I'll fully admit that when the season started, I didn't see Erik Condra's place on this team. He'd been a good fourth-line player for a few years, but at 28 years old, I figured he would just get in the way of up-and-coming players. My opinions of him were based largely around this event:
(Side note: last night's game shows us that this "skill" of Condra's may in fact be repeatable.)
And now? I full admit I was wrong. Erik Condra is a valuable player that Ottawa cannot afford to give up.
It probably started around the game against the Blues when he returned from being a healthy scratch to spark the Senators to an improbable victory. He created plays all night, and was very unlucky to have two goals called off before he finally got one that counted. He's had other nights this year when he's been Ottawa's best player. A game against the Capitals where he got the only goal comes to mind. He's been the Sens' best penalty-killing forward, especially when paired with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Visually, he does a lot of things right - forechecks, backchecks, skates hard, gets his stick in the right places, and creates chances.
Statistically, it isn't hard to see his value to the team. Take a look at the new hotness, this Tableau Visual from Own The Puck:
This graph reinforces what most of us already think about Condra: he and his linemates run the course of play when he's on the ice (according to the chart, to a second-line level), but his scoring is decidedly fourth-line, all while averaging fourth-line minutes. What I found interesting is that he actually takes more shots than should be expected for a player of his role. Overall, Condra's not gonna give you a tonne of offence, but he's not gonna give the other team much of anything.
It also isn't hard to see his usefulness on the penalty kill. Take a look at the chart below from War On Ice:
The dot size shows the amount of time per game spent on the PK - as you can see, Condra crushes Ottawa's other forwards. Disregarding Mika Zibanejad's negligible time on the PK, Condra and Pageau get the highest share of shot attempts among Ottawa's forwards while killing penalties. Not only do they prevent the opponents' scoring chances, they create some of their own. No small feat on the penalty kill.
The other important thing to remember about Condra is that he's in the second and final year of a contract with a $1.25-million cap hit. This was signed after his best offensive season, 25 points in 81 games in 2011-12. His points per game has fallen steadily every year of his career:
|Year||GP||Goals||Assists||Points per game|
The use of advanced stats has risen in recent years, but we're still a long way from them being the focal point of contract negotiations. A forward who currently makes just over a million dollars who has seen his offensive production decrease as he moves into his late 20s won't have much leverage. Couple that in with the fact that Condra has spent his whole NHL career in Ottawa, and I expect he'll want to sign here rather cheaply.
Condra may generate some return at the trade deadline, because of his penalty killing and his inexpensive contract, but I don't think it will offset the loss of Condra. He's reliable defensively, and if a guy like Shane Prince is called up, you need someone like Condra to take the tough minutes so Prince can be sheltered. As a budget team, Ottawa needs to take advantage of having good players on cheap contracts. Condra is one of the best bargains the Sens have right now.
Best-case scenario: Condra signs a three-year, $3-million ($1-million AAV) contract in the next couple weeks.
Expected scenario: I'm usually a cynic, but I have a hard time seeing this one botched. I don't think Condra will be signed until the summer, but that's not a huge deal. Based on his lack of notoriety around the league, I doubt he'll be offered much more money to leave Ottawa. Based on his deployment under Cameron, I'm sure management realizes how important he is. I expect at most, he commands a three-year, $3.5-million contract, and it's signed before July 1st.