NASHVILLE — Cory Conacher is back on the Lightning roster. It’s been an up-and-down season for the 29-year-old, in the most literal sense. He’s been recalled thrice in the last 35 days. It’s starting to feel like the weekly Conacher lineup update.
“It takes a bit of a toll on you,” Conacher said. “Getting called up is obviously a lot better than being sent down. If there’s a chance to get called up, no matter what the travel is, you always want to be here.”
Tuesday’s travel looked like leaving home about 5 a.m. for a 7:20 flight from Syracuse to Chicago and then to Nashville. The Lightning tried to get him out Monday night, but Syracuse got 10 inches of snow.
Also this year, Conacher has made his way from Syracuse to St. Louis and to New York City. That latter sounds easier but is actually more than six hours in a car.
In those three recalls, the forward has spent 34 days in the NHL and played three games. The stays have been brief enough that he’s played in 11 of Syracuse’s 14 games in that span.
Conacher spent four days in the AHL on this most recent stint. He was sent down on Friday and recalled Tuesday. That was just long enough to play two games and more importantly, to see his family.
“It was nice to go back home this time and see my family for a little bit,” he said. “My little guy (Callum) is only 15 months so it’s fun to be around him.”
His wife and son stay in Syracuse or Conacher’s hometown of Burlington, Ontario because no one knows how long he’ll be in the NHL on each trip. He hopes this one lasts longer. Maybe they can come to visit him in Tampa for his 30th birthday Dec. 14.
The back-and-forth is tough mentally. Conacher has done it for years with only one full NHL season over the past seven years, so he’s about as used to it as anyone can be.
“You have to be strong for sure, especially being that bubble guy, that depth guy,” he said. “You try not to think about it too much and just live it day-by day.”
This time, coach Jon Cooper said Conacher was recalled as an insurance policy. Alex Killorn is dealing with a lower-body injury and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to play.
Killorn skated in the optional morning skate but wasn’t able to play. Still, Conacher didn’t make it into the lineup. The Lightning have enough forwards to go with the 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup they’ve favored recently.
Conacher says he gets more out of watching games than one might think. He’s watching for how he’d react in a situation.
“It’s weird because during a game, it seems so much more in your face,” he said. “When you watch it on TV, it’s like ‘OK, maybe I had a little bit more time to make a play there.’ You try to get that in your mindset.
That is what separates great players, Conacher said. Someone like forward Nikita Kucherov possesses the puck more and he finds plays to make. On a highly-skilled team, holding the puck can give someone a chance to get open.
Given the choice, Conacher would rather stay in the NHL. But the silver lining to going down to the AHL is more playing time. He gets something like 20 minutes a game there, as opposed to the 10 here.
In the NHL, he’s on the third or fourth line with very little time on the power play or penalty kill. He plays on the top line for Syracuse, both sides of special teams, and never a healthy scratch.
“At the same time, it’d be nice to be in the NHL,” he said. “But you feel a little more a part of it when you’re in the game.”
He’s been a victim of the roster numbers. The Lightning could keep him in the NHL, but they’ve been carrying 22 players to maximize their salary cap space, one fewer than the league’s maximum.
Cooper has complimented Conacher’s play each time he’s been up. But he keeps finding himself as the odd-man out, just hoping to stay a little longer and get in a game this time.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.