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Flames GM Conroy confident in relationship with Markstrom after deadline passes

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames Jacob Markstrom - Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy insists that the relationship between the organization and star goalie Jacob Markstrom is fine after the trade deadline passed and he was not moved. 

Last week, Markstrom made critical comments about how his situation has been handled, saying, “Am I happy about [the speculation around his future]? No, I’m not. And I think it could have been handled a lot different from up top.”

On Friday, after the deadline had passed, Conroy touted Markstrom’s competitiveness and professionalism.

“Jacob’s a competitor, and he cares about these guys,” Conroy said.

“I know there’s been noise, but all he does is play well. Jacob and I are going to be fine…he cares about this team. He cares about this organization, and he is going to be exactly what he’s been: one of the best goalies in the league.”

For months, the Flames have been the epicentre of trade speculation around the league given their high-profile pending free agents. 

Conroy worked the past ten months to deal all those players (Tyler Toffoli, Nikita Zadorov, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin) for immediate help (Yegor Sharangovich, Andrei Kuzmenko, Daniil Miromanov), plus draft picks and prospects. 

Conroy said that the lessons he's learned as an assistant general manager and watching Johnny Gaudreau and others walk to free agency for no return shaped his view of his first trade deadline as the general manager.

“It wasn’t just Gaudreau,” he said.

“It was that [TJ] Brodie left. [Mark] Giordano left. There was more…that was the most recent that made me think, ‘If I can’t get things done, we have to regroup and move forward. We’re gonna have to get assets for people.’”

He acknowledged his group’s strong play of late, having won five of their past seven games, and that they’re fighting for a playoff spot as he was trading key roster pieces.

“To be able to get assets and regroup, we had to do it,” Conroy said.

“To let those guys go just didn’t make any sense.”

The Flames have done an admirable job in ignoring the noise of trade season and playing their best hockey. 

They beat top-tier teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Boston Bruins during a recent five-game winning streak. They’ve won two of three since dealing the heart-and-soul Chris Tanev. On Thursday, they thoroughly outplayed the Tampa Bay Lightning a day after dealing Hanifin. Markstrom has continued to be one of the league’s top goalies.

Still, there were signs that players, understandably so, were growing tired of the noise of trade season. 

One referred to Hanifin’s situation as “an elephant in the room.” There were off-the-cuff comments about not being able to wait until the deadline was over. Nazem Kadri, in the midst of a stellar season and leading the team with 54 points in 62 games, was being asked about trade speculation before gently prodding if the reporter was aware that the organization was honouring Miikka Kiprusoff that evening. Conroy spoke about how much times have changed since he was a Flame and reading about his own name in trade talks two decades ago. 

“When I played a long time ago, there was trade stuff in the paper, you see it on TV, but now it’s out there everyday,” he said.

“I wish I could have calmed the noise. I wish I could have done more, but you can’t. The way these guys handled it and the way they’ve risen to the challenge everyday, it’s very impressive. And it says a lot about that team down there and the belief they have in each other.”

Now, they get to exhale and answer questions about their on-ice performance for the next six weeks. Calgary (31-26-5, 67 points) is six points out of the second Wild-Card spot. They play the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

“After [the deadline], it’ll be good,” captain Mikael Backlund said this week.

“We’ll know who’s going to be here the rest of the year and we can just focus on that.”