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February 12, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (1:00 PM)

Hey everyone! Happy Paczki day! Questions piling up already, let's get going.

Joe (Texas)

I'm a huge Caps fan, but at this point, I'm ready to admit defeat on this season. Who should we take with our 1st overall pick in the draft?

Craig Custance
  (1:03 PM)

Joe - This team is too good to finish last in the league but I wouldn't rule out a lottery pick so I guess the No. 1 overall is an option. In conversations I've had with scouts, Seth Jones seems to have a slight edge over Nate MacKinnon, although it's a coin toss. Caps can't go wrong with either but if I were GMGM, I'd lean towards MacKinnon. Strengthen that team down the middle.

kurt (Buff)

craig, you mentioned last week that Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been workign the phones, but the trade market is soft right now. When do you expect it to pick up? My fear is that while teams like washington, Philly, Buffalo, Calgary, etc are looking to shake things up, the vast majority of teams still don't know whether they are buyers or sellers.

Craig Custance
  (1:05 PM)

Kurt - I still think it's on the early side. There are conversations and teams are getting a better look at what their needs are at this point. But if you have depth, considering the injuries and pace to this season, it's not something you want to deal. GM meetings are before the trade deadline this year (March 20 in Toronto) which should make for a fun time. It'll be here before we know it.

GBK (Lincoln Park)

Craig, did you go to Hamtramck for some fresh pacskis? My question is this: can Zetterberg maintain this pace for the rest of the season? He and Datsyuk have raised their games to make up for the losses on defense, but that seems hard to maintain in a short season like this one.

Craig Custance
  (1:08 PM)

GBK - They're doing exactly what the Red Wings need out of their stars. That defense isn't going to get better overnight, probably not this season. The Red Wings are going to have to change their identity a bit and grind out wins the way they've been doing the last week. And then rely on Datsyuk and Zetterberg to continue producing. Both are capable of keeping it up.

David (Corona)

The ducks are winning with Fowler out, and with Perry and Hiller cold. If those things change are they a legit Stanley cup contender?

Craig Custance
  (1:11 PM)

David - It's been a great run for the Ducks, who I'll get to see up close this week. I think they've established themselves as a legit playoff team but I'm not ready to put them in the Stanley Cup category yet. PK is a huge red flag for me. You don't win a Cup giving up PP goals in the playoffs.

Richard (Greensboro, NC)

The Hurricanes have really come on after their slow start, but defense still seems to be a problem. Is this primarily a team that isn't talented or big enough on defense, or is this something we can hope to see improvement in?

Craig Custance
  (1:13 PM)

They have some organizational depth on defense and it'll be interesting to see if Jim Rutherford dips into that to either make a deal or bolster the D at some point. Faulk is a special player, and young enough that he can continue to improve. That may be where some of the improvement comes.

Gary (Atlanta)

Is the West just the Hawks and the Sharks with 6 other teams thrown in? Hawks look healthy and really strong!

Craig Custance
  (1:15 PM)

Gary - Sharks are tailing off a little bit after a strong start. They'll be in the mix but I'd say the Blackhawks are in a class by themselves right now. Canucks are playing well and once they get Kesler back (soon) they will be right there. Kings will get better too.

Matt R. (Pittsburgh, PA)

Given the hiring of John Davidson and the accumulation of three (3!) first round draft pics this year, it's reasonable for Blue Jackets fans to have _some_ hope for the future, right?

Craig Custance
  (1:17 PM)

Very reasonable Matt. JD will get that team going soon and you're already seeing signs this year of the culture change he's going to implement. Columbus couldn't have picked a better draft to have three No. 1 picks. This draft is loaded. I know it's hard right now in Columbus, but I'd be excited about the future. Huge draft for them.

Mack (Philly)

Can the flyers turn it around to make the playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (1:18 PM)

Mack - Not if they can't find a way to win on the road. Bryz has done his part in goal, he's just not getting the support right now. Too many questions on D too. Could be a transition year for the Flyers.

Jon (LA)

Is Voynov for real? pick him up in my fantasy hockey pool?

Craig Custance
  (1:19 PM)

Love Voynov. LeBrun and I got into a bidding war during our fantasy pool auction before the season for Voynov. He's going to be really good, especially if you're in a keeper league.

Garrett (Long Island)

What are your overall thoughts on the Rangers and if you had to guess, where do you think they will finish in the standings?

Craig Custance
  (1:20 PM)

May not win the division but they're a playoff team that will make a Cup run. As things tighten up that plays right into their style. Rangers will be fine if they stay healthy.

Chris (Detroit)

Is Tampa going to regain their early form?

Craig Custance
  (1:21 PM)

Yes. Still struggling to win on the road which is surprising but Tampa or Carolina should win the Southeast. I'd lean towards Tampa.

Imre (Missoula, MT)

Western Conf. showdown between Hawks & Ducks tonight! Who ya got? Home game letdown after long trip for the Hawks? Or does the Madhouse get rockin?

Craig Custance
  (1:22 PM)

Ducks 4, Blackhawks 2. Love Chicago, but that first home game after a long trip is always a tough one.

Jason (Philly)

How bout those Devils! It was fun going back to all of the sites and re-reading their NHL season previews. Most were way off.Are they for real or just on hot streak right now? Thoughts

Craig Custance
  (1:23 PM)

Jason - When will we ever learn? Devils are always in the mix. Peter DeBoer remains one of the most underappreciated coaches in the league. What a job he's doing. I still think the Penguins win that division but then again, New Jersey always seems to prove us wrong.

Bob (DC)

The Caps are obviously struggling and Saturday night's win vs Fla and tonight's game against Florida are likely to give management a false sense of hope. I know plenty of GM's are actively looking to shake things up a bit right now, why is McPhee so cautious? It hasn't worked with this core group for 5 years.

Craig Custance
  (1:25 PM)

Bob - As one GM said (not McPhee), you need to have a partner to shake things up. Not sure there's anything McPhee can do at this point that wouldn't be counterproductive.

Jake (NYC)

Is it unreasonable to think of David Clarkson for MVP? With the departure of Parise, him following up his first 30-goal season with 9 in the first 12 games is in the top 2 reasons for the Devils sitting on top of the East (goaltending being the other).

Craig Custance
  (1:27 PM)

Great start for Clarkson but I think it's a little unreasonable to expect that goal production to keep up at that pace. But yeah, definitely been one of the MVPs of the first quarter of the season along with Vanek, Kane and Zetterberg.

Garrett B. (DeKalb, IL)

I think it is time that the Sharks start to think about getting a new look this off season, and by that, I mean I would like to see them trade Thorton, Boyle, and maybe Marleau. Boyle is aging but might net a decent enough return plus cap space. Thorton is going to start declining, doesn't play very physical for a big guy, and when other people are not scoring off his passes seems a bit lost. Marleau, while I think is still the best all around player on the team and would hate to see leave at this point, could net a decent return and cap space as well. The cupboards are pretty bare, Pavs and Couture are a decent emerging group to build a new core around. Thoughts?

Craig Custance
  (1:29 PM)

It's an interesting thought. I think it comes down to how they perform in the playoffs this spring. I'd give that veteran group another shot at it and then assess the situation in the summer. Both Marleau and Thornton are UFAs after next season, so it wouldn't be hard to move them if SJ decides to go that direction. A guy like Boyle is tougher to replace. I'd keep him around.

Matt R. (Pittsburgh, PA)

Your thoughts: Should players (NHLPA) have a voice in realignment talks?

Craig Custance
  (1:31 PM)

Absolutely. They're the ones who have to do all the traveling and competing so if the league proposes something that asks too much of them, they should have a say. That said, blocking league plans for the sake of blocking them wouldn't be productive either. I think realignment will move forward without too many issues in time for next season.

Drew (Indy)

Do you think once the playoffs get closer that teams will look more at match ups than the actual seed they get?

Craig Custance
  (1:31 PM)

Absolutely Drew. 100 percent. That's always the case.

Tim (Loon Lake)

Is Detroit ever going to move to the Eastern Conference?

Craig Custance
  (1:32 PM)

I think we'll see something close to what the BOGs presented last year. So that means Detroit isn't in the East but in more of a midwest conference that eliminates some of the extreme travel west. That will help them. Plus home and homes with every team brings in a lot of the east.

Mike (Nashville (with hot hockey wife))

Craig: As a long time Nashville fan, I'm fed up. Every year we can't score goals, ever year we get promises and every year we get no help. I'm tired of the promises! Help end the madness!!

Craig Custance
  (1:33 PM)

Mike - Last year was the best shot for Nashville to win the Cup. That truly was a roster capable of doing it. Can't say the same for this year's roster.

John (New Mexico)

How underrated was the move STan Bowman made to acquire Johnny Oduya last season?

Craig Custance
  (1:34 PM)

John - Very. Great point. Stan quietly added depth to that defense and it's paying off. He took some chances this summer, especially sticking with Crawford. So far, it's been the right choice.

Matt (MN)

Seen much of Brodin this year? I'm sold. He jumped right in this year, is great on his skates, and has a heavier shot than I expected. Looks like he'll be a stud on D paired with Suter for years to come.

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

Matt - Another young d-man in which I'm a huge fan. Great skater. Wonder what Spurgeon's return will mean but he's going to be a constant in the Wild lineup for a long time. Don't think this is the year for Minnesota but once a couple of those young players like Brodin, Granlund, Coyle, Zucker, etc. get going, watch out.

Rich (Philly)

Is tonight a preview of the Eastern Conference Championship? What do you expect in the Bruins-Rangers game tonight?

Craig Custance
  (1:38 PM)

Couldn't be an Eastern Conference championship preview without the Penguins. But 2-1, Rangers. Lundqvist stays hot.

Judeman5000 (Bakersfield, CA)

Who has been the best free agent signing so far? I submit P.A. Parenteau.

Craig Custance
  (1:40 PM)

Great question. Parenteau has been good, wasn't crazy about that signing this summer. I'd vote for Justin Schultz. That signing will end up being a franchise-changer for the Oilers.

ASN (NY)

With the upcoming talks regarding Sochi involvement, do you think the players will be there?

Craig Custance
  (1:41 PM)

Yup. There are a few things the league and players want in regards to insurance, doctor access, media rights, etc. But they shouldn't be a deal breaker. Also, can't believe the Olympics are getting rid of wrestling. Brutal.

Jake (NYC)

ROY so far, Tarasenko or Conacher?

Craig Custance
  (1:42 PM)

Wow, tough one. Conacher's pace has slowed give him the early edge though. And not to continue to pump Schultz's tires but he'd better be in that conversation too.

Rob (Calgary)

RE: Free Agent Question - Juri Hudler's been one of the only bright spots in Calgary

Craig Custance
  (1:43 PM)

Respectfully submitted. Thanks Rob. Another signing I wasn't crazy about.

Bill (Chicago)

Is fighting still an important aspect of the game? It seems like with all of the head issues, the grace of the game should be more important than goons trolling the ice.

Craig Custance
  (1:44 PM)

Bill - If it were up to me, I'd eliminate fighting tomorrow. But I'm a bleeding heart member of the liberal media, so there's that.

Thomas (Seattle)

With all the injuries to goalies out there does Van move Lou with his value at an all-time high? Also is there room for Jordan Schroeder when Booth and Kes return?

Craig Custance
  (1:46 PM)

Schroeder is a good problem for the Canucks to have, eh? That's the bright side to Kesler's injury. You always hope as a GM that someone will seize the opportunity and Schroeder has done exactly that. Depth down the middle is so crucial. As for the goalie situation, nobody can say that waiting out the market has hurt Gillis. Still see a trade at some point, but Vancouver willing to wait for the right offer. Interesting to hear him say today that he's getting numerous calls on both goalies.

Doug (Virginia)

Any word on Iginla's contract negotiatations with Calgary?....or is he said to the biggest deadline name?

Craig Custance
  (1:48 PM)

No word. That's going to be up to Iginla though. If Calgary ever goes into a rebuilding mode (as they should), I wouldn't blame Iginla for not wanting to be a part of it. If so, contenders would line up for him at the deadline.

Erik (Pittsburgh)

Will the Coyote's trade Yandle?

Craig Custance
  (1:50 PM)

Erik - The challenge is finding the right fit. I think they'd move him for a legit No. 1 center but there aren't a ton of teams eager to move a No. 1 center. And they can't trade for one that is entering free agency. They need someone they can keep long term. In the meantime, they're one of the few teams with a top four d-man they can move. That's a position of strength.

Matt R. (Hockeytown)

It's early yet, but is this the year Mike Babcock finally gets some Jack Adams consideration?

Craig Custance
  (1:52 PM)

Yeah, this will be the year he gets serious consideration if the Red Wings finish near the top of the Western Conference standings. He's one of those coaches whose Jack Adams candidacy was hurt by high expectations and a loaded roster. People were predicting the Red Wings to miss the playoffs this year and he's transforming that team into one that is grinding its way back into the postseason.

Marty and Moose (Jersey)

Haha will you media guys ever learn?

Craig Custance
  (1:53 PM)

Haha - what a season the Moose is having. Great to see.

Alan (Queens)

Craig, Can you honestly tell me why Garth Snow is still employed by the Islanders? This team is on the verge of finishing in the bottom 5 in the league for a sixth season in a row, and there is honestly no hope in sight. His draft selections have been below average at best and since he traded three #1 pick for Ryan Smyth a few years back, he has truly been gun-shy to make any significant deals. This organization, whether here on Long Island or in a few years in Brooklyn, will never take that next step until a real hockey guy is brought here to clean this mess. Finally, if Rick DiPietro was on any other team than the Islanders, would he have been bought out already.

Craig Custance
  (1:54 PM)

Alan. I have more of an issue with the owner than I do the GM. I feel for Islanders fans as long as Charles Wang is around. And yes, it's time to buy out that DiPietro contract. It's just a constant reminder of a bad decision.

Judeman5000 (Bakersfield, CA)

Would Yandle for Ryan O'Reilly work?

Craig Custance
  (1:56 PM)

Avs don't appear to want to trade O'Reilly but when I think about it, I'm not sure which team says no to that deal. I like that one Judeman.

Matt (Philly)

Shouldn't the Flyers bring up Gustaffson to help the D and the offense? He's much better than Foster/Gervais

Craig Custance
  (1:58 PM)

Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised to see that move in the not too distant future. That'll help.

Ice Ace (Alabama)

Who has been the most surprising and disappointing ream in each conference?

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Western Conference: Most surprising - Anaheim Ducks Most disappointing - Kings (still think they pull it together); Eastern Conference: Most surprising - New Jersey (I know, I know. When will we learn?), Most disappointing - Capitals

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Alright everyone, great questions as always. Appreciate the participation. Have a great week - don't forget to join Katie Strang's chat later today!