The Tampa Bay Lightning made a flurry of minor moves this afternoon, as indicated by an announcement from the team primarily impacted – their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. The most impactful NHL transaction was the return of veteran forward Erik Condra to the minors. The Bolts also reassigned top goalie prospect Connor Ingram as well as defenseman Matt Spencer to the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder. Down at the AHL level, the Crunch additionally recalled goaltender Nick Riopel from the ECHL and released journeyman forward Jason Akeson from his tryout agreement.
Condra, 31, is now in his third year with the Lightning and has seen his role with the team decrease with each passing season. The former Ottawa Senators spark plug signed with the Bolts as a free agent in 2015, expecting to have a similar job in Tampa as he did in Kanata. However, in year one he only suited up for 54 NHL games and scored less than half the points of the previous season’s total. Last year, he skated in only 13 games with the Lightning, spending much of the campaign in the press box or the minors. In 2017-18? Despite being recently called up, Condra has yet to make his season debut for the Bolts with the team 16 games in. It seems Condra has permanently settled into an AHL depth role.
Ingram and Spencer, both first-year pros, have each struggled to adjust to the AHL thus far. Although no one is doubting that Ingram could still be the reliable NHL keeper he projected as when he was selected in the third round in 2016, his .860 save percentage and 3.36 GAA in the pros is a far cry from his numbers as a top WHL goalie with the Kamloops Blazers the past few years. Some time in the ECHL could make for a smoother transition and a confidence boost for the 20-year-old. The same goes for the defenseman Spencer, a 2015 second-round pick and two-way ace for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. Unable to work his way into the defensive rotation, Spencer has seen only limited minutes in just two AHL games. A trip to the ECHL will help him get some work in and, like Ingram, renew his confidence.
In the meantime, Syracuse needs another goalie and Riopel is getting the call. However, Ingram’s demotion could be short-lived, as the journeyman minor leaguer Riopel has arguably worse numbers – .871 save percentage and 3.91 GAA in nine games – in the ECHL than Ingram had in the AHL (and Ingram is eight years younger). Riopel does bring some more experience, but little upside over his younger counterpart. Whatever veteran boost Riopel gives the Crunch may be canceled out by the departure of Akeson, who failed to turn a PTO into a contract. Akeson, 27, is a former Philadelphia Flyer with 15 NHL games under his belt and a prolific AHL career to go with it. Yet, with the return of Condra and the realization that he may be in Syracuse for good, the organization likely decided they didn’t need another aging minor league forward on board.