Conroy eager to put his stamp on Flames
One of Craig Conroy’s first tasks as Calgary Flames general manager is a familiar one to the organization: He will try to convince one of the team’s most important players to commit long-term to the franchise.
Conroy, a long-time Flames player and executive, was formally introduced as the 10th general manager in franchise history on Tuesday.
Calgary has seven key players who can sign extensions this summer before becoming free agents next off-season. The most important of the group is 28-year-old centre Elias Lindholm, who was very non-committal in his exit interviews when asked about the possibility of signing a new contract with the team.
Conroy said Tuesday that Lindholm would be one of his first calls.
“He’s a priority here,” Conroy said of Lindholm. “For me, he’s a player you build around…I do know where Elias was thinking prior, so now I want to see where he’s at. I really do want to see what his mindset is right now. I have a very good relationship [with him].”
Conroy has been honing his front office skills after he retired in the 2010-11 season, starting under Jay Feaster before getting promoted by former GM Brad Treliving, who agreed to mutually part ways with the organization in April.
Several times, Conroy brought up the saga surrounding former star forward Johnny Gaudreau’s departure from the franchise last summer.
Gaudreau, one of the most prolific Flames ever, went into last season without a contract. Talks heated up after Calgary lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs and Conroy admitted he thought the star would stay. Instead, Gaudreau walked as a free agent.
"I don't think I would let that happen again,” Conroy said, of losing an important piece for nothing instead of dealing him for draft picks or prospects.
The new GM emphasized asset management when talking about Lindholm and the six other players (Mikael Backlund, Tyler Toffoli, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Oliver Kylington) who can sign extensions this summer before becoming unrestricted free agents 14 months from now.
“We can’t go into a season with seven UFAs,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense. I want to get an idea of where they’re at. We have to do what’s right for the Calgary Flames.”
The Flames also announced Tuesday that former Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis has been hired as a senior vice-president and assistant general manager, and that assistant general managers Chris Snow and Brad Pascall have both been promoted to vice-president roles.
The search for Treliving’s replacement was thorough. Don Maloney, the Flames’ president of hockey operations, confirmed that the team had an initial list of 35 candidates. Maloney spoke glowingly about the years Conroy has put in behind the scenes learning the various front office roles, as well as his leadership and involvement in the community.
“He’s got an eye for talent,” Maloney said. “He knows players…Craig spent years learning the hockey business. He’s done his work and put his time in.”
Conroy and Treliving had a strong relationship, and Treliving is thrilled his former protege has succeeded him.
“We were together for nine years and during that time he had exposure to all aspects of the business,” Treliving told TSN. “Part of the job of a manager is mentoring, preparing and advancing those within your organization and I am confident that Craig is more than ready for this challenge.”
Conroy will certainly put his own stamp on the organization he once captained. The Flames have had challenges integrating young players into the lineup, and Conroy acknowledged that.
“I’m going to leave roster spots [for young players],” Conroy said. “I’m going to give opportunity to those young players who can play…we said [to AHLers] that there’s going to be an opportunity next year. Come to training camp and earn a spot.”
Conroy also has to figure out who will coach this group after Darryl Sutter was fired earlier this month. The organization has internal candidates in assistant coach Ryan Huska and two-time AHL Coach of the Year Mitch Love. Names like Andrew Brunette and Alex Tanguay have also been speculated.
Conroy said culture and collaboration will be key in his first coaching hire.
“We need to work together and be a team,” he said. “We want to have a guy that can communicate to players…he’s got to be able to make this environment a fun place to play…I would look at the bench sometimes [this season] and wonder, ‘Are the guys having fun?’ Maybe, maybe not. I couldn’t tell. I want them to be happy coming to the rink.”
The charismatic and personable Conroy earned the opportunity to shape the roster he once starred on. He has paid his dues, traveled the world recruiting players, and consistently been a champion for the city of Calgary.
“This selection wasn’t a popularity contest,” Maloney assured. “If it was, he’d probably be the hands-down winner, but that had nothing to do with it.”