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September 24, 4:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Mike (New York)

Craig - Thanks for doing this. Looking at the Islanders roster it seems this team is very strong up front, decent on the blunline, and a huge question mark in the crease. Can you make a case for the Islanders to finish as high as 2-3 in the Metro division or will they be a bubble team going into the last few weeks of the season?

Craig Custance
  (4:03 PM)

Hey Mike - My pleasure. Love doing these chats. I think you've nailed the Islanders in your analysis. Sure you could make the case for them finishing as high as 2 or 3 in the Metro, although I won't be the one making it. I love the talent up front but that's not a division in which you want to have questions defensively and in goal. I think that's a bubble playoff team. In my preseason picks, I have them missing the playoffs.

kurt (Buff)

Craig, can you explain the thought process (or lack thereof) in Carlyle putting Kessel on the ice opposite John Scott after seeing that the Sabres were clearly upset at the fight that just took place? Seems like he has to have some accountability for putting his team in the position that resulted in 2 suspensions to key players.

Craig Custance
  (4:04 PM)

Kurt - I spoke with someone today who had the same concern you did. He didn't feel like Carlyle was getting enough heat for putting Kessel in that position. I guess it was an attempt to diffuse the situation, but obviously it didn't work out.

Jesse S. (Carmel, NY)

Craig, just like Teemu Selanne, Daniel Alfredsson and Jaromir Jagr...I am back for another year. Let's keep the streak alive. What player that changed teams is most poised to have a huge year in his new high exposure environment....Loui Eriksson or Loui Eriksson?

Craig Custance
  (4:06 PM)

Jesse - I was getting concerned when there wasn't a question from you in the hopper last week. Glad to see you're back for another season, wouldn't be the same here without you. I think Eriksson is poised for a huge year, that's an absolutely perfect fit for him. You also didn't leave me a lot of options but i spoke with someone who felt like he could go for 40 this year. Boston paid a steep price in Seguin but Bruins fans are going to love him. I also think Grabovski has a bounce-back season in Washington. Like that fit.

Dara (Boca raton, FL)

What do you think of the Panthers goaltending situation?

Craig Custance
  (4:08 PM)

Hey Dara! Love that Dale Tallon is taking a risk with Tim Thomas. Why wouldn't you if you were him? I think it's one of the most fascinating stories of the season. But I was chatting with Stephen Weiss last week and he had great things to say about Jacob Markstrom. Thinks he's ready to have a big season. He has all the talent.

Ed (Queens Village)

Who can be biggest threat to Blackhawks in west?

Craig Custance
  (4:10 PM)

Blackhawks are loaded again, but I'm bullish again on the Kings. There's a lot of mileage on that team the last two years which is concerning but if Willie Mitchell is healthy, that's a game-changer for LA. They play a brand of hockey that is miserable to compete against in the playoffs and Voynov will be really good for them this year, as well as Doughty. Who also happens to be my Norris pick. So yeah, I like the Kings.

Bill (Toronto)

which NHL rookie do you think will have the greatest impact on their team this year?

Craig Custance
  (4:12 PM)

I'm on Team Nichushkin for Calder. Was really, really impressed with how he played in Traverse City prospect tournament and when I spoke with Jim Nill, he said he's only gotten better. He's 18 years old and making a big adjustment to the NHL, so there will be hiccups but I think he's going to be really good, really quickly for the Stars.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

How do you get Ice at Dodger Stadium for the NHL when the Temperature over in Los Angeles in the Winter is about 75-80 Outside?

Craig Custance
  (4:15 PM)

Hey Chris - That's what makes that game so interesting, right? Dan Craig and his group know what they're doing and the reality is, the ice isn't going to be great. Often, that's the byproduct of these outdoor games, but it's not like we haven't dealt with bad ice in the playoffs, when the games are being played in June. It's going to make for a great spectacle. I hope to draw that assignment away from Pierre and Scotty.

Todd (Atlanta)

Hi Craig, With the departure of so many veterans the Wild will have several young players the lineup. Who do you expect to see and more importantly contribute? Thanks

Craig Custance
  (4:19 PM)

A Wild question from Atlanta, love it! Had a good chat with Chuck Fletcher recently about the importance of the young guys stepping up this season. The point he made is that the Wild don't need every single one of them to step up, just a couple of them. I can see a bigger role for Charlie Coyle this season and Granlund needs to be better. I'll be interested in seeing whether or not Jonas Brodin suffers from a sophomore slump. They just don't have the depth on D to withstand that, so he'll be key for them again.

Brian (Cheyenne)

How does Ben Bishop look for the Lightning?

Craig Custance
  (4:21 PM)

The goalie job in Tampa is still very much in the air. The plan is to give each guy another exhibition game and go from there but I think Tampa would have loved to see one of those guys seize the job and it just hasn't happened yet.

Ryan (Monroe,NY)

Hey Craig! Thanks for talking to us fans! My question is do you think the rangers have enough to finally take that next step towards winning a Stanley cup, also who do you believe is the one player besides Henrik that can help? Thanks!

Craig Custance
  (4:24 PM)

Ryan - Thanks for joining! When I was making my preseason predictions I was looking hard at the Rangers to win the East and only the fact that I picked them to win it all last year stopped me. I didn't want to look like a Rangers slappy. But that's a top four on defense that can play with anyone in the East and it sounds like Brad Richards looks better. They have to get Stepan signed though. A tough early schedule and holdout from their best center could create a tough early hole.

Kenny (Chicago)

Let's not waste any more time. What's your cup prediction?

Craig Custance
  (4:25 PM)

Haha. Cut right to the chase, eh Kenny? I don't know if I'm supposed to reveal them or not because we're running our picks online. But between us, I'm picking the Kings over the Senators.

Bruce (Pittsburgh)

Hey Craig, Have you heard much trade chatter with rosters due to be set in a week? Was wondering if there where any rumors involving Glass or Niskanen so Pens can get under cap.

Craig Custance
  (4:27 PM)

There's going to have to be. But teams that can take on salary know that there are teams that desperately have to move salary so I think we're going to see teams push it to the deadline. It's like the trade deadline, sometimes these GMs need that pressure to get the deals done.

Matt (Grand Rapids)

With Alfredsson coming in and Weiss replacing Filppula, are the Wings a better team this year? How will they fare in the new Atlantic?

Craig Custance
  (4:29 PM)

Matt - I've got Detroit finishing second in the Atlantic. Weiss is an upgrade over Fil in my opinion, but there are people I really respect who aren't sold on Weiss. But Detroit has a history of taking players who underachieved and getting more out of them, which i think will happen with Weiss. Detroit is better because of Alfredsson and Weiss but even more so because of the experience their young players got last year. That playoff run was huge for them and then Grand Rapids won the Calder. They've got a great mix right now of young guys pushing older guys for playing time.

Nathan (St. Louis)

Craig, as a favor to all Blues fans who want their first Stanley Cup to come down Market St., could you and the rest of ESPN lay off picking them as the SC Winner. I love reading all of your articles, but the curse of ESPN still lives on. Thank you before hand. Fun to participate in the chat.

Craig Custance
  (4:30 PM)

Haha. I can only speak for myself, but I promise not to jinx the Blues. That's a good team though, I could see them making a run. I also know who Burnside picked and it's not the Blues. That's all I have to say about that.

Rich (Ft Lauderdale, FL)

Hi Craig! I think my FL Panthers are set to make a big improvement from their record of last year. What are your thoughts of their chances?

Craig Custance
  (4:31 PM)

Rich - I think they'll improve but I still think the Panthers are a couple years away from making serious strides and become playoff contender. Don't think that's a playoff team this year.

Sean (Pittsburgh)

Who's your best friend?

Craig Custance
  (4:31 PM)

Haha. My wife.

Jay T (Dallas, TX)

Ron Rolston has had a couple of Exhibition games under his belt since having interim removed from his title. Do you think he's prepared for the NHL, or do you think Buffalo will regret moving him to the big leagues? On that same note, do you think that Lindy Ruff will prosper with the change of scenery in Dallas?

Craig Custance
  (4:33 PM)

Ron Rolston may end up being a very competent head coach, but my biggest problem with that hire in Buffalo was that the interim tag was lifted before you really knew what the other options were going to be in the coaching pool last summer. What if Dan Bylsma got fired? What if the Phoenix deal went sideways and Dave Tippett hit the market? What was the rush to hire Rolston?

Michael (Princeton, NJ)

Hey Craig :) 32 teams in 2015 -- what % of certainty do you have of it?

Craig Custance
  (4:35 PM)

2015? That seems pretty quick. I'd put expansion in the 3-5 year range. So if I can buy a couple years and make that 2018, I'd put it at 80 percent.

Mark (Pasadena, CA)

What kind of contract extensions will Toews and Kane get next year when they can sign? 5 years/$42 million? 5 years/$45 million? Will they sign matching contracts again (they have the same agent)? I know part of this depends on the cap going up. I trust that Rocky Wirtz and Stan Bowman have a good handle on what the cap and their available cap space will look like in the coming years.

Craig Custance
  (4:38 PM)

Yes, Stan Bowman has proven to be very deft at handling the salary cap. He's done a really good job in that regard. Both guys are represented by Pat Brisson so perhaps we'll see similar deals again and really, which guy do you give more money to if you're the Blackhawks? You have to assume both guys get the eight-year max, right? Why would they take a 5-year deal? And if I'm Kane and Toews, I'm not taking anything less than Getzlaf got (8/$66).

Joe (Aiken, SC)

Craig, so what does Kenny Holland with the Wings do to get rid of a couple of forwards by the deadline? Who's on the way out?

Craig Custance
  (4:41 PM)

Tough question. Somebody suggested to me that you might have to package one of the Red Wings decent young players with one of the veterans like Samuelsson (who has NTC). If Darren Helm can't go, it may be enough to put him on LTIR. That buys you some time.

Jeppe (Finland)

Hi Custance,Will Ilya Bryzgalov play this year? Maybe with Nabby on Long Island? I'd be very disappointed if he didn't show up for more interviews.Thanks

Craig Custance
  (4:44 PM)

I think Bryzgalov plays this year. His camp definitely got calls and his intention is to play in the NHL this season. Last I checked, he was training in the PHilly area, ready to go. This may be a case of somebody calling Bryzgalov after an injury to their starting goalie. You could do a lot worse too. Yes, there's a distraction risk but he's still a guy capable of bouncing back. I wonder if Brian Burke would recommend him in Calgary? They have a history in Anaheim.

JD (PA)

Craig, why doesn't a contending team make Derek Stepan an offer? The Rangers are close against the cap and would have to get creative if someone offered 4+ mil. Any GM shrewd enough to do that (Mr. Snow, maybe?)?

Craig Custance
  (4:46 PM)

Look at the contenders though JD. A lot of them are maxed out and couldn't get $4 million under the cap. The teams that have space are budget teams that probably don't have the clearance to go sign a big offer sheet. I'm with you, Rangers seem like they're vulnerable to an offer sheet.

Boyd (Chicago)

Craig, with the Predators logjam at forward should they trade off a couple younger pieces (say... Spaling and Smith) for a player like Vanek? Would those two and maybe a pick get the trade done?

Craig Custance
  (4:48 PM)

Boyd - Vanek would be a great fit in Nashville, eh? I think it takes more than that though, especially at this point in the season. Just look at what the Predators got in return for Erat or what the Sabres were able to get for Pominville. ANd on the flip side, if you're Nashville, do you feel that comfortable trading another first-rounder for a potential UFA? Then you're almost forced to sign him and potentially overpay like the Gaustad deal.

Joe (DC)

Why don't more teams "schedule" their goalies for certain games? For example, Ryan Miller works 3 games in a row and then Enroth works the 4th. Lather, rinse, repeat. Seems like it would be better all the way around. Some of the back ups get in about a game a month. No way to stay sharp for them, and no way to keep your #1 goalie healthy. Whaddya think?

Craig Custance
  (4:51 PM)

So like a set rotation regardless of schedule? What if Miller's three games are back-to-back, day off and then another game? And then the Sabres are off for three days and then Enroth starts and it's been a week since MIller played? You don't want your starter sitting that long. It's funny, I just had a conversation with Lindy Ruff in how he used to handle Miller. He said Ryan Miller preferred getting the goaltending schedule in as far advance as the coaching staff was comfortable giving but i think coaches want to leave an out and go on feel sometimes. I'm sure it depends on the coach and the goalies.

Judeman5000 (Bakersfield)

Are you in Denver right now? Any early thoughts on the Avs?

Craig Custance
  (4:53 PM)

Yeah, got here yesterday. Going from here to Columbus at the end of the week. Patrick Roy said today that he's been impressed with his defense so far this camp, which is the huge question mark in Denver. Varlamov has also been really good. If they get D and goaltending, that's a playoff team. Roy tweaked a couple things in Varlamov's game which I'll get to in a story at some point this week. I am fascinated by the Avs. Lots of potential here.

B-Diddy (Munstoeville, WYO)

Hi Craig - Any guesses on the numbers McKinnon picks up this year? I'm thinking 20/40/60 is reachable with the matchups he'll be facing as a 3rd line center.

Craig Custance
  (4:56 PM)

Sticking with the Avs - B-Diddy, I think that's pretty reasonable. They're so loaded up front, so you wonder how much power play time he's going to get which will impact his stats. But teams will definitely be sending their best defensive players against the Duchene/Downie/O'Reilly line, and then Stastny/Landeksog. That leaves favorable matchups for MacKinnon for sure. I'd set the over/under for his points at 55.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

What Major League Baseball, NFL or College Football Stadium has the Most Thunderstorms that NHL would not play there?

Craig Custance
  (4:56 PM)

Is this a trick question? Do you know the answer?

Peter (Philadelphia)

Huge Sens Fan. Should I be concerned that the lint in Melnyk's wallet may prevent us from a cup run?

Craig Custance
  (4:59 PM)

Love the Sens this year, as indicated by my picking them to win the East. They've got one of the league's lowest payrolls but there's still more than enough talent to make a run. I like the Bobby Ryan trade and love the goaltending duo. I'm still amazed at what that group was able to do considering all their injuries. If they stay healthy, they're going to be really good.

Craig Custance
  (5:00 PM)

Alright, everyone. Gotta run and get ready for the rink. Thanks for the questions!