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Cory Conacher rejoices at Lightning return

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Cory Conacher (89) looks on before action resumes against the Florida Panthers during first period action at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa Tuesday evening 01/29/13.
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Cory Conacher (89) looks on before action resumes against the Florida Panthers during first period action at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa Tuesday evening 01/29/13.
Published Jul. 20, 2016

TAMPA — Cory Conacher was the trade piece used to land Ben Bishop, the Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie who elevated the Lightning to perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

Now, three years later, the two have a chance to see their names together on the Cup.

"That would be weird," Conacher said.

But weird in a good way.

Conacher called the one-year, one-way $575,000 contract he signed last week with the Lightning a "dream come true." The forward is reunited with coach Jon Cooper, whom he played for at Norfolk in 2011-12, and with former Norfolk and Lightning teammates Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.

Together they won the AHL's Calder Cup that year. Conacher scored 80 points in 75 games during the regular season and was named the AHL's MVP.

"I'm signing for the opportunity," Conacher said. "If it was another team where I didn't know the players or the coaches as well I would have to think about it. But I know Tampa. I know the system. I know how Coop coaches. It's a system where I can thrive."

Conacher will replace forward Jonathan Marchessault, who signed with Florida after the season.

"We were looking for another forward and what we like mostly about Cory is he can really skate, and put the puck in the net," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. "One thing we talked about at the end of the season is getting more production out of more players down our lineup and I think Cory fits that bill."

Conacher bounced around the NHL from Buffalo to the New York Islanders after the 2013 trade to Ottawa. He played last season in Bern, Switzerland, where he scored a team-high 22 goals and had 52 points to lead Bern to the National League A title.

"He had a very good year in Switzerland," Yzerman said. "He's a little older, been in the league, been through some ups and downs, the adversity he's had to face and challenges are just making him a better hockey player and a more mature young man."

Conacher said he enjoyed every minute of playing and living in Bern. But, at 26, he knew the window was closing on a return to the NHL.

"I would regret not giving it one more chance," he said.

Conacher and Cooper spoke on the phone several times.

"He was somewhat intrigued when we were talking because I was willing to take a somewhat low offer to give it one more chance," Conacher said. "I got set up with probably the best team out there for me."

Conacher made an immediate impact during his lone season in Tampa Bay. He scored five goals and assisted on seven others during his first six games. He was shocked when he was traded in April 2013 but understood why.

He continued to follow the Lightning, especially last season when the games on the East Coast began at 1 a.m. Swiss time. That allowed Conacher to watch at least the first period while he tried to unwind after playing a game. It also allowed him to realize he could not only still fit into Cooper's system, he could be more of a help since he believes he has become a better player since the trade.

"I worked hard the last couple of years on how to be reliable in the D zone," Conacher said. "With age I've become more mature and have become a better pro.

"To be able to go back to a team that is so well organized and structured is pretty exciting to me. They've been winning the last couple of years and I don't think they'll stop winning any time soon. It's a team a lot of players want to play for, so it's exciting to go back."

It's exciting to think of the possibilities.

"Hopefully I can help with some of the scoring as well, contribute on the score sheet," Conacher said. "Hopefully I can help them go farther this year. Obviously going farther means winning the Stanley Cup, which is a pretty cool idea."

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.