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October 15, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (1:00 PM)

Hey everyone! Questions piling up, let's jump right in.

Dom (Brooklyn, NY)

Hi Craig, Are you surprised at how bad the Metro division has been thus far?

Craig Custance
  (1:01 PM)

Hey Dom - Glad you asked. Just left the Columbus dressing room where I was asking guys that exact question. I'm definitely surprised by how slowly the Rangers, Devils and Flyers have started. I asked Todd Richards why he thought the West has been beating up on the East so far this season and he said it may have something to do with home ice advantage and travel. I haven't looked at the numbers yet but he pointed out the Rangers road trip as one example as to why the East might be struggling. That's a long way of saying, yes, I'm surprised.

Aaron Asham (waivers) [via mobile]

Craig, re the rangeers terrible start...everyone knows it was the backup goalie and fourth line wingers fault. Huh? But seriously now that I am on waivers which metro div team will I play for next? This year I have three new choices!

Craig Custance
  (1:04 PM)

Haha - Good to hear from you Aaron. Tough time for a fourth-liner making $1 million to get work. I'd expect to clear waivers. Teams are so tight with money because of the drop in cap that it's hard to add any salary right now.

Kevin (New York)

Craig,The Rangers stink something awful. Move coming? Rebuild? Would they ever make a move for Yakupov?

Craig Custance
  (1:05 PM)

It's not a fun answer but I don't think you do anything dramatic right now if you're the Rangers. I know it's been ugly but it's early. You have a new coach, implementing a new system and you opened on the road. This is a team looking to create a new identity with Torts gone, that's going to take some time.

Dave (Salt Lake City)

Is this Avs start sustainable? Do you see them as legitimate cup contenders?

Craig Custance
  (1:08 PM)

Dave - I love what Patrick Roy is going but I wouldn't count the Avs among the legitimate Cup contenders. I have some concerns about their defense still, heavy minutes early for guys like Benoit and Sarich. They're giving up a lot of shots When you look at the other bluelines among the contenders in the West, there's still a considerable gap. Lots of skill up front and the Varlamov success is encouraging. A trip to the playoffs would be a success for Roy in his first year.

Ben (San Jose)

Aside from TMNH (Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl) mania, I think the performance of Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been significantly overlooked. His play for them this year has been the best of his career, putting up points and shutting down the opponent's top lines every night. If he keeps this up, I think he should be a Norris Trophy finalist. What do you think?

Craig Custance
  (1:10 PM)

Ben - I agree that Vlasic remains underappreciated but definitely not from within the organization and I'm sure his play is drawing notice from Team Canada. I've been impressed with Matt Irwin. Almost 20 minutes per night and he is contributing offensively. That's an underrated defense.

Marc (Malden, MA)

Would you please explain something to me? When a player is killing a penalty (or I guess even 5-5) and breaks a stick, why not just go to the bench to get a new one? Isn't it better to allow a real 5-3 for 7 secs, as opposed to a defacto 5-3 for 30 secs?

Craig Custance
  (1:12 PM)

Hey Marc - I had this debate with a player during the playoffs. I asked him why he didn't get a stick during a PK and he said the risk/reward isn't worth it for the player. If you take off and leave your team vulnerable for a 5/3 and the other team scores, it looks pretty bad. It's a judgment call.

Travis (MN)

Hey Craig Big Fan!What do you think of the play of the youngsters thus far in Minnesota? Seems to be that the consensus is that Minny will go as the youngsters develop...your thoughts?

Craig Custance
  (1:14 PM)

Hey Travis - Appreciate it. The most impressive, and it shouldn't be surprising, is Jonas Brodin. I wondered if there would be a sophomore slump there and we haven't seen that at all. He's been more productive offensively, matching last year's goal total already. He has five points in six games. Granlund has been pretty good too, not necessarily scoring goals but the compete level is there. I agree though, the growth this year in Minny will come on the backs of their young players.

Lane (NYC)

For every time Crosby gets to play in every team's rink this year, we're stuck with too many games like the Coyotes at Hurricanes last weekend. Don't you think last year was better with strictly games within the conference? If anything, play one division from the other conference each season, home and away. I'd much rather see more Flyers/Pens or Flyers/Rangers, than Flyers/Flames.The NFL does just fine without it's stars playing in every stadium each year.

Craig Custance
  (1:16 PM)

Lane - I disagree. I know it doesn't always work out like it's scripted but I'm a fan of the home and home with every team. Sure, Flyers/Pens is great but it has to be tough in some markets to sell another Tuesday night game between Tampa and Florida. It's important to a lot of these markets to get new names, and various teams in the buildings.

Alex (Mankato, MN)

what will be the AAV of 20 year old Jonas Brodin's inevitable 8-year extension. what a stud! and how bout pominville in his return to buffalo, with the game-winner!

Craig Custance
  (1:18 PM)

Alex - great question on Brodin extension. GM Chuck Fletcher has to be careful there because he already has some big numbers on the books. Curious to see how that plays out. As for Pominville, was surprised to hear that he wasn't honored at the game in Buffalo. He was such an important player for the Sabres and fans loved him. He deserved better from the organization.

David (Cupertino)

Craig, What are your thoughts on tonight's Sharks - Blue tilt? Both teams look really good. I think Pavelski will score the game winner tonight

Craig Custance
  (1:20 PM)

Love this game. Great test for the Sharks, who now hit the road after their strong start. Will be a tight game, I'm going to go with the home team -- 2-1, Blues with Tarasenko scoring the game-winner. He's looked good so far.

Craig Custance
  (1:20 PM)

Love this game. Great test for the Sharks, who now hit the road after their strong start. Will be a tight game, I'm going to go with the home team -- 2-1, Blues with Tarasenko scoring the game-winner. He's looked good so far.

Sean (Co)

Why are the Stars playing Valeri Nichuskin so far down their lineup? You see rookies on other teams playing key roles, yet he is playing on the 4th line with bottom six players.

Craig Custance
  (1:22 PM)

IT's not easy being a teenager in this league. I was very impressed with Nichushkin during the preseason and expect big things from him. But there's still an adjustment to be made to the NHL level. It's one thing to impress in prospect tournaments and preseason games, when your compete level may be higher than some of the veterans. The challenge is maintaining it over the course of a long season.

Josh S. (Philly)

What adjustments to the Flyers need to make to turn it around?

Craig Custance
  (1:24 PM)

Josh - Saw the Flyers on Saturday and they actually looked pretty good at even strength. For one, they need to stay out of the penalty box and Craig Berube's postgame assessment suggested that he wants to see his guys moving their feet more and skating more. That has to happen. I also wonder, with all their talent up front, if they still lack a pure finisher. Also, the power play is horrible.

Geoff (Easton, PA)

Craig, even if Henrik Lundqvist has a "down" year by his standards do you think he's still due for a huge pay-day?... and can you imagine any other team snatching him up or is he a Ranger for life?

Craig Custance
  (1:27 PM)

Hmmmm, that's a tough one Geoff. If he struggles this season, is that a sign that he's on the decline? Or that part of his success was playing on a John Tortorella team? I already have a hard time giving a goaltender at any age a lot of term, let alone one who is already in his 30s. That's such a tough call, but if his camp isn't flexible on term, I might let him walk if I'm the Rangers. I realize that's crazy.

Jeff (Phoenix)

Thoughts from Coyotes 4-2 start to the season including 3 straight on the east coast in a 4 day span? Impressed?

Craig Custance
  (1:29 PM)

Jeff - You have to be impressed. When I chatted with Dave Tippett last week, he wasn't thrilled with how his team was playing coming off losses to the Islanders and Sharks. But the good thing about the Coyotes is that that group knows exactly how they need to play to have success. When it gets away from them, the results aren't good. IT's been a grueling stretch for the Coyotes and they've responded really well.

Geoff (Easton, PA)

Hey Craig, I know you're getting a lot of inquries about the Rangers. I'll be one of the few fans to try and sping a "positive"... but they not only start the season on a west coast road trip which they always struggled with, but the first 9-10 games are on the road. Get out of this at or near .500 and use that as momentum going forward....

Craig Custance
  (1:30 PM)

Yeah, I'm with you Geoff. It's really hard to evaluate a team with a schedule like the Rangers are dealing with. My problem is more with how they're losing though. This team shouldn't be getting its doors blown off like it has.

Josh S. (Philly)

Is Flyers-Penguins currently the best rivalry in the NHL?

Craig Custance
  (1:32 PM)

Josh - If the Flyers are going to be horrible, hard to say that's the best rivalry. I'm curious to see what new rivalries emerge with realignment. Would be cool to see some hatred mixed up between Detroit/Boston or maybe Pittsburgh/Columbus or something like that.

Colin (Chicago)

Are players warming up to hybrid icing?

Craig Custance
  (1:34 PM)

Still a little early. Some guys I've spoken about it still say they're having a hard time completely grasping it. One player said there seems to be some gray area. But they all seem to like the improved safety. I think they'll ultimately all be on board, just don't think we're there yet.

Geoff (Easton, PA)

Craig.. I wouldn't have been the shocked if the Rangers offense had a slow start adjusting to a newer more offensive system of play, but am shocked that their usually rock solid Top-6 Defense has struggled so bad...

Craig Custance
  (1:34 PM)

Yeah. Agreed. That's a good D, but it doesn't necessarily stack up great against big, physical Western Conference teams.

Peter (Philadelphia)

In his last 2 games Robin Lehner saved 92 of 97 shots. Is he that good a goaltender, are the Sens giving up WAY too many shots or a bit of both?

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

Lehner is really, really good. Tons of skill, has matured over the last couple years. Senators are definitely giving up way too many shots but I don't think Lehner's success is a fluke at all. He's going to be really good. Tuck him away on all your long-term fantasy keeper teams.

Adem (Chicago)

Enough with the east coast....let's talk about the champs!! How do you think Chi is doing so far?

Craig Custance
  (1:38 PM)

Adem - Sorry, it has been Eastern heavy. Happy to move to the midwest. No problem with how Chicago is playing. That Blues/Blackhawks game was like a playoff game although I think it's safe to say it meant a lot more the Blues than it did Chicago. St. Louis is the team with something to prove, the Blackhawks are the one with the rings. There are a lot of people who think the Blackhawks have the best shot at repeating of any team in the cap era. They've done nothing early on to change that thought.

Mike (Kalamazoo)

Pavel Datsyuk is an alien. How else can you explain him doing what no human should be able to do and make it look routine? And not just once or twice. This stuff happens EVERY game. Even considering his late bloom (everyone in the Wings organization gets a later start than lousy teams that cant afford to let their players get "over-ripe" will he make the HHoF? Cups, Selkes, Byngs and more intangibles than most any other player in the NHL tells me he should get in... but I'm a Wings fan. What say you?

Craig Custance
  (1:40 PM)

I can't confirm that he's an alien but he's definitely a Hall of Famer. He'll go down as one of the best players of his generation. Just ask anyone who plays against him. As well-rounded a star as there is in the game today and has the overwhelming respect of his peers.

Brian (Phoenix)

What is the real identity of the Coyotes, the team that has won 3 in a row over DET, PHI, and CAR, or the team that was dismantled by SJ and NYI?

Craig Custance
  (1:41 PM)

They know how they need to play to win. The Sharks and Islanders games were just a reminder.

David (Hartford)

Do you think it was too soon for the Isles to move Moulson down to the 3rd line? How long until we start hearing about the isles connected to both Vanek/Miller only to end up having Garth stand pat?

Craig Custance
  (1:43 PM)

Haha. I love that question. So true. It would be good to see some mid-season aggression out of Garth Snow, wouldn't it? I pin it more on cheap ownership than the GM but I feel your pain David. I know in talking to players who have faced the Islanders, everyone walks away very impressed with their team speed and Tavares' growth. I picked them to miss the playoffs, but I'm willing to admit I might be wrong there.

Jon (Stl)

Craig, obligatory fantasy question. What does one do with the likes of Schneider? Stuck in a timeshare where both goalies look pedestrian at best. I don't see the Devils winning that many games this year. Should I cut my losses and look elsewhere?

Craig Custance
  (1:45 PM)

Hard to say without knowing who else is available. But part of success in fantasy is buying low and selling high. If I'm a Schneider owner, I'd have some patience. It'll get better. In fact, I might try and go out and get him on the cheap if his owner has lost patience.

Joe (DC)

Is Marc-Edouard Vlasic's nickname really "Pickles?"

Craig Custance
  (1:46 PM)

Yes. With that last name, it has to be, right? It's like everybody in the league with the last name Campbell being called Soupy. I like Pickles better than the alternative hockey nickname for him, which would be Vlassy.

Sarah (Joliet)

Game your looking forward to the most this week?

Craig Custance
  (1:48 PM)

Has to be Blues/Sharks. Excited for that game, wish I was going. Both of these teams capable of having a great season and making a run this year. Will be interesting to see how they stack up against each other, especially if they play later in the spring.

Stu (Newport Beach)

Craig, are people underestimating the Ducks again? They are pretty deep on forward and are playing well despite being banged up on the blue line.

Craig Custance
  (1:50 PM)

Stu - Yeah, but we always underestimate the Ducks, right? Good to see Corey Perry going well, for me the surprise is Silfverberg - four goals so far. One more than Bobby Ryan if you're keeping score. Still have concerns about that defense though but this is a good time for the Ducks to stockpile points.

Cullen (Tucson)

Oh and Craig, you need to get back on the Hockey Today podcast with Pierre and Scott! Someone has to be the voice of reason.

Craig Custance
  (1:52 PM)

Haha, working on it. We've cut down the number of episodes per week, so we're spreading the podcast time around with Barry, Levy, Katie and myself. But those are fun to do. Looking forward to the season debut.

Martin (Berlin)

How do you judge the Bernier trade. Is he the really that good like Pierre LeBrun believes ?

Craig Custance
  (1:55 PM)

Yes. He's really good. I can tell you, the Kings sincerely didn't want to trade him. Dean Lombardi loves Bernier but he deserved a chance to start, something that wasn't happening in LA. I wonder if Philly makes a bigger push if Ron Hextall is hired sooner. Hextall liked him too. IT's a tough trade to judge because it may end up looking one-sided in Toronto's favor but goalies are so hard to trade. LA was shopping him for a long time and got the best return possible. It's not like Lombardi panicked and rushed it.

Joe (DC)

In the ESPN offices, are you guys really selling "Sabres win squares" for a buck each? If so, can I buy November 2 for my friend, Lindy Ruff?

Craig Custance
  (1:57 PM)

Haha - who started that rumor? Haven't bought a Sabres square yet but I can tell you that Burnside, LeBrun and myself might have a slight gambling problem. Constant sidebets when one of us opens our mouth.

Mike (IL)

Speaking of nicknames, why are hockey players so unimaginative with them? Haha, it's always either adding a 'y' or an 'er' to the end of their last name.

Craig Custance
  (1:59 PM)

Yeah, tell me about it. The result for a guy whose last name is Custance is Custy or Custer. Neither one is particularly flattering.

Chris (Louisville)

How about Vanek to Nashville? I know it's still early but the Preds still have scoring issues and Poile could package something like a young D-prospect (not named Jones) Legwand and a pick.

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

Mentioned this last week, but Nashville's lifeblood is developing talent and draft picks. After the moves they made two years ago, they would have to be careful using too many assets on a rental player.

Craig Custance
  (2:01 PM)

Alright guys, that's a wrap. Great stuff as always. If I missed you, please hit me up in the mailbag: http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/mailbag/_/id/40243/craig-custance