Waiver Claim Condon Gives Penguins Insurance Now And Later
Mike Condon is staying in the NHL, but not with the Montreal Canadiens.
Condon was claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday after the Canadiens tried to send him to the American Hockey League, and will start the season as the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury while Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray continues to recover from breaking his thumb while playing for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.
For Condon the claim represents a better opportunity to not only start, but possibly stay, in the NHL after the Canadiens signed veteran Al Montoya as a free agent to back up Carey Price this season. Not only will Condon start the season in Pittsburgh, but he also becomes the only other NHL-experienced goaltender in the Penguins organization, which should bode well if they eventually trade Fleury rather than risk losing Murray in next summer’s expansion draft.
Fleury has a no-movement clause in his contract, meaning he must be protected in the expansion draft, which could forced the Penguins to expose Murray to the new team in Las Vegas. If, however, the Penguins trade Fleury before the end of the season, they still need an eligible goaltender to expose to expansion in order to protect Murray. Prospect Tristan Jarry doesn’t meet the criteria because this is just his second pro season but Condon does.
In the meantime, Condon gives the Penguins experience in the backup role, a job the Princeton graduate was doing quite well with the Canadiens early last season before the injury to Price thrust the third-year pro into a pressure-packed starting job. He finished the season 21-25-6 with a .903 save percentage and while he struggled at times behind an overmatched Canadiens team, there were also several highlights, including a memorable performance in front of family and friends at the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium, just a 20-minute drive from his childhood home.
Condon, who played 39 games for the Penguins ECHL affiliate in Wheeling in 2013-14, actually got off to a great start after beating out Dustin Tokarski for the Canadiens backup job. He posted a .936 save percentage in his first eight NHL appearances and was 7-2-2 before Price went down for good during a Nov. 25 game against the New York Rangers. A long shot to even make the NHL after finishing his college career without many pro options, Condon is more than a great story of perseverance and hard work, including mixed martial arts-style training in the offseason.
Condon posted a .921 save percentage in his only full season in the AHL in 2014-15 with the Hamilton Bulldogs and continues to leave no stone unturned in attempts to improve, including sports vision testing and training this summer that he believes will pay off this season.
Whether he gets much of a chance to show it in Pittsburgh before Murray returns in a couple of weeks, or ends up playing most of this season back in the AHL (assuming he clears waivers once Murray is healthy), history shows it would be a mistake to count Condon out too soon.