Erik Condra and Free Agency
Andrew Hammond and Erik Condra are Ottawa’s two unrestricted free agents this year. I’ve already outlined why Ottawa should allow Hammond to walk, but what about Condra? For most Ottawa fans, this is what comes to mind when you mention #22:
Ottawa gets the puck on a turnover. Condra gets the puck in a favourable position. Condra shoots it directly at the goalie. While his inability to reach the twenty goal plateau his speed and hockey IQ suggest that he should, is a source of great frustration for Sen’s fans, the fact remains that Condra is an exceptionally valuable player and it is integral that Ottawa resign him before July 1st.
Money and Term
But for how much? Condra’s expiring deal is a two-year contract with both an actual salary and a cap hit of $1.25 million a year. With Ottawa already having $59 million committed in salary for next year and with key restricted free agents Marc Stone, Mike Hoffman, J.G. Pageau and Mika Zibanejad all due for large raises, simply renewing Condra’s current deal for another year or two would be ideal for Brian Murray and co. And for all we know, #22 might actually accept another contract similar to the one that just expired. At the end of year press interviews he indicated that he wants to return.
Value on the Open Market
Ottawa should hope that Condra will accept a hometown discount because if he demands from Ottawa what he could get on the open market, Ottawa can’t afford him (unless of course the Senators are suddenly willing to spend to the cap and that doesn’t seem likely). While it may seem a stretch, Condra could command a salary of between $3 and $4 million, and based on comparisons from around the league, would be good value for that money too.
Certainly the idea of paying $3 million plus for a forward who put up 9 goals and 14 assists last year and has never topped 35 points in a season seems like a bad idea. But lets compare Condra to two players paid substantially more and yet, I will argue, are very similar: Washington Capital’s Joel Ward ($3 million/year) and Edmonton Oiler’s Teddy Purcell ($4.5 million/year).
On initial inspection, Ward and Purcell are far more productive players, with both scoring 34 points last year. However, when you look their average points per 60 minutes of ice time, all three are at 1.4. Furthermore, they all started an identical percentage of shifts in the offensive zone, so it’s not as if Condra was getting easier zone starts. Overall, these numbers suggest that if Condra got the ice-time the Ward or Purcell did, he too would flirt with 35+ points.
When looking beyond point production and instead at puck possession numbers, Erik Condra really proves his worth. His shot attempts percentage (SAT% on nhl.com) is positive at 50.7% and is .4% better than his team overall. Compare this to Ward whose SAT% is 50.1%, but on a team that was at 51.4%. And while Purcell manages better possession numbers then his awful Oilers team, he still is a negative possession player at 49.3%. These numbers indicate that not only is Condra capable of driving possession, but he also can make his line mates better when he is on the ice with them, unlike Ward.
While not many people are defending Teddy Purcell and his $4.5 million cap hit, most pundits are in agreement that Ward deserves his contract and will easily resign for another year at $3 million per year. Scoring key playoff winning goals certainly helps raise your value in fans’ eyes, but Condra has also scored some pretty sweet playoff goals.
What Does Ottawa Do?
The short answer is that Ottawa needs to hope Condra takes a home town discount because with the increasing focus on advance stats by NHL GMs and their staff, some team is going to figure out that Condra will be good value for money at $3 million a year. If Ottawa wants success moving forward they need players who can drive the play and keep the pressure on their opponents, even if the final result is only an offensive zone face-off. Condra fits that profile perfectly and it’s not clear that there is a cheaper replacement in the system for Ottawa. Certainly, someone like Zack Smith or Colin Greening are not good enough to replace #22 and even bumping Michalek down to the 3rd line is not an economical option.
If Ottawa can ship out some of their deadwood (Greening, Neal, Cowen, Legwand) at the draft then that will free up enough money to easily sign Condra. However, that is contingent on someone actually wanting to take any of these contract and given that Murray has been trying to trade Greening since 2014, I don’t hold out hope. Ultimately, Erik Condra has probably played his last game in Ottawa and that is not good for a team with playoff ambitions and a tight budget.