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Calgary Flames

Phillips’ Departure A Symbol Of Why Flames Have Course Corrected



There is plenty Calgary Flames fans can choose to be critical of so far this offseason, whether you disliked the draft, the deal, or any of the hirings and firings.

But general manager Craig Conroy is currently in the unenviable position of cleaning up a mess that has been contributed to by years of negligence. An inability to rebuild per the franchise mandate set by ownership contributed to an environment equivalent to the elevator to nowhere from The Simpsons, or any of the Groundhog Day ripoff movies that feature a protagonist waking up to live the exact same day in perpetuity.

For Conroy, the long list of impossible tasks in front of him when he took the job abandoned by Brad Treliving has been challenging to navigate. Some players asked for trades, including the already departed Tyler Toffoli and soon-to-be-moved Noah Hanifin.

Others, like Swedish centres Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund, are on the fence. But they could sit there precariously all year — they have great balance — until Conroy is forced to make a move at the trade deadline.

But no move so far has been as face-slappingly sting-ee as the departure of Group 6 UFA Matthew Phillips.

It’s no fault of Conroy’s, but is a symbol of the historic mistakes Conroy is now trying to correct. It is a final domino illustrating what has previously plagued the Calgary Flames through decades of mediocrity — an almost outright refusal to draft and develop their own prospects.

By the time this landed with Conroy, it was probably too late. While the Washington Capitals were willing and able to offer a one-year, one-way deal, the Flames proposed two years on a two-way. Phillips ended up following his AHL head coach Mitch Love out of town, joining the Capitals on a pact that will pay him his NHL salary regardless of whether or not he sticks with the Caps.

Love has seen what Phillips is capable of at the AHL level, where the small but dynamic winger was named to the league’s first all-star team with a 36-goal, 76-point season. He also set a record with 15 game-winning goals.

Those totals came in just 66 games because a weeks-long stint in Calgary kept him away. He was given just two games of NHL action, however, with then head coach Darryl Sutter preferring his larger, more veteran lineup to youthful injections lacking size.

It was a point of contention between Sutter and Treliving that grew as the season continued and fellow prospect Jakob Pelletier experienced some of the same barriers.

Phillips is a born-and-raised Calgarian. He wanted to be a Calgary Flames player. The odds should have been in his hometown franchise’s favour. The very reason Phillips even made it to free agency this summer is the same reason he chose to chase his NHL dream elsewhere.

The Flames, especially Sutter, didn’t play him enough to discover whether or not he’s a legitimate NHLer. He may not be, but the fans wanted to see what was possible in Calgary, not somewhere else.

Despite all the moves made to overhaul the Flames franchise’s image, it’s still suffering from the image as an old-school dinosaur. Conroy will do what he can to change that perception. A new head coach, philosophy and eventually arena to play in will all help; but it will take time.

That’s the one thing they couldn’t offer Phillips, who will now do everything he can with the Capitals to prove he deserved more of it.

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