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The Cheap Driver

July 7, 2014, 2:47 AM ET [53 Comments]
Travis Yost
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
One of the things I find interesting is the spread of dollars allocated to elite possession drivers. It's not at all dissimilar to the guys who identify as elite goal-scorers (individually and collective, or "on-ice") -- the only difference is that, in the shorter-term, the shot-based data is much more reliable. Knowing how a long-term shot advantage leads to a long-term goal advantage, most GMs can comfortably bet on guys with consistently strong Corsi% and come out better than most.

I wanted to circle back for a minute on that reported list of potential moves brought to the table by Bruce Garrioch a few days ago. I wrote that, aside from signing David Legwand (which they went ahead and did), most of the stuff in the piece was kind of scary.

There was one section in particular that kind of drove me nuts. In pertinent part:

Another league source said the Senators have made it clear that wingers Colin Greening or wingerand Erik Condra are available for a reasonable return.

I haven't a clue if it's true or not. For the sake of today's post, we'll assume that both are on the market -- I feel as if this is a moderately reliable assumption to make regardless, since we know they were both being dangled to some extent over the course of last season.

I've written at length as to why the two players aren't particularly comparable (and, obviously, shouldn't ever be lumped together). Colin Greening's a replacement level player. Erik Condra's a different story -- perhaps one of the biggest statistical enigmas the National Hockey League has.

Condra's case is kind of a running joke in the Ottawa blogosphere for a variety of reasons, but he's not the first player to fit into the 'great at dominating the run of play, but basically zero shooting talent/goal-scoring ability' box. It's actually because of the latter that Ottawa was able to sign him dirt-cheap in July of 2013. (Amusingly, he's making less than half what Colin Greening's making.)

I don't object to the position that Erik Condra can be replaced in the long-term, but I really start to worry when I hear his name thrown about as a player that the team should be looking to purge from the roster, as if he's (a) any part of the problem; or (b) the most replaceable forward on the team. Bottom-six forward, he is. Very talented bottom-six forward, he also is.

In the past, I've shown his territorial domination of competition. It has led to a distinct goal-advantage, too. Over the last three years, Condra's on-ice shot-share is 54%, which is basically in the realm of elite possession and control. It's translated into 51% of the goals -- not as strong, but still on the right side of break-even by a fair bit.

Condra's 54% of control of the game from 2011 to 2014 puts him 32nd amongst regular forwards -- sandwiched between the likes of Sidney Crosby and David Backes on one end, and Carl Hagelin and Patrick Kane on the other. Again, there's no comparison between any of those players and Erik Condra. He's basically devoid of offensive ability, and only gets by through forcing teams to play in their end of the rink more often than not.

That said, he still comes at a massive, massive discount to Ottawa. A perfect player for a team strapped on a tough internal budget. To sort of illustrate this, I went ahead and grabbed next year's cap hits for the top-fifty Corsi% forwards from 2011-2014.

The black notes Condra, the only elite Corsi% forward earning < $2MM AAV. And a fun fact: two of the three forwards in the $2MM-$3MM tier are Andrew Shaw and Carl Hagelin, both bound into cheap deals due to signing their first deal out of an entry-level contract.

What you really see -- and again, a lot of this is contingent on the counting numbers and raw goal advantages -- is that these players are paid fairly handsomely to their peers, for obviously good reason.

I think if you're Bryan Murray, you have to really ask yourself a lot of questions here. One: How confident are you that one of the younger forwards can come in and clock 54% Corsi% and 51% Goal% in the bottom-six? Two: Why would you trade Erik Condra, a player who is classically devalued due to his offensive woes? Surely the market would return something in the version of marginal assets, at best. Three: Are you really sure Erik Condra is one of the things that needs fixing with this team?

My answers: I'm pretty skeptical for 2014-2015, perhaps worth revisiting in a year or two; I have no idea, because the return's going to be garbage; Obviously not, because no player who dominates possession and wins the goal battle year after year is something that needs to be replaced. Especially a player whose making a shade over $1MM.

As an aside, I think a really cool project for someone with time on their hands and NHL Gamecenter at their disposal would be to figure out just how Erik Condra consistently gets the game in his control. To the eye, he's a flashy and smart off-the-puck player on the defensive end, and he strikes me as sound in the neutral zone. But, it seems likely that he's probably great at one or two things that even an observant hockey person in real-time may not notice. After all, his underlying numbers are sterling, and the objections that he's an ineffective player never seem to manifest anywhere.

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