Having most of the roster set and very little salary cap room, it was a given that the Tampa Bay Lightning were not going to be major players in the free agent frenzy this off-season.
They did, however, make one move in the form of one very solid free agent signing that, on paper, makes the team that was the Stanley Cup runner-up just a little bit better. They signed 28 year-old right winger, Erik Condra formerly of the Ottawa Senators.
Fits The Mold
By signing Condra, the Lightning said goodbye to Brenden Morrow. For many Lightning fans ridding the team of Morrow was in and of itself a move that made the team better. Adding Condra is just icing on the cake. While it may not be fair to compare the two players, it is a given that most fans of the team will do just that since the team added Condra and dropped Morrow. The team got 10 years younger in losing Morrow and gaining Condra which by itself is cause for celebration.
Condra is a very good two-way player. This is one area that needs improvement on the Lightning roster. Sure they have some good two-way players such as Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan but the lineup seems to be filled with guys who are either strong offensively or diligent defensively. Condra is solid in both areas with an extra emphasis on his defensive skills.
Addtionally, Condra has played before in Coach Jon Cooper’s system. Yes it was over 10 years ago in Texarkana of all places but Condra played well in Coop’s system. The coach and player must have developed a good enough relationship because Condra was in Cooper’s wedding. You just don’t ask one of your wingers to stand up in your wedding just because he may be a first liner. Cooper had to think highly enough of the young Condra to ask. That speaks to the character of this newest Lightning player.
The penalty kill units for the Lightning had a fairly decent year. They finished the regular season ninth in the NHL with a success rate of 83.7 percent. Despite some ups and downs during the playoff march to the Cup Final, the Lightning’s PK did okay but there was room for improvement. Condra makes this unit decidedly better. He is a grinder especially on the kill. He digs for pucks and never seems to give up on a play when his team is a man down.
The man who Condra replaced on the roster theoretically was Morrow, who didn’t play on either special team units. So, right from the start, the team is better with one more very good penalty killer. In addition, Condra has the skills to play on either the third or fourth line whereas Morrow was barely a fourth liner. There were games when Morrow was a healthy scratch, it would be doubtful that Condra would find himself in that boat.
Lightning general manager, Steve Yzerman signed Condra to a very team friendly three year contract at an annual average value of $1,250,000. This accomplishes a couple of things for the team from a financial perspective. First, it adds veteran presence in a cost effective manner. Secondly. after locking up Steven Stamkos to a long term deal which Yzerman has said is his number one priority, there will be a few of the younger players whose contracts have to be negotiated.
Players like Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Nesterov, both of whom will be restricted free agents next year. In the following year, Palat, Johnson and Jonathan Drouin will be RFA’s and Victor Hedman will be an unrestricted free agent. During the next two off-seasons is when Condra’s contract is going to look like cap gold. A premier bottom six forward, special teamer who isn’t hurting the team’s cap will give Yzerman the flexibility to continue to keep the Lightning as Stanley Cup contenders.
Even in the worst case scenario that Condra, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out as expected, his contract is so cap-friendly that a trade would be rather easy to make. Best case scenario, as Yzerman attempts to keep as many of the key players on this team together for as long as he can, guys like Condra with these kind of contracts make it more feasible to make the long term playoff runs that the Lightning envision.
Condra is never going to make anyone forget Steven Stamkos or the Triplets or any other offensive NHL star. He is a very skilled two way player who will give the Lightning a solid 13 to 15 minutes a game. He’ll back check in the neutral zone. He’ll open your eyes on the penalty kill team. He will even knock in the puck every now and again. There should be no surprise to see him score 10 goals and 15 assists or more.
During much of last season, Ottawa had Condra’s line up against the top scoring lines they faced. Facing the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Jakub Voracek and other top scorers in the NHL, makes Condra’s plus/minus of +13 that much more impressive. Once the Tampa fan base sees his shut down capabilities first hand, they will begin to love Condra’s play.
We are still a couple months away from training camp and hard to tell where Condra will line up but whether he is with Brian Boyle on the fourth line or with Valtteri Filppula on the third line. Doesn’t really matter as lines in the NHL tend to be more fluid than static, as long as Condra gives Tampa solid ice time and works on the penalty kill unit, he will be a fantastic addition to next year’s roster.