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View from the Press Box - Craig Custance

by Mike Kalinowski / Los Angeles Kings
In this installment, we catch up with Craig Custance, an NHL reporter for ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider and  Craig spoke with us from Boca Raton, Fla., where he’s covering the NHL’s GM meetings.

Hockey fans can follow Craig on Twitter: @CraigCustance

How do you think negotiations over a new CBA will play out this summer?

It's so early in the process right now that it's hard to handicap. There is certainly more optimism this time around and you're not seeing as much public posturing heading into negotiations as you saw in some of the other sports. I can only look at that as a positive.

A few players I've spoken with have shared some of that optimism with the feeling that the game is in a great place right now, gaining strong momentum in the U.S., and that another lockout would be devastating to that progress. I agree with that. The league bounced back surprisingly well from the last lockout. I'm not so sure things would go as well this time around. There are a couple vulnerable markets and I think a long work stoppage would be a disaster.

Do you like the current shootout format to decide games or would you like to see games decided in another way, like going from 4-on-4 in overtime to 3-on-3 in overtime?

I know it's popular to bash the shootout, but I still like it. I see the reaction from casual fans and still always stop to watch when I'm flipping through games on Center Ice. I watched the 3-on-3 at the Research and Development camp and saw players getting pretty gassed out there. I'm not sold on that option yet.

What I would do would make the overtime session longer before going to the shootout, maybe tack on another five minute session. I'd still like to see more games decided before it gets to the shootout.

Do you like the current point system (2 points for a win, 1 point for an OTL or SOL) or would you like to see this system changed (3 pts for a regulation win)?

I don't think it's fair to award a team the same amount of points for a shootout win than a team that won in regulation. Especially when the shootout winner seems to be a coin toss much of the time. That said, I understand the value in the parity the current point system has created and would be hesitant to make any changes that would alter it too much.

Handicap the Pacific Division.  Down the stretch, how do you think things will play out?

I still see the Sharks finding a way to right the ship and win the division. We've seen San Jose struggle at stretches in the past, although this is pretty late in the season for them to be finding their game. Getting Martin Havlat back will certainly help. San Jose's record when he's in the lineup is pretty good.

As good as Jonathan Quick has been this season, Kari Lehtonen might be playing the best of any goalie in the division. The way Lehtonen is competing right now makes me think they'll hang on to a playoff spot.

I'm torn between Phoenix and Los Angeles. I don't see both teams making the playoffs and Dave Tippett's track record suggests he'll find a way. That race may be too close to call right now.

For you, what have been the biggest surprises in the league this season?

The Senators are the biggest surprise for me. Paul MacLean has done a fantastic job with that young group, earning their trust fairly quickly and walking the fine line of being a great teacher to the young players while also being firm and clear about what his expectations are.

I knew Erik Karlsson was good but I didn't see this huge offensive season coming. He's cleaned up some of his deficiencies defensively and is the league's next defensive superstar. I'm not ready to hand him the Norris quite yet but he's worked his way into the conversation which is an incredible accomplishment for someone who was a minus-30 last season.
How has Twitter changed the way you report and follow the game?

It has made everything much more immediate. I use Twitter to follow breaking news and don't understand how any journalist survives without it. I've also found that it's a good way to cultivate sources - the ability to direct message players and agents on Twitter adds to the arsenal of doing your job as a journalist. And I love the interaction with fans. They think up questions and angles to stories that I overlook which sometimes leads to stories that wouldn't have been created otherwise.

Editor's Note: This is the fifth edition of "View from the Press Box." Here are the first three editions, in case you missed them.

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