Conroy Era Starts With Promise of Change in Culture
A new Calgary Flames era has begun. Craig Conroy’s promotion to general manager is exactly what the franchise needs after being mired in old-school thinking and darkness for far too long.
Brad Treliving was a great guy who did a lot of good things for the team during his nearly decade-long tenure, but the tremendous weight of managing in a Canadian market, combined with the ups and downs of decision-making over the years does some damage. The spark isn’t nearly as easy to keep ignited.
Especially when you add the drama of top players choosing to leave for other opportunities, and others threatening to do the same after struggling to breathe in the smothering and negative environment created by since-fired head coach Darryl Sutter.
But Conroy is the Eternal Flame. His energy can be fuel for the franchise, from the front office, to the locker-room, and into the prospect pool.
“I have a passion for this team, I have a passion for this city,” Conroy said amid a long list of targeted thanks for the owners, the alumni group, the staffers behind the scenes, advisers, and, of course, his wife and three daughters who have been raised in Calgary as their dad chased a GM dream he thought would never come with the Flames.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to bring a Stanley Cup here.”
It’s that elusive silver trophy that inspired his NHL management path after retiring from his playing days a dozen years ago without a chance to raise it above his head.
It was former Calgary Flames president and CEO Ken King who helped Conroy to the road.
With the gift of gab, Conroy considered offers to join the media ranks as an analyst. He would have been great at it, but media members can’t win the Stanley Cup.
He had a chance to coach at Clarkson University, his alma mater. King reminded him he can’t win a Cup there, either.
King offered an opportunity to explore the inner workings of an NHL franchise, learning about the business side of thing, managing, coaching, development for the future, and Conroy absorbed all of it. He started as what sounded like a title from sitcom The Office — special assistant to the acting general manager, Jay Feaster — but worked his way through the ranks, touching every aspect of hockey operations along the way.
Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation’s CEO John Bean and president of hockey ops Don Maloney did their due diligence — and then some — with a starting list of 30-plus candidates for the job, but landed on Conroy because of his relationships inside and outside the organization, and all the obvious qualities of character. But also because of his vision.
That vision includes a new way to look at the opening day roster. Conroy promises to reserve spots for young players to take, rather than fill it with veterans.
That probably officially spells the end of UFAs Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis’s time in Calgary. Same goes for Nick Ritchie, who replaced his brother Brett on the Flames roster in a deadline day deal with the Arizona Coyotes.
Meanwhile, Jakob Pelletier, Matt Coronato, and others should have more of an opportunity to show what they can do with like-minded players in training camp.
“I think we’re going to change the core a little bit and add youth to the lineup,” said Conroy. “You need young players on the team; you need that excitement they bring, day in and day out. You have to give them a chance. It might not be seamless, but we need to move forward. And we have a salary cap, and young players definitely help with that.”
Conroy can help out in other ways, too. His first official news conference was full of positivity, and that was noticed across the league.
“I want to make it a place people want to play,” said Conroy. “I want them to come to be part of doing something special here. I talk to agents, and we’re on a lot of players’ no-trade lists. I want to make it where we’re not on the no-trade lists, and that’s by bringing a culture of winning and fun. That starts this year, moving forward.”