Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Murray-Yzerman Friendship May Have Paved The Way For Bishop-Conacher Deal
Interesting move by the Senators today, trading big Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay for small rookie-of-the-year candidate Cory Conacher and a 4th round pick.
You might remember that Conacher was the subject of pre-game segment on Hockey Night In Canada a few weeks back detailing his battle with Type 1 diabetes and going undrafted before catching on with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk last season and winning the Calder Cup. It’s a surprise that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman would trade a Calder Trophy candidate but clearly he’s desperate for any kind of goaltending. He’s got a good one now in Bishop.
So what does Ottawa have in Conacher?
He had 39 goals and 80 points in the AHL last season and 9 goals so far this year in the NHL. Clearly, Bryan Murray thinks he might have a goal-scorer in Conacher, and a young guy who the Senators coaching staff can mould for the next couple of seasons. At only 23, Conacher fits right in with guys like Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Karlsson and Cowen. He also has one more year left on his entry level contract and will be a restricted free-agent after that.
In essence, instead of grabbing a first or a second rounder for Bishop (as rumoured), Murray got a player who can step in right away and possibly score some goals, Ottawa’s biggest weakness right now. Even if Conacher doesn’t light it up the rest of this season, the potential exists for him to develop into a 20 or 30 goal scorer next season or soon after.
You can’t underestimate how important that is to Ottawa considering that Milan Michalek might be slowing down with recurring knee injuries and Daniel Alfredsson retiring in the next year or two.
In the short term, Conacher is likely to take away minutes from a forward already in the top 6. Identifying who currently plays in the top 6 is not exactly clear due to Paul Maclean switching his lines so often, but Latendresse might see less time. It is strange that Ottawa would choose to go for such a small player after not matching up very well against the big Boston Bruins, but goal scoring is so important that you can look beyond size, especially when Conacher has already proven he can battle and defy the odds. Everything I've seen and read about Conacher is that he goes hard to the net, takes hits to move the puck and doesn’t ever seem intimidated on the ice.
One image that keeps popping back into my head is Steve Yzerman and Bryan Murray talking in the stands on March 23 during the game day skate of the Ottawa-Tampa game. That’s the same day HNIC showed the Conacher piece and the day before Yzerman fired coach Guy Boucher. Yzerman used to play for Murray in Detroit and you can speculate that the Lightning GM may have been asking for advice on what to do with his struggling coach. Murray might have related his experience with having to fire Cory Clouston once the team gave up on him, which seemed to be happening to Boucher in Tampa Bay. Yzerman has been known to seek advice from more experienced people he respects, such as Wayne Gretzky when putting together the Canadian Olympic team a few years ago.
It might have been that Yzerman’s prior relationship with Bryan Murray led the way to this deal we saw today. You have to remember that both Ottawa and Tampa will be playing in the same division next season so this deal could end up haunting one GM or the other. Inter-divisional deals are much more common than they used to be, but I’ll speculate that a mutual trust and respect between the two GM’s made this deal a lot easier than it would have been for other teams.
One thing we do know is Ottawa is going forward with both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, and it hardly seems like they've weakened themselves at that position despite parting ways with Bishop.
Sens fans will keep their fingers crossed that we'll finally see some more goals to help the two goalies they have left. Conacher is going to help and could end up being a big part of this Senators team in the years ahead.