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January 29, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (1:00 PM)

Hey everyone - time for our weekly hockey chat, questions are piling up so let's get right to it!

Will (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Pens never seem to play up to their capability night in and night out. What do the Penguins need to do to get back to an elite level?

Craig Custance
  (1:02 PM)

Will - this isn't just a Penguins problem. When you have a short training camp, no preseason and then cram a bunch of games into a short period of time, you're going to get inconsistent play across the board. I still consider the Penguins among the elite and won't be concerned until it's closer to the playoff time with any inconsistency.

Joe (Texas)

Craig, Ovie finally got one into the net on Sunday, and the Caps won. Do you think the flood gates are open now? Or do you think the Caps and Ovie are going to continue to struggle this season? Throw us Caps fans a bone here. We're dying!

Craig Custance
  (1:06 PM)

Joe - Caps fan in Texas, eh? I wish I had better news for you but I think it's going to take more than one win and goal to get things going in Washington. It's been hard enough for teams that have had consistency over the last year to start well, the Capitals are in their third coach since the start of last season and it's going to take some time to get settled in. Although, they can't wait too long the way Tampa is playing in the Southeast.

Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh, PA)

Craig, what should I do with my forward lines? We started the year with Tangradi with Malkin and Neal, but after two games we moved Kennedy up to that spot, which in turn destroyed our much hyped "third line identity" with Sutter and Cooke (gee that didn't last long). Last game we had Tanner Glass playing with Geno...which you know is not a solution either. Do I need to get in Shero's ear to get me another forward? And if we do, should we go for skill and speed (i.e., Devin Setoguchi) or size and tenacity (i.e., Ryan Malone)...both guys I have heard might be available. Keep in mind we will likely have to go through the behemoth Bruins and NYR in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Craig Custance
  (1:07 PM)

Dan - I think there may be something to the Setoguchi rumors. Minnesota would probably move him considering the impressive talent they have at forward in the AHL, especially if they can get a young D in return. Although you're right, I'm not sure that's a guy you want grinding things out in the playoffs. Ray Shero will definitely be monitoring this closely.

Alex (Anaheim)

Viktor Fasth looked pretty solid the other night for the Ducks. Do you think he'll get more starts than the typical Anaheim backup?

Craig Custance
  (1:10 PM)

I don't know Alex. My instinct is that Bruce Boudreau will lean on Jonas Hiller although schedule and travel may play a big part in how much he's used. If Fasth keeps playing like he did last night, Boudreau will definitely get more comfortable with him.

John (Tampa, FL)

Everyone knows that the Lightning had plenty of offense last year but no defense. I think the defense is a much better this year but I am amazed at how the puck handling defensemen have added to the Bolts already poten offense. Do do you think the addition of Carle, Salo, maturation of Hedman, and Lindback will make the Lightning a serious contender?

Craig Custance
  (1:13 PM)

Hey John - Yeah, the Lightning have been one of the quiet revelations so far this season. You know they would be much better with their goaltending straightened out but you're right to point out the upgrades Steve Yzerman made on defense are paying off. The Southeast is wide open especially with Carolina and Washington struggling. Banking points now is huge for Tampa and Guy Boucher has already proven he can win in the playoffs.

Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia, PA)

Craig, you are telling me P.K. Subban has resigned with Montreal for only two years? Seriously? We need help on D. You know I was about ready to trade three first round picks for him and then sign him to an 8-year extension at 6 million per year....only to then try and buy him out in two years. You know I was. Next time answer the phone Marc Bergevin!

Craig Custance
  (1:15 PM)

That was such a savvy signing by Marc Bergevin who has made great move after great move since taking over as GM in Montreal. He showed a lot of restraint in that contract with PK and now you have a motivated, talented young defenseman who will be playing for a big payday down the road. The Canadiens have to love that combination.

Jerry (Chicago)

How good do you believe the blackhawks really are? Thanks

Craig Custance
  (1:16 PM)

Jerry - I believe they're really good. Corey Crawford continues to answer every question about him and if they're going to get that kind of goaltending, they'll challenge for a Stanley Cup. LIke all teams, health will be key. Their PK has been dramatically improved and GM Stan Bowman was smart to build depth on defense in the off-season. That's a good team.

Austin (Cheeseburger West Side)

Who switches with Winnipeg?

Craig Custance
  (1:17 PM)

As far as realignment goes? I think we'll eventually see a system in place next season that looks pretty close to what the board of governors proposed back in December of 2011, which means a lot more than Winnipeg will be moving.

Mike (DC)

If things don't work out with Oates, do you think George McPhee goes out and signs RGIII as the new bench boss?

Craig Custance
  (1:18 PM)

Hahaha - I'm not sure how many more coaches George McPhee is going to get to hire.

Bill (Boston)

What are your thoughts on the Bruins right now? It looks like they have not played to their potential yet.

Craig Custance
  (1:20 PM)

Have they lost in regulation yet Bill? You're a tough guy to please. Best development for the BRuins has been the emergence of Dougie Hamilton. He now has points in three consecutive games and is pushing 20 minutes of icetime per game.

Andy (Newport Beach)

Craig. What is your take on the Ducks? Can you see them challenging for the Pacific this season, and do you think Winnik shoudld play on that top line with Getz and Perry?

Craig Custance
  (1:22 PM)

Andy - I think the style of play we're seeing right now favors an offensively gifted team like the Ducks. I wouldn't mess with the Winnik line. Ducks can definitely challenge for the Pacific but boy that San Jose team looks really good and the Kings have now won two straight. It's going to be another barnburner in the Pacific.

Adam (Toronto)

Wouldn't a NJ/LA swap for Bernier and some on NJ's depth on D + picks make sense?

Craig Custance
  (1:24 PM)

Adam - That actually makes a lot of sense. Another team with depth on defense is the Coyotes and with Mike Smith's injury (and potential UFA) it would make sense for them to kick the tires on Bernier but I highly doubt Dean Lombardi would trade him within the division. If you trade for Bernier, what do you do with Johan Hedberg this season?

Lane (NYC)

Do the Flyers spend too much time assembling talent at the forward position, and not even time building a team? Even when healthy, their D is average at best. How many 20 goal non physical forwards can one team have? There's no sand paper element to this team.

Craig Custance
  (1:26 PM)

Nothing wrong with assembling talent. THere are a lot of teams that would love to have Philly's forward group, whether or not you think they play with enough grit. Their deficiencies on defense aren't from a lack of trying. I don't think the defense you see in Philly now will be the one that ends the season.

Mark (Denver, CO)

Hola Craig. Do you feel that Joe Sacco and Greg Sherman are skating on thin ice within the Avs organization or are their jobs secure?

Craig Custance
  (1:29 PM)

Hey Mark - I've actually been a Greg Sherman admirer in the way he's assembled young talent on a very limited budget. The O'Reilly situation is an ugly one though and you don't want to get in the habit of alienating your young talent. As for Joe Sacco, I think it would be fair to say he'd be on thin ice if this team doesn't challenge for a playoff spot this. YOu've got to keep showing growth as a team, with forward progress. As step backwards wouldn't look good for him.

Shaun (San Jose)

Craig How good do you think the Sharks can be, especially considering they are missing 2 of their D to start the year. They are off to a hot start but do you see secondary scoring as a weakness still?

Craig Custance
  (1:32 PM)

Shaun - Yeah, Thornton and Marleau will come to earth but the Sharks are still getting production from Pavelski, Couture and Havlat. I'm not to concerned about their scoring. Getting Brent Burns going will be key for them. Looking forward to seeing what Larry Robinson can do to grow and develop his game. Still concerned about their PK.

Matt R (Pittsburgh, PA)

With an intense intra-conference only schedule, how much of an advantage will the East have over the team from the West in the playoffs given the travel discrepancy involved?

Craig Custance
  (1:35 PM)

Matt - Don't we always say that about the East though? I'm not sure the Devils had to get on an airplane the two rounds before playing the Kings and LA handled them fairly well. Where it becomes a big issue in the West is when a team has to travel across the continent every round. You need at least one close one in there.

John (Omaha, NE)

Granted the hawks were playing their 3rd in 4 nights but how do you feel the Wings playoff chances after how they played in the Wild and Hawks games this week?

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

There's a lot of pride in the Detroit dressing room and I think they showed it with the win over Minnesota and playing Chicago tough. They're defense is a major concern. I know they're injured but even when healthy that's not a particularly strong group. As currently constructed, they're a borderline playoff team. If they can tread water and add a d-man before the playoffs, I like their chances much better.

Alex (Anaheim)

Katie Strang thinks it won't be long before Nash registers a multi-goal game. Do you agree based on what you've seen so far?

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

Yes

Max (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Hey Craig, great job with the lockout by the way! So, what's up with the Florida Panthers? They have a great lineup of young kids and some savvy veterans, but they look like nothing is working. I understand that they have some key injuries, but they were the Southeast Division Champs last season. What do they need to do to get back on track?

Craig Custance
  (1:39 PM)

Hey Max - I've always felt this is a weird transition year for the Panthers who may be a year away from a lot of that young talent Dale Tallon has drafted really making an impact. They only have one player who has scored more than one goal, which is problem as is Kris Versteeg's absence. Might be a rough year for the Panthers.

Kyle (Niagara Falls, ON)

I had heard rumblings that expansion might be on the table soon after the lockout was resolved. Is there any truth to this, and what would need to happen to set the league in that direction?

Craig Custance
  (1:41 PM)

Kyle - I don't think I'd characterize expansion as "soon" but I think it's definitely on the horizon, especially when you look at the proposed realignment and the flexibility that gives the league to add two teams down the road. But you've got to solve Phoenix first. I think we'll know a lot more about the situation in the desert this week. Running out of time.

Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)

Craig, now that Brian Burke has been deposed from Toronto, do you seem him catching on with another team? I was thinking about this the other day, and do the New York Islanders make sense as a possible landing spot? Hear me out. Everyone knows that the NYI already have a strong Rhode Island connection with Garth Snow and Jack Capuano both being Rhode Island scholastic hockey legends. So why not bring in the Providence College boys in Burke and/or Ron Wilson as some kind of president of hockey operations? Plus having Burke in New York in the same media market as Sather and Lamoriello would be great for business. And the Isles are essentially re-booting with their move to Brooklyn anyway. Give me a downside to this...

Craig Custance
  (1:43 PM)

Jesse - Yes, I think Brian Burke will be back in the league as a GM. Too well respected and knowledgeable not too. I think if nothing else, he's learned the importance of picking a strong, supportive owner in which to work and I'm not sure the Islanders owner falls into the category.

Ryan (Philadelphia)

Hey Craig do you see the NHL expanding anytime in the near future? And if so what cities do you see getting teams? Seattle? Quebec? Toronto? I personally like the idea of Seattle getting an NHL team.

Craig Custance
  (1:45 PM)

Hey Ryan - Yeah, to follow up on the other expansion question, I know Seattle is on the league's radar. Looks like an arena is on the way too which bolsters the case, although it might end up being relocation rather than expansion depending on what happens in Phoenix.

WTE (New Hampshire)

During the lockout you heard a lot of fans saying they were done with hockey forever. They appear to have lied. Interest in the NHL seems as high as ever from where I sit. Are you seeing the same thing?

Craig Custance
  (1:46 PM)

WTE - Yeah, definitely. It's been across the board. Attendance is up. TV ratings are up. The NHL has come back in a big way. The lockout created pent up demand for NHL hockey and we're seeing the result of that. Now, let's see what happens in a month when teams are out of the playoff hunt.

Eddie (Austin, TX)

Does Q have much confidence at all in Emery as back-up for the 'Hawks? The one game he started, he was not good and it just seems Q would rather sit him from here on out. Should they find a better backup option to Crawford? I love our offense and the PP has been better this year, but I still worry about our goalie situation, especially if Crawford needs breaks in this short season.

Craig Custance
  (1:48 PM)

Crawford has been good, no reason not to keep sending him out there. I think you have to give Emery more than one start before making any conclusions about the backup job in Chicago.

Dan (Chicago)

Hey Craig. Has the lockout helped anyone more than Marian Hossa? This guy looks as good as he has since he was playing in Detroit. A healthy Hossa along with a focused Kane could mean trouble for the rest of the western conference.

Craig Custance
  (1:49 PM)

Agreed. He was able to recover at his own pace and do it without day to day distractions that would have normally been part of his recovery during the season. He's one of the most underrated players in the game, great two-way forward.

Kellan (Tucson)

Is the Coyotes offense for real? If they keep scoring like this and the D gets back to old form with Smith back, its a very scary team.

Craig Custance
  (1:51 PM)

Smith is the key here. The Coyotes aren't a team built to score four or five goals a night even if they've done that a couple times this season. They need to get their starting goalie back and playing well to be considered a threat in the Pacific.

Matt (MD )

So should the Caps just start planning a for a very early draft pick? And do you think Brian Burke would be a fit if they let GMGM go?

Craig Custance
  (1:52 PM)

Matt - I wrote about it today, but I think there's going to be a pretty darn good team that ends up with a high draft pick in June. ANd this draft is considered one of the best in several years. One scout I spoke with said there are as many as six players who would change the landscape of a franchise. Hadn't considered Burke in Washington but it'll be interesting to see what Leonsis does there if the Capitals miss the playoffs.

Gary (San Jose)

ell the Sharks are doing what they do each year win in Regular season any reason I should be more excited??

Craig Custance
  (1:55 PM)

Gary - For whatever reason, the Sharks have this reputation as playoff chokers that I think is a bit undeserving. Yes, last year wasn't good. But they advanced to the conference finals the previous two seasons. That's not easy to do. What you want to see is consistency from them during the regular season. There were times last year they looked good too, then they'd lose to the Flames or something. They don't need to win every game by three goals but I'll be watching to see how they compete night in and night out to see if they've learned from last season.

Mike (Reading, PA)

How much longer does Homer stay still before trading offensive depth for top pairing defensemen? and who could they possibly get that someone is looking to move?

Craig Custance
  (1:56 PM)

Mike - You gotta have a willing trade partner. Who in the league right now is looking to trade a top pair defenseman? Anyone? Philly might have to wait until a few teams drop out of contention before getting what they want.

Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)

Craig, Pierre has been beating this drum for awhile, but can you please give me one possible upside for the personnel management strategies that have been executed in Calgary and Toronto....keeping aging stars past their prime and signing mediocre free agents to inflated deals just to compete for the 8 seed over completely bottoming out for a few years and collecint top draft picks. Didn't these guys watch what happened in Ottawa in the 90s, then Pittsburgh and Chicago, then Edmonton? Trust me, as a New York Mets baseball fan, I know first hand the strategy of always trying to "stay competitive" because you are in a big market NEVER EVER WORKS. You stink anyway, so the fans would rather REALLY stink with the chance to eventually become good....

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

All I can say about that Jesse is I think Calgary should have started the rebuilding process a year ago, I'm sure part of it is an edict from ownership to compete for the playoffs. But I will say that it's not too late for Calgary to spin some of those veterans into prospects and picks. This is a great draft, if Jay Feaster accumulates a couple more first-rounders this year, the turnaround could be a quick one.

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Alright everyone, great questions. Thanks for jumping in. Now go bug Barry Melrose, the coach has a 2 p.m. chat.