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

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Hey everyone! Best time of the year - lots to talk about. Let's jump right in!

Dan B (Basement of Consol Energy Center)

When do I go back to MAF? Game 6? Game 7, if that happens? Game 1 of round two, if that happens? I know I can't resist, so it will happen eventually.

Craig Custance
  (2:01 PM)

Dan - If Vokoun keeps on winning, I don't know how you make the change. This is exactly the reason why he was brought in there and if he continues to provide the kind of steady veteran presence in net, I'm not changing a thing.

Kid A Plus (LA)

I'm sorry Craig, but when I see three Hart Trophy finalists from the East, the conf generally regarded by anyone who knows hockey to be the weaker of the two, 3 guys aided by it's much softer defense...I mean how else could you be consider the lesser conf, yet still have 26 of the top 40 scorers...I have to scoff a bit. For not to have at least one of Towes, Kane or Getzlaff as finalist is pretty laughable. You think Ovi is going on a goal scoring tear like that if he played in the Central and West instead of the East and the putrid SE? I sure don't.

Craig Custance
  (2:04 PM)

Kid A - It's a valid point. Much tougher to put up points in the West. This was honestly the toughest vote I've had in my years of voting on the Hart. I ended up going 1. Ovechkin 2. Crosby 3. Tavares 4. Toews and 5. Datsyuk. And there's a case to be made for each of them. Getzlaf too. It wasn't easy but the criteria says you have to consider the guy most important to his team and when you look at how the Capitals took off when Ovechkin became a dominant player, that edged him out for me.

Mike (Ithaca, NY)

Quite the rollercoaster NYR/Caps series thus far...who ultimately takes it and why?

Craig Custance
  (2:06 PM)

Mike - Awesome series. I've been covering the Ducks/Red Wings from start to finish so it's been hard to dive in to other series but I'm sticking with my original pick of the Capitals in that one. I just think their depth wins out over the course in a long series.

Eric (Denver)

What's your take on St. Louis' ability to resign their top 4 RFA's coming up this summer? Pietrangelo ($3.16M), Stewart ($3M), Berguland ($2.25M) and Shattenkirk ($1.3M). It seems to me thery're all due for raises

Craig Custance
  (2:08 PM)

Hey Eric - They're all definitely due for large raises and that's one of the reasons why I think Doug Armstrong has kept a conservative payroll moving forward. They're a budget team to begin with and the Blues have about $41 million committed to salaries for next season. That gives Armstrong plenty of wiggle room to get those deals done.

Deron (Iowa)

I feel like the Ducks still have some holes in there game that need tightening up to make a run at the cup. Or is it just Detroit's game matches up well with Anaheim?

Craig Custance
  (2:10 PM)

Deron - IN covering that series, I've been more impressed with the Ducks than I was heading into it. I didn't have an appreciation for their depth, especially up front. Their fourth line of Etem, Steckel and Palmieri has been fantastic. Etem is a future star. Bonino is another player who I really like. It's been a pretty wide open series and I'm not sure how the Ducks would match up against a tight defensive team like the Blues or Kings. That would be the biggest question for me moving forward if the Ducks advance. The defenses on the other teams out West will all be better than Detroit.

eric NY [via mobile]

Are the Sabres the laughing stock of the league with Pegula bringing back Reiger?

Craig Custance
  (2:11 PM)

Eric - Laughing stock is a little harsh but I thought that team was due for an overhaul and I'm surprised it didn't happen. Not sure what the plan is right now in Buffalo.

Alex (Anaheim)

Ducks in 6?

Craig Custance
  (2:11 PM)

Toughest thing to do is close out a series and the Ducks definitely don't want another cross country flight to set up Game 7. I think they win tonight, 4-3.

Alex (DC)

Your buddy LeBrun is pretty upset at the Hart voters. Maybe you can explain to him that the voting is over now.

Craig Custance
  (2:12 PM)

Alex - One of the things I love best about Pierre is his passion for the sport of hockey. Nobody loves this game and cares more about it than Pierre. He thought Toews should have been in the top three and it's a fair argument. I just don't know who you remove to make it happen.

Mike H (Maryland)

Will Toews and Kane ever be able to accomplish for Chicago what Jordan and Pippen did? I wouldn't be surprised if between the four of them the United Center ends up home to 10 championships.

Craig Custance
  (2:13 PM)

Mike - The problem is the NHL has way more parity now than the NBA did during the Jordan era. It's almost impossible to repeat in the NHL as we've seen with just how hard it's been for Chicago to advance to the second round since they won it all. But that team is definitely set up for long-term success and a huge credit goes to GM STan Bowman for that.

Shawn (Mi)

Ryan miller to Pittsburgh for MAF?

Craig Custance
  (2:15 PM)

Shawn - I had this debate with someone a couple days ago. It's an interesting proposal but, to me, if you're the Penguins and you're moving Fleury, I'm also trying to cut some salary in goal to clear future cap space for Malkin, Letang, Dupuis, etc. Adding Miller doesn't accomplish that for next season.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Who do you think will be the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions?

Craig Custance
  (2:16 PM)

Picked the Blackhawks before the playoffs began and I've seen nothing from them that has convinced me to change my mind. Picked Boston to win the East and feel pretty good right now about that one, although we know things can change in a hurry.

Eddie (DC)

Is this shaping up to be another typical playoff scenario for the Caps? The get up a couple of games in a series and then take their foot off the gas and blow it? Seems to have happened to them alot over the years.

Craig Custance
  (2:17 PM)

Eddie - I still think the Capitals pull it out. Maybe some of those lessons from previous years will help them find that killer mentality.

Eric (Chicago) [via mobile]

Wow were the Habs a disappointment in the playoffs. I know Craig Anderson is good and all but Montreal laid an egg. They should be ashamed.

Craig Custance
  (2:18 PM)

Eric - It was a tough matchup for them and injuries didn't help the cause either. But we all saw signs of a breakdown from the Canadiens towards the end of the year when they struggled heading into the playoffs. Overall though, a great season for a Montreal team that was awful last year. Lots to build on for Marc Bergevin and the Habs.

Dennis (OH)

Who would the hawks rather play? SJ or DET? I think they advance either way.

Craig Custance
  (2:21 PM)

Dennis - Detroit. San Jose is really good this year and Logan Couture is one of the most underappreciated players in the league. That's become his team and that next wave of talented Sharks give the balance to veterans like Boyle, Marleau and Thornton. Detroit doesn't have the depth of either of those teams, or the experience. This is a younger Red Wings team than some of the past.

Joe (Miami, FL)

How far do you think the Bruins can go? I see no reason why they can't win the East because honestly, I don't think they're even playing their best hockey yet. They're still trying to find that "A Game", and when they do, I think they can beat anyone. Thoughts?

Craig Custance
  (2:23 PM)

Joe - I'm with you. The Bruins were my pick to win the East before the playoffs and the Penguins are showing they're not the lock some thought they were. The Bruins are as balanced as any team in the East, have the goaltending and depth you need to win in the playoffs. I think there may be a couple teams in the West I'd pick over them in the SCF but Boston more than capable of representing the East.

Stu (Balboa Peninsula)

Did the West get hosed again on MVP noms? No Getzlaf or Toews? Getzlaf had a point a game and led his team to the Pacific title and 2nd seed, no love? Not to mention he is continuing that play into the playoffs...

Craig Custance
  (2:25 PM)

Stu - Yeah, I talked to a couple of the Ducks players about that and they think there is an East bias at play here. I just think it was a really tough year to pick the Hart. I've seen the breakdown of voters and it's pretty even between East and West. I don't think an East coast bias played into it as much as some of the numbers coming out of the Eastern Conference were more eye-popping.

Nick (Pittsburgh)

If the Penguins win their series against the Isles, do the Senators represent as much of a threat in the second round? Or are they a feel good story that has overachieved?

Craig Custance
  (2:27 PM)

Sens are more than a feel-good story. That's a team that's difficult to play against and are very sound defensively and play a system that makes it hard to generate offense against. They don't have the same jump and speed as the Islanders forwards and I wonder if they have enough offense to beat the Penguins but Craig Anderson would be the best goalie in that matchup and you can't underestimate that.

Maks (Portland, OR)

please tell me WHY Toews didnt make the Hart list? +28 to -2 (Tavares) and Pens did well when Sid was down.

Craig Custance
  (2:29 PM)

I think part of it was that Patrick Kane was so good for the Blackhawks too. I'm not sure why there isn't more of an outcry about him not getting votes. On some level, that might have played a factor into the thought process or split the vote. Tavares didn't have a Kane helping him when he carried the Islanders through early season struggles.

Jason (SoCal)

is etem the fastest skater in the league?

Craig Custance
  (2:30 PM)

We asked Bobby Ryan that question and he said he hasn't seen anyone faster. Etem has a unique stride but he's fun to watch. He absolutely flies out there and creates havoc on the forecheck. He's been a blast to cover during this series.

David (Cupertino)

Craig, How do you see the Sharks - Blackhawks matchup in the next round (if that ends up being the matchup). I know that Chicago went 3 - 0 versus the Sharks in the regular season. However, that was before the Sharks retooled at the trade deadline.

Craig Custance
  (2:32 PM)

David - Love that matchup. That's a 7-gamer in my opinion. The moves the Sharks made at the deadline made them a more north-south team and made them a faster team. I'd throw those regular season games out the window. I think you have to give Niemi the edge in goal there too. Some great story lines in that series - Niemi facing his former team... Torres vs. Hossa. I'd love to cover that one.

Shawn (OC)

IF Kings and Ducks advance the West will have 3 out of 4 teams in the semis from California. Who is the best team out of LA, ANA, and SJ going forward?

Craig Custance
  (2:33 PM)

Great question Shawn. Man, I don't know. Ducks are a deeper team than people realize, LA is the reigning champ and nobody is playing better than San Jose. This is a tough one to rank. I may go SJ, Anaheim, LA but could be talked out of it. I wonder how much of a toll that Blues series will take on the Kings, especially if it goes 7.

Dan (Chicago)

Hi Craig, what's up with Corey Crawford's exclusion from the Vezina and the Conn Smythe buzz? He shared time with Razor during the regular season, but he's been an absolute monster so far in the playoffs.

Craig Custance
  (2:35 PM)

Dan - It's a little early for Conn Smythe talk, no? And as for Vezina, that ballot was filled out before the playoffs. He had a great year but, like you said, Emery was just as good during the regular season and it's hard to pick a guy for Vezina who was splitting starts. I think Bobrovsky is the heavy favorite to win that one anyway but we'll see.

Mike (PITT)

If pittsburg had Lundqvist, do they win easy?

Craig Custance
  (2:36 PM)

Haha, you might be able to say that for a couple teams. Lundqvist is one of the three best goalies in the game. But that's the thing about a cap system, you can't have it all.

Andy (Detroit)

I feel bad for wanting Teemu to lose...

Craig Custance
  (2:37 PM)

You should. Teemu is a national treasure.

DRP (DC)

The Sharks swept Vancouver and appear to be getting no love and no coverage, what gives? Are they not the best team in hockey right now?

Craig Custance
  (2:38 PM)

They're great and made a huge statement, but I'm not ready to crown the Sharks as the best team in the league right now. I think the Sharks are more than happy to fly under the radar. We've seen what happens when everyone picks them to win the Cup.

Jallen (Detroit)

What are your thoughts on the Wings, do you think that they can pull through and win the series against the ducks?

Craig Custance
  (2:40 PM)

Jallen - This has been a very even series and you can't count out a Detroit team that has, as Bruce Boudreau likes to say, "championship blood." But I think the Ducks are the deeper, more experienced team and will pull it out. At some point, Corey Perry is going to cash in on one of his chances too. That they've won without him is even more impressive.

Nick (Pittsburgh)

Do you know what writers at nhl.com are responsible for the persistent use of puns in their headlines? I loved last night's "Blank Czech" headline for Vokoun's shutout.

Craig Custance
  (2:41 PM)

Haha, no idea. Dave Lozo over at Backhand Shelf wrote a column that addressed that question (google it) and he's a former NHL.com employee so he'd know. You gotta love the headline puns.

Sarah (Chicago)

Who do you think the NHL wants to see in the SCF?

Craig Custance
  (2:45 PM)

If you're just talking about media exposure and buzz it would create in the states, might be hard to top a Blackhawks/Rangers Stanley Cup final. Now, I don't think that's realistic. I'd be stunned if New York advances beyond the second round. As far as realistic matchups, a Chicago/Pittsburgh STanley Cup final would do really well. So many story lines, two wildly popular teams. Iginla trying to win a Cup. Crosby making the long road back. The Blackhawks trying to finish a remarkable season. Yeah, that'd be pretty good.

Kurt (Rouen, France)

I know the Wings aren't what they used to be and I am happy we made it into the playoffs but is the future bright with all the young talent? Have the rookies impressed you so far in the playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (2:47 PM)

Absolutely Kurt. Brunner still needs to round out his game a little bit but he's had his moments. Nyquist is going to be really, really good. This has been a great experience for him. Joakim Andersson is a good player as well despite his mistake in Game 5. And you can tell how much they miss Danny DeKeyser, who broke his thumb. Great, great skater.

Eric (Chicago)

Tavares was a -2 on the year and you had him over Toews in the Hart? I know it's not the best stat in the world but come on...

Craig Custance
  (2:48 PM)

Eric - Tavares absolutely willed that team to wins early in the season when they were still figuring things out. Absolutely carried them. I love Jonathan Toews. He's the guy I'd build my NHL franchise around but if you remove Tavares from the Islanders this year, they're a lottery team. Don't know if you can say the same for Toews.

Louie (Tampa, FL)

Someone put out an APB on Rick Nash and let him know that the playoffs have begun. Not used to the moment coming Columbus or simply playing small in big games?

Craig Custance
  (2:50 PM)

Louie - I'm surprised because I thought he'd be great in the playoffs. Big body who can play physical. You saw how good he was for Team Canada in the Olympics, I'm surprised he hasn't made more of an impact. Playoffs aren't over yet though.

Mike (California)

Craig, thanks for your great coverage of Ducks/Wings--it has been thorough, and honest.I think we Californians have a legitimate gripe about the East Coast bias being in play; the Ducks are hardly discussed on NHL network/other national outlets throughout the year, despite going 3-0 against the ballyhooed Blackhawks and posting a stellar regular season of their own (exceeding everyone's expectations).Do the Ducks wrap it up tonight, or will this series go to seven?

Craig Custance
  (2:52 PM)

Mike - My pleasure. It's been a fun series to cover. I can't speak for the coverage the team gets on the NHL Network but it did seem like the Ducks were overshadowed a bit this year. When they were playing great in Anaheim to start the year, Chicago was THE story. And then the Ducks kind of cooled off so there was question as to whether or not their start was legit. The best way to get coverage is to go on a long playoff run though. And I know there would be writers lining up to cover a Kings/Ducks series.

Nick (Pittsburgh)

Dale Tallon seems to get little to no credit for building the Chicago franchise. Is this just nhl politics or oversight of a truly classy guy?

Craig Custance
  (2:54 PM)

Nick - I disagree, I think Dale gets most of the credit for the Blackhawks first Cup. If the Blackhawks win again, it would go a long way in validating the moves Stan Bowman made to rebuild this team after they hit cap trouble following the championship.

Mike (San Diego)

Are my Blues toast? I don't have a lot of confidence in them tonight.

Craig Custance
  (2:54 PM)

I'm still sticking with my original prediction. Blues in 7.

Andrew (Ocean City, NJ)

How is Crosby in the Hart conversation? Beginning of the year he was awesome but look how well the team has played in his absence. That should be argument enough for Toews or Getzlaf. I know Crosby is the face of hockey, but the team did fine without him.

Craig Custance
  (2:55 PM)

Andrew - When Crosby played he was the best player on earth. And it wasn't close. You can't ignore that.

Frank (Pittsburgh)

What would you rather see in the SCF? Chi-Pitt or the rubber match of Det - Pitt? As pumped as I would be to play the Hawks it would be great to finally get that third game against the Redwings.

Craig Custance
  (2:56 PM)

Frank - This isn't that same Red Wings team. IT would be a rubber match in team name only. I'd be absolutely stunned if Detroit advanced that far. Blackhawks/Penguins a much better and more realistic matchup.

Devin (Philly)

I feel like the "East-coast biased" arguement against Ovi-Crosby-Tavares is too simple. All three have been in discussions for the Hart for weeks, it's hardly a surprise. Also - it's not like they don't all play well in normal seasons against West teams also.

Craig Custance
  (2:57 PM)

Also, the PHWA splits its votes between Eastern and Western Conference based voters. I put the percentage breakdown in a story i wrote today. Not to mention Corey Perry, Henrik Sedin both won in recent years.

Ben (San Jose)

Don't talk about San Jose! I like them flying under the radar. It seems to do them well!

Craig Custance
  (2:58 PM)

haha, sorry. I think you're right.

Joe (NY)

Regardless of how the series turns out, the Isles have put the rest of the league on watch. Where do you see them in the next 2-3 years?

Craig Custance
  (2:59 PM)

Joe - Great young team that should be contending for the next several years. They have to get UFA-to-be Streit signed though, they can't let him leave. And it'd be great if they could add another veteran free agent to this young core.

Matt. (Az)

Craig, with a new head coach, Lu off the roster and other changes, should the Canucks trade the twins as they are playoff failures? Need a change of atmosphere and reputation.

Craig Custance
  (3:01 PM)

Matt - I disagree. I think you keep the twins around and find a way to add grit and toughen up your bottom six. Plus, they need an influx of young talent too.

Craig Custance
  (3:02 PM)

Alright everyone - so many questions, wish I could answer them all. If I didn't get to yours, shoot me a line in the mailbag and I'll try and do it there: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/mailbag/_/id/40243/craig-custanceEnjoy the games tonight!