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March 25, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Craig Custance

Craig Custance
  (1:00 PM)

Hey everyone! Playoffs closing in, we're in the stretch run. Let's jump right into the chat, best time of the year!

Tyler M (Northville, MI)

Hey Craig, I'm A huge Penguins fan and have been following them for a very very long time and I have noticed that they are slumping near the end of the season, which is very uncharacteristic of a Dan Bylsma coached team. How do you think they will fare come playoff time?

Craig Custance
  (1:04 PM)

Hey Tyler - Funny you should ask. I've been spending the last several days focusing on a Penguins ESPN the Mag piece examining their playoff chances. I believe the Bruins are the heavy favorite in the East and that the Penguins are in a second tier by themselves but I have concerns. Most notably their depth at forward, especially compared to the Bruins. They just don't have that great third line that made the Penguins such a tough matchup in the past. That means more defensive zone responsibilities for Crosby. Now, Malkin is out. All that said, they're still the second best team in the East.

Harry (Miami)

Based on early returns, has Ales Hemsky shown enough to Ottawa to be re-signed? Thanks...

Craig Custance
  (1:06 PM)

Harry - He's definitely been a nice fit for Ottawa. I like him a lot better in the East than I do the west. Still, his track record suggests that you should give him a long-term deal with some trepidation. Plus, the market is heavy on wingers this year. Of all the available wingers, I'd prefer a guy like Callahan or Moulson for the right price.

Ed (Queens Village)

Which playoff race do you find most intriguing?

Craig Custance
  (1:08 PM)

I'm absolutely fascinated by this Toronto freefall and the Eastern Conference wildcard race. I still don't know how Detroit is winning games when you look at their lineup. Washington's power play has lifted the Capitals back into the mix. Columbus is a team I love and haven't given up hope yet. Every single night there seems to be one game that impacts the East race wildly. It's going to be fun.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Who do you think will be the 2013-2014 Stanley Cup Champions?

Craig Custance
  (1:09 PM)

My preseason pick was the LA Kings, so I'm going to stick with them all the way. It could be any number of teams with the Kings, Blues, Blackhawks, Sharks and Bruins the five I feel the best about. I think the Kings style translates well to the postseason and it'll be interesting to see how Marian Gaborik fits the equation. He gives them an element they haven't had in the past.

Craig (Michigan)

Do you think if the Penguins have a early playoff exit they will let go Dan Bylsma? If that happens, do you think they may try to go after Barry Trotz?

Craig Custance
  (1:12 PM)

Craig - I think Dan has done a great job this season keeping the PEnguins among the league's elite despite being hammered by injuries. They've rarely had their entire team out there. In my opinion, it would have to take a pretty big collapse, like a first-round ugly loss to have that conversation. But the longer they go between finals appearances in the Crosby/Malkin era, the more pressure the head coach will face. That's just the reality of the job.

Thomas (Detroit)

Aside from the Nyquist debacle (starting the first quarter of the season in the AHL), how big an albatross is Weiss' contract now? Do you see Holland using the amnesty on that deal?

Craig Custance
  (1:14 PM)

Thomas - Yeah, that's been a bad deal for Detroit. Especially considering how well Filppula has played in Tampa. But since the deal was signed after the new CBA kicked in, Detroit can't use one of the amnesty buyouts on the Weiss deal. Don't think he's going anywhere.

Gerry (San Francisco, CA)

Is the West Side Story game on Thursday a must-win for the Jets? The loss last night against Dallas hurt and eight out of their last nine games are against playoff teams.

Craig Custance
  (1:17 PM)

A must-win as in, make the playoffs? Sorry Gerry, that ship has sailed. Jets are toast.

Steven (Reno)

Thoughts on the Pacific division. I cant help but feel the sharks have blown two huge opportunities with the shootout loss. I am calling it tonight, if Sharks don't win in Reg/OT they wont win the pacific? Thoughts?

Craig Custance
  (1:20 PM)

I still think the Sharks win the Pacific. Cam Fowler injury is huge for the Ducks and I like that San Jose team a little better. That's a huge race too considering the loser gets the Kings. A really good Pacific team is going home after the first round this year.

Bryan (Baltimore)

Yesterday LeBrun wrote in an article that Reimer of falling leafs must be losing his confidence. But in my opinion if he is going to lose confidence in anything it should be his defense. I thought they were terrible against the Devils. Many neutral zone turnovers and odd man rushes, two of which turned into goals. The leafs issues are much deeper than just a goalie.

Craig Custance
  (1:21 PM)

Bryan - Correct. Defense has been awful all year. Can't pin this on the goaltending, although Reimer hasn't done anything to bail them out either. Toronto is just a flawed team that relies too much on their top line to score and too much on their goaltending to bail out a suspect defense.

Bryan (Malibu)

Bruins-Habs last night got me fired up for the playoffs. I understand reasons why people do not like the new playoff format...but we're staring at a Divisional Final round of Boston-Montreal, Pittsburgh-Philly, Any combo of Anaheim/San Jose/Los Angeles and St. Louis-Chicago. HOLY!

Craig Custance
  (1:22 PM)

Amen Bryan. I got the same feeling watching that Boston/Montreal game. It was awesome. I honestly can't wait to get the playoffs started. I'm really itching to get out there and cover some playoff games.

mitch (chicago)

think the stars make the playoffs?

Craig Custance
  (1:22 PM)

Yup

Peter (Conn)

Who are going to be the main suitors for Niskanen this summer? Have to think Pitt will be involved but will they be able to afford him? Colorado, Florida?

Craig Custance
  (1:24 PM)

Pittsburgh is definitely interested but he you have to assume he'll be able to get more money elsewhere on the open market. I like the idea of Colorado as a potential destination. They have to shore up their D and he'd be a nice fit with that talented offense.

Andrew (Reno, NV)

Everyone is talking about the Bruins and Penguins in the East, but this is hockey and the top teams lose all the time no matter how dominant or complete their team is. So what two teams in the east have a chance of getting to the SCF ahead of the favorites?

Craig Custance
  (1:26 PM)

Good question. I'm with you, it's easy to pick a Pittsburgh/Boston final but it rarely works out that the two favorites survive. Put me down for Philadelphia and the Rangers as two teams that have the next best shot. I like the Flyers depth up front, something you need in the playoffs. They won't back down from anybody either, especially the PEnguins. Rangers have experience and the best goalie in the East outside of Rask.

Hannah (Florida)

Ondrej Palat is the best rookie in 2014 (more points, ice time, PK and PP), he is better then McKinnion but he won't get serious consideration for the Calder, such a shame. Is all about the name and draft position isn't it?

Craig Custance
  (1:27 PM)

Hannah - He's not better than MacKinnon but I think he'll end up getting serious consideration. I wonder if he'll end up splitting TB votes with Tyler Johnson. I hope voters take a moment to look on defense too at guys like Maatta and Lindholm.

Mike (NYC)

How worried should the pens be about Malkins injury?

Craig Custance
  (1:28 PM)

Very. They already don't have the depth at forward they used to when they won the Cup and now one of their big horses goes down. Huge concern for the Penguins.

Craig Custance
  (1:29 PM)

Hey Jesse S - I see your question about tanking and I'm going to save it for my Friday mailbag. I like it and want to dive into it with a little more time.

Mitch (Udel)

Come playoff time, would you rather have a team with a bunch of 20 goal scorers (like the Rangers) or a team with a couple of big goal scorers (Wash or Pitt)?

Craig Custance
  (1:31 PM)

Mitch - I'd prefer depth. To me, the Bruins are the ideal. In the playoffs, you can often shut down one line but it's the teams that have that good third line that contributes scoring at the right moment that usually do well. Look at the Blackhawks last year. Yes, they have Kane/Toews/Hossa/Sharp but don't win it without Bickell. I want depth.

Andrew (Reno, NV)

The NHL suggested expanding replay to check for penalties and other things. One of the best things the NHL did after the 05 lockout was eliminate numerous things to speed the game up, if this is done it will only slow the game down, including the "coaches" challenge. Just allow all goals to be reviewable that's it.

Craig Custance
  (1:32 PM)

Andrew - The speed of the game is definitely a concern among the GMs. That's why nothing definitive came out of the GM meetings. THere was talk about expanding replay. Talk about expanding overtime but ultimately, the league is being very careful not to extend the length of games right now.

Andrew (Reno, NV)

The NHL keeps suggesting rule changes but the Trapezoid still exists even though it is despised by most people.

Craig Custance
  (1:33 PM)

I'm with you on this one too Andrew. You want to cut down on injury risk for defensemen? Stop restraining the goalie.

Matt (Michigan)

How about the Flames huh? Where did this come from?

Craig Custance
  (1:34 PM)

They've played hard from start to finish. I know the new GM is going to want to bring in his own coach but Bob Hartley has done a heck of a job instilling a hard working culture on a team that we thought should be tanking. You have to like what Hartley is doing there and he deserves serious consideration from the new GM.

Rick (Buffalo )

How long do you think it will take for the Sabres to rebuild themselves into a playoff contender? Who should they target in the offseason? Thanks.

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

Rick - As a Sabres fan, you don't want them to get too good too soon. The 2015 draft is the one to tank for with McDavid and Eichel at the top. But after that, I think the turnaround can come quickly. There's already good young talent in Buffalo, Tim Murray was a great hire and the Sabres will spend to surround the young talent with veterans. If they can somehow convince Ryan Callahan to be a part of the process, they should make him the No. 1 priority this summer.

James (Minn)

Whose this Palat kid on Tampa? Im a pretty big follower and I've never heard of him, until I saw him dangle through the pens D to tie it up a game this past weekend? Now I'm reading that he's a calder contender? Is he the real deal?

Craig Custance
  (1:36 PM)

Here you go James, read this from Pierre: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/10633558/tampa-bay-lightning-rookie-ondrej-palat-bolt-blue

Andrew (Reno, NV)

Why are the Avalanche consistently overlooked while they have been better than the Kings and equal to the Blackhawks all season long?

Craig Custance
  (1:37 PM)

Still suspect on D. Inexperienced in the playoffs. Depend too much on Varlamov. Still, wouldn't want to face them in the playoffs though. I just don't think they're ready to make that long run yet.

Brian (Tuscon)

This Coyotes fan thinks the playoff push just hit the wall with that terrible looking injury to Smitty last night. Any updates?

Craig Custance
  (1:38 PM)

Was told today that Mike Smith is feeling better than expected so there's reason to think it might not be as bad as initially thought.

CapGeek (The Internet)

Craig, to answer Thomas in Detroit, we have gone over this before, the Wings cannot amnesty Weiss because his deal was signed after the new CBA. The purpose of the amnesty clause was to allow teams protection against existing contracts for when the cap went down (this year). Not to provide a mulligan for any bad contract ever in perpetuity.

Craig Custance
  (1:39 PM)

CapGeek - Isn't that what I said? Agree to agree?

Paul (Toronto)

Jon Cooper has won championships wherever he's gone. Bishop has been a rock. They play a solid system. And Stamkos is back and sniping. I think they could easily make the Cup final. What does Mr. Custance think?

Craig Custance
  (1:40 PM)

Paul - After Boston, the East is so wide open that anybody who makes the playoffs can go the final. You're right - great coach. Goaltending has been good all year long. Star in Stamkos. They play with structure and purpose. I'm with you on this one Paul, anything can happen in the East.

Alex (Portland, OR)

Do you think Ken Holland is up for Coach of the year? With this many injuries I think he would at least be in contention.

Craig Custance
  (1:41 PM)

Nope. I don't. Mike Babcock however is in the conversation if the Red Wings make the playoffs. My top three right now would be Patrick Roy, Jon Cooper and Mike Babcock.

PaulieP (Phoenix)

News breaking that Mike Smith is "Day to Day". Great news for Yotes fans! Can Greiss keep us in the race until Mike is back?

Craig Custance
  (1:42 PM)

Thanks for the update Paulie! Greiss is certainly capable in the short term but they need Mike Smith back ASAP.

Jeppe [via mobile]

Yo Custance, how much longer before Gaborik starts rolling? Have you seen the Kings center lineups? Pretty safe to say we are gonna hammer the Ducks come playoff time! BEWARE GABOTAR (gaborik + kopitar)

Craig Custance
  (1:44 PM)

Yo Jeppe - Even if Gaborik isn't scoring, he gives opposing teams a threat they have to account for when he's on the ice. I've warmed up to that deal after initially not liking it. And yes, I'd pick the the Kings over the Ducks, although I wouldn't say they're going to hammer them. That series goes 7.

Scott (Minny)

Any chance the Wild collapse(for third straight year) and miss the playoffs?? Also Moulson or Vanek a better fit next year??

Craig Custance
  (1:45 PM)

Nope. Wild will make it. I'm not worried about a pre-playoff collapse. They find ways to earn points every night. It all depends on price with Vanek, if he's willing to give Minnesota a discount they have to consider it. But if there's a significant difference in price, I like Moulson as a fit better.

Andrew (Toronto)

How much of the success of a defense is down to system rather than talent? There's a tendency to dump on the players, but look at Colorado and Tampa Bay from last year to this. Much the same players, just a different coaching philosophy, and both teams are performing far better in their own end.

Craig Custance
  (1:46 PM)

Yes, and don't discount goaltending in that equation either. Bishop and Varlamov have been outstanding.

Jason (SoCal)

there was talk at the deadline of the Ducks being interested in kesler and even some speculation on vanek and moulson after the penner trade, any chance the ducks go get one of those guys at the draft?

Craig Custance
  (1:47 PM)

Yes. I think the Ducks circle back on Kesler this summer. Wouldn't be surprised to see them inquire about Spezza either. I got the sense they were a little lukewarm on Vanek. Might prefer a center.

Joe (MN)

Hey Craig, any idea on who has the best chance of getting Christian Folin after UMass Lowell's season comes to an end?

Craig Custance
  (1:48 PM)

Hey Joe - I'm actually working on something about him as soon as this chat is over. Look for a blog on Wednesday after I do some more reporting.

Ann (Ottawa)

I agree that the bruins are the favourites in the East, but im really worried about the habs. They always seem to get the better of the bruins, they frustrate them, the bruins seem to get lost from their game plan when it comes to the habs. The habs are the only team i see the bruins having trouble with in the east. you agree?

Craig Custance
  (1:51 PM)

Ann - I think the Penguins would give the Bruins a good series too. But yeah, Montreal plays Boston tough, eh? Carey Price is another x-factor. I love PK Subban but I have some concerns about Montreal's defense though. IT would be a great series but I think Boston still wins.

Jon (Stl)

Craig what's your opinion on how they should change OT to reduce SO's? I think the combination of having the teams make long changes plus making it 10 minutes will reduce a fair amount of SO's.

Craig Custance
  (1:52 PM)

Yeah but Jon it goes back to the previous question about lengthening the games. I like the long change idea, I'm just not convinced it will have a noticeable impact. Maybe a compromise, like two four-minute OT sessions or something. I also don't think the shootout number is that huge a deal. I honestly wouldn't mess with it.

Joe (NY)

How good can Ryan McDonagh be? He is playing like the best in the NHL right now.

Craig Custance
  (1:53 PM)

Yeah, the Olympics were an eye-opener for a lot of people about where McDonagh's game is right now. Great defenseman who is playing his way into the Norris conversation.

Eric (New Hampshire)

Is Andrew from Reno, NV your nephew or something?

Craig Custance
  (1:55 PM)

Haha, sorry. I was posting questions without reading who they were from and liked his questions. I'll try to be more discerning.

Lance (VT)

Is Reimer gone from Toronto this summer? Wouldnt a team like LI be a good fit?

Craig Custance
  (1:57 PM)

Yeah, I think Reimer's time in Toronto has run its course. I also think there's opportunity for somebody else to take advantage of it too. Put him in front of a defensively sound team and I think he would be quite good. Islanders are definitely an interesting option, they need a goalie.

John (New Jersey)

Do the New Jersey Devils have a legit chance at a playoff spot?

Craig Custance
  (1:57 PM)

Nope.

Alex (Boston)

Everyone seems to be talking about the 2015 draft? Is that draft deep or is it just that the top 5 picks are really legit. I've heard of McDavid but havent really heard much about Eichel. Is he that good?

Craig Custance
  (1:58 PM)

Alex - He's really good. Had a strong WJC which impressed scouts. One comparison that someone made to me was Ryan Getzlaf. McDavid still 1 but Eichel 1A.

Geoff (Easton, PA)

Craig, I understand the Rangers are still in the thick of a playoff push... but don't you think AV should think about squeezing Cam Talbot into some games down the stretch here? Remember... he kept this team afloat while Henrik struggled early on.

Craig Custance
  (1:59 PM)

At this point in the season, I'm in the camp where I'm playing my No. 1 as much as possible. I have no issues with how AV is handling it.

Judeman5000, CPA (Thornton, CO)

Just going to throw it out there: It's going to be Colorado vs. Detroit in the cup final.

Craig Custance
  (2:00 PM)

You're on the record.

Craig Custance
  (2:01 PM)

Wow, that hour flew by. Great questions, you guys are awesome. If I missed you, send in a question to my mailbag or hit me up on Twitter @CraigCustance. Take care!