Today is the last day for NHL teams to place players on waivers if they are to be sent down to the minors prior to the opening night roster’s being announced Tuesday evening at 5pm. The Lightning have put three players on waivers; Erik Condra, Cory Conacher, and Joel Vermin. While it’s still possible they can make the team, it does clear the way for the decision to be made over the next 29 hours on them.
Erik Condra is entering the second year of his three year $1.25 million deal. If he is not claimed or traded, he would still count against the cap for $300,000 while in the AHL. It’s very possible he’ll be claimed and that clears a little bit of cap room for the Lightning. Him being put on waivers likely means that there hasn’t been much trade talk on him. If someone would take him, they’d likely only give up a late round pick or perhaps a minor league depth player.
Cory Conacher is on a one-way $575,000 contract. He’ll be paid $575,000 for the year no matter if he’s in the NHL or the AHL. While he was certainly given every opportunity to make the Lightning, it appears as if he is at least on the bubble. I don’t expect that he’ll be claimed, but it’s possible. If he does pass through waivers and is assigned to the AHL, he’ll be a top wing option for the Crunch and could provide the kind of boost they need to make it back to the playoffs.
Joel Vermin is on a two-way contract. He’s unlikely to be claimed but has been practicing on the third line for the Lightning recently. He’s a good two-way winger with a pesty side to his game. He plays a good defensive game and can chip in offensively. He can also provide good penalty kill work for the team.
What does this mean? Well, chatter has picked up that the Lightning are close to signing Nikita Kucherov. That could potentially happen today or tomorrow. If someone claims Condra, that would assist the Lightning in being able to afford a longer term deal with Kucherov. If the Lightning did part ways or demote all three of these players, even with a signing of Kucherov, it would leave the team with only 11 healthy forwards… unless you include Brayden Point.
Point has been exceptional during the pre-season showing the kind of skill that caught the Lightning’s scouting staffs attention prior to his draft. He has developed into an offensive force with a high hockey IQ. His skating has greatly improved since being drafted and he is more than capable to keeping up with any body in the Lightning’s forward corps. The big question will be does it make sense to play him on a third with with Valtteri Filppula and Vladislav Namestnikov? Or does it make more sense to send him to Syracuse where he can play big minutes and be the first man up in case of injury? He carriers with him a $686,667 cap hit.
So let’s say the three players on waivers don’t make the team, the team re-signs Kucherov, and keeps Brayden Point… what does the line up look like for opening night? How about something like this.
The first two lines are obviously good. The third line gives you the kind of offensive threat that you need to be a Stanley Cup contender. And the fourth line can play the kind of defensive game that can stack up to almost any top line in the league. The Lightning will still need to come up with a 13th forward while Ryan Callahan is out, but that could be Conacher, Vermin, or Condra. Or could be Tanner Richard. When Callahan does come back, that might mean bumping Paquette to the press box and inserting him on the fourth line with Brown flipping over to the left wing side.
The pieces and parts are still moving. We’ll find out tomorrow around noon if any of the three players have been claimed on waivers. We may also find out if Kucherov is re-signed and for how much in that time as well. For now, it’s a wait and see game.