seems fair

Craig Custance
  (2:34 PM)

I was thinking something in the 3-4 range but didn't have a huge issue with five games. I'd much rather Shanahan err on the side of being too hard on guys than too easy.

Pete (NJ)

At what point to Devils fans need to worry that Parise isn't signed? If they are in a playoff spot (and he remains unsigned) do they hope a deep run will convince him to stay, or deal him for assets while they can?

Craig Custance
  (2:35 PM)

Pete - I'd already be worried. While I like what Pete DeBoer has done in his first year there, I'm not sure I'd count on a long playoff run to convince Parise to stay. If it's me, I'm dealing him at the deadline if I can't get a long-term deal done.

Marc (Malden, MA)

Parise will be wearing a Bruins jersey next season, if not by the trade deadline.

Craig Custance
  (2:36 PM)

If he doesn't sign with New Jersey, I'm still betting on the Wild. But there will be no shortage of options for Zach.

Robert (War)

Why has Buffalo struggled so much ?

Craig Custance
  (2:38 PM)

Great question Robert. I don't think any of us could have predicted a decline in Ryan Miller's game. There seemed to be a lot of momentum in Buffalo coming off an aggressive summer in free agency. I'm starting to wonder if there's any truth to the theory that things are just too stagnant in Buffalo with the same longtime core group of players, GM and coach. Might be time for a shakeup.

Matt (Orlando, FL)

Can the Rangers beat the Bruins in a 7 game series? Lundqvist can carry that team if needed!

Craig Custance
  (2:40 PM)

Would absolutely love to cover a 7-game series between the Bruins and Rangers. Lundqvist would have to be outstanding to slow down the Bruins, but he's on the short list of goalies capable.

Matt (NY, NY)

True or False, the Penguins make the playoffs.

Craig Custance
  (2:40 PM)

True

Eddie (Hoboken, NJ)

As a Devils fan, I LOVE how every week in every hockey chat, some "knowledgeable" fans of other teams basically want to trade us their 3rd string goalie, 8th defenseman, and 4th center and a 3rd round draft pick for Parise. Amazing how fans of other teams think we just want to help them win the cup and us be a terrible team for years to come.... sheesh!

Craig Custance
  (2:41 PM)

Exactly. It's going to take a serious package to land Parise, but that's why I think the Devils have to do it. They can set themselves up nicely for next season, especially if they get a No. 1 goalie in return as part of the deal. They can't let him walk for nothing.

Nick (Pittsburgh)

If, as expected, Pierre Gauthier gets the axe at the end of the season who do you think ends up as coach & GM next season in Montreal?

Craig Custance
  (2:44 PM)

I tell you what Nick, I had a great chat with Julien BriseBois earlier this week for the first time and came away very impressed. He's the assistant GM in Tampa and he'd be a great hire in Montreal. Patrick Roy's name will definitely be in the mix, but I'd start the search with the 34-year-old BriseBois and then let him make the decision on the coach.

Scott (Boston)

In Boston there was a lot of chatter of Tuuka Rask for Parise. We like Parise, but I'd rather have Rask, he's the goalie of the Bruins future.

Craig Custance
  (2:46 PM)

That's a tough one Scott. Do the Bruins REALLY need Parise? If I'm Peter Chiarelli, I'm adding some depth at the deadline to hedge against injuries and I definitely wouldn't give up an important part of the future for someone who could just be a rental.

Zach (Chicago (Michigan at heart))

As a Red Wings fan, I thought that the realigmnent plan could have a significant impact on whether Lidstrom comes back next year. With those plans axed for now, do you see the chances of Lidstrom coming back as less likely?

Craig Custance
  (2:49 PM)

I don't think realignment hurt the chances of Lidstrom coming back but I've never heard him really complain or gripe about travel. Actually, I've never heard him complain or gripe about anything. I think he's most concerned about winning a Stanley Cup and playing at an extremely high level of play on defense. As long as he's capable of doing both of those things, I think he sticks around. But only Nick knows for sure.

Mitch (NC)

Did you see HBO's 24/7 this year and if so were you as disappointed as I was? Last year was so in depth and detailed and this year it seems like that did really even try.

Craig Custance
  (2:52 PM)

Mitch - I saw 24/7 and enjoyed it. Here's what i think is the problem. We were all blown away with the production last year because we'd never seen it before - the coaches colorful language, the players messing around on the plane, skating with families at Christmas parties, etc. So when we saw that a second time this year, the newness was gone. It was still great access and very in-depth, it's just that we'd already seen it. To regain the wow factor, it needs to be done during the playoffs. That would be unbelievable.

B-Diddy (Munstoeville, WYO)

Hi Craig-Who do you like in the Avs/Predators game tonight?

Craig Custance
  (2:55 PM)

B-Diddy - I like the Preds. This is the first meeting between these two teams but Nashville seems to always play Colorado tough, I'm not sure the Predators lost to Colorado last year. Plus, Pekka Rinne is hitting his stride.

Rich (Philly)

Mitch...I know this is not a fair question, but will ask it anyway....forget about the past and statistics.....who is a better goalie right now....Tuukka or Timmy?

Craig Custance
  (2:56 PM)

Is this for Mitch in NC? Mitch, you want to take this one? (If I had to pick and needed one win, I'm taking Tim Thomas without a doubt)

Andrew ((Toronto))

Hello Craig! Stevie Y obviously needs to upgrade the Bolts in goal. But will any goalie be able to perform behind that defense? And who do you think they will target? Thanks!

Craig Custance
  (2:58 PM)

I get the sense that this is an issue Steve Yzerman will wait until the summer to address. Ideally, they're adding one of those high-end, young No. 2 goalies waiting for a chance to start. Maybe a guy like Bernier or Schneider. Josh Harding might be a good option too for the Lightning. But after going stopgap the last couple years, it's time the Lightning find a goalie they can keep around for awhile.

David (Ms)

Your personal opinion on Sid? He's been doing light workouts for a month and organization and coaches seem optimistic he'll return this season. What do you think? And do you see Pens making a big trade for a top six forward? Pierre from TSN reported pens were looking for a top six guy

Craig Custance
  (3:01 PM)

I know Crosby's teammates continue to hold out hope that he'll play this season so I won't rule it out. Thankfully Pierre also works for us here at ESPN.com and he's as connected as anyone I know in the game. If he says they're targeting a top six guy, they're targeting a top six guy. They have the cap space to make it happen and you can't wait on Sid forever. It'd be a smart move by Ray Shero to bring in some re-enforcements for his resilient club.

Jason (Toronto)

Thanks a bunch Craig!!!

Craig Custance
  (3:02 PM)

No - thank you! You guys are great, a ton of great questions as always. Let's do it again next week!