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7 Reasons for Rebuild Seekers to Change Their Tune on the Calgary Flames



Craig Conroy Identity Miromanov

With 42 games played and the Calgary Flames sitting right around .500 at 19-18-5, a fair amount of skepticism has been plaguing the fan base in Southern Alberta.  

.512 puts the group slightly below last season’s .567 points percentage, which resulted in a 93-point finish. Winnipeg finished with two more points, and the Flames missed the playoffs by three points.  

Some fans are worried about a perpetuating cycle of mediocrity. With each middling conclusion to the season comes a modest position at the next draft. With no stars pushing the needle, the whole thing repeats season after season. That notion can lead to a feeling of futility and the desire for change – but what if change was already happening? What if all that was required for this new process to find success was time? 

Let’s look at a few realities that might indicate that you might need to re-evaluate your stance on the direction of the Calgary Flames. 


1.) The team is currently better than the standings reflect 


Oh god. What a way to start. Recycling a platitude from a miserable 2022-2023 season? How sick of that term is the fanbase as a whole? Well, things are a bit different this season.   

First and foremost, the Flames have a playoff points percentage if you discount growing pains in October.  

With new system, a new coach, and with a flip of the calendar came an unprecedented November youth movement that undeniably turned the fortunes of a team struggling to approach the game the way that they knew they had to.  

Following the arrival of Connor Zary on Nov. 1, the Flames are 17-12-4. Good for 13th place in the league and 17th in points percentage. Not bad, but still uncomfortably close to .500 and a point out of a projected playoff spot. 

Move that record down one game to when Martin Pospisil joined the team, and it looks much more encouraging at 17-11-4, or .594, a playoff points percentage, albeit 15th. 

Factor in what those two additions have done to help optimize a floundering Nazem Kadri. The 33-year-old pivot finished October with a goal and an assist in nine games. His +/- was the second worst in the NHL (-11), behind only Matty Beniers (-12).  

Since uniting with Connor Zary? Kadri is closing in on a point per game: 12 goals and 31 points in 33 games. The former London Knight is pushing his play even further of late with seven points in his last five games.   

That leads us to reason number two. 


2.) A youth movement is happening 


You’re likely not going to see the Flames “maneuvering” their roster in order to get a top three pick this season.  

The fact that it hasn’t happened in 43 years might be your first indicator. The difference between this season and so many seasons before that might be the way this team is handling a burgeoning youth movement. 

Ryan Huska’s Calgary Flames have brought up eight players from the AHL Wranglers this season. Two of them have solidified spots in the top six and another two hold down a place on the third pairing.  

Last season? Jakob Pelletier seized a spot on the roster, Dennis Gilbert led a crusade but only played 23 games, Connor Mackey got into ten games – and that’s it. Matthews Phillips and Coronato combined for three games. Those five players put up a total of 14 points, although Gilbert’s offence is not why he’s important to the team. 

With Craig Conroy’s Flames? A 47-point contribution from eight recalled players in nearly half as many games, and hey, Gilbert is scoring at a higher clip. 

To quote Jacobim Mugatu from the titular movie Zoolander, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”  

A large contingent of the fanbase constantly demands a rebuild while, every time the Flames take to the ice, younger players continue to actively take over the lineup beyond depth roles. 

While the opportunities are made available to younger players, they still have to earn them, steal them even from veterans, which isn’t a horrible approach. In fact, it may be safer than a conventional tear it down rebuild. 


3.) Conventional hardline rebuilds have a low success rate 


Many fans clamor at the idea of “being bad” for a few years and then flipping a switch into being a contender for an extended period. NHL franchises aren’t Easy Bake Ovens. That line of thinking can end up costing a franchise decades of sub-optimal revenue and endless frustration among its followers.  

Let’s look at a few success stories.   

The Tampa Bay Lightning 

Yes, they picked Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman in the top two of their respective draft years. Essential pieces in several playoff runs, including two cup-winning runs.  

The Lightning also picked future Hall of Famers Andrei Vasilevsky in the late first, Brayden Point in the late third, and Nikita Kucherov at the bottom of the second round at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. They’ve made aggressive moves to provide scoring threats on the third and fourth lines that have made the difference in a deep playoff run. Blake Coleman, Barclay Gaudreau, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson; we could go on for a while listing all the great players Tampa has brought in outside of the draft lottery. 

Chicago Blackhawks 

How about Chicago, who picked Kane and Toews in the top three?  

Well, their best defenceman, Duncan Keith, came in the late second round; oh, and the absurd amount of depth that the Blackhawks had to cycle through to remain competitive is mind-numbing. Byfuglien, Saad, Ladd, Versteeg, Denault, Teravainen, Campbell, Hossa, Oduya, Frolik, Leddy, Sharp, and Bolland to name a just a few.  

It’s true: breaking down cup winners in the salary cap era; you’ll find a high pick or two on the roster.

What you’ll also notice is that every year’s Stanley Cup-winning team is a deep roster promoting a winning culture loaded with depth talent ready to grow out of their respective limited roles.  

The Pittsburgh Penguins stand out as the only team with such a massive disparity in depth that you can attribute the majority of the credit for their three cup wins in 15 seasons to having the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and, to a lesser extent Marc Andre Fleury on their roster. Three cups don’t happen for them without Crosby and Malkin. Even then, Kris Letang, Matt Murray, Marian Hossa, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Andrew Cogliano, Carl Hagelin, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and David Perron aren’t chump change. 

Now, let’s look at failed rebuilds.

The Flops

Aside from a two-year competitive window in 2006 and 2007, the Buffalo Sabres have been spinning their wheels since 1999. The Edmonton Oilers endured the Decade of Darkness before their respective ping pong ball beat the odds at the 2015 Draft Lottery.  

Edmonton Oilers Jersey

The Arizona Coyotes made the Western Conference Finals on the back of Mike Smith in 2012 and have been perpetually rebuilding beyond that run.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a single series win to their credit since their rebuild kicked off with the selection of Luke Schenn at fifth overall in 2008—sixteen seasons of either draft watching or trying in vain to legitimize their status as a contender. 

While they may make the playoffs here or there, the Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to transition from “rebuilding” to “contender” over their 24-year history. Even Chicago lurked the league basement for nine seasons before their scouting group started hitting late-round home runs.

The fact of the matter is that a full-on down-to-the-studs rebuild more often than not, fails to bring a team to contention.

While there is some merit to burning multiple seasons until a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Connor McDavid falls into an organization’s lap, introducing a winning culture back into a dressing room is the actual test of an organization when it comes to rebounding from being a league-worst team.   

Earlier this week during an interview with Eric Duhatschek of the Athletic, Conroy had this to say on the Flames approach to a youth movement on the team.  

“You want to be competitive. You want to have success. You want to get your young guys in, but you want to put them in an environment with some veteran guys that can show them how the NHL works.” 


4.) The Calgary Flames are far more entertaining to watch (on most nights)  


Aside from the odd flat performance (4-3 Jan. 7 vs CHI, 4-1 Nov. 11 vs OTT, etc.), the Flames have been a wild ride on the ice this season.  

Whether it’s their freshly implemented zone defence heightening tension as fans wait for a Flames player to jump out of the perimeter and descend on a mishandled puck, a greater emphasis on riskier transition play, or the fact that the team has stormed back to win when trailing after 40 minutes a league-high six times; it’s simply a more palatable experience to watch Calgary on the ice this season.  

If someone is telling you that this season is more of the same – maybe they’re not tuning in as much as they should be.   


5.) More changes are coming 


It’s undeniable that Craig Conroy is still working the market. The rookie general manager made it clear that discussions are ongoing during the previously mentioned Duhatschek interview. 

“Teams call. You talk. What are you doing? What are you thinking? My goal is, I’m open. I just want to make the team better. Obviously, with everything that’s in the media, they might call on something that they’ve read or heard, to see if it’s true or not, and then we’ll have private conversations. But a lot of guys touch base to see where you are.” 

“I ask Don a lot of questions. How much do I call? How often? Am I bugging people by calling too much?”

Conroy is so eager to keep discussions running that he’ll even ask if he should be reeling it back in case he’s becoming an annoyance to other GMs. That brings us to reason number five regarding why you should have more faith in the process. 


6.) The General Manager is building a positive working culture (and leads from the top) 


Story time. It was 2014 and Brad Treliving’s second offseason as GM. The Flames had their annual open development camp scrimmage at Winsport. The year prior had been the Gaudreau Show. Johnny scored two or three breakaway goals.  

Gaudreau was once again at camp but had nothing to prove. The diminutive winger was getting a few skates in before heading off to Boston College for a victory lap season.  

Kenny Agostino, Morgan Klimchuk, and Emile Poirier, on the other hand, were working hard to establish themselves after being part of the return for Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester. Hunter Smith and Keegan Kanzig were certainly imposing — and Mark Jankowski was doggedly putting up goals in the hope that he would be held in consideration for a top-six role when the time came.  

The Calgary Flames brain trust was sitting in the back row of the seating area. Bob Hartley may as well have been alone in the stands for all the attention he was paying to anything off the ice. A common approach for a head coach of an NHL team.

Seated beside the group was a young brother and sister. The boy had managed to grab a seat, and the girl was left to stand by him behind a rail barrier. That didn’t go unnoticed by Craig.  

Conroy made it easy. With just a brief exchange, the girl was sitting in Craig’s former seat, and Conroy jumped down a row to take up a vacant spot next to a burgeoning writer in his mid-20s.  

If that wasn’t enough, he struck up a conversation. Conroy proceeded to give an inside perspective on where the organization stands on several players on the ice to some 20-something-year-old who had less relevance than the coffee served at the arena. John Gilmour and Brandon Hickey’s passing skills, the quickness of NCAA star goaltender Jon Gillies — Craig was emphatic about how much he was looking forward to where Brett Kulak’s game was going to go. “He’s just scratching the surface.” 

That’s just the kind of guy Craig Conroy is. He wants the best for everyone and won’t overlook even the little guy. How can you not cheer for the rookie GM or the dark horse team that he’s taking over?  


7.) The organization has a progressive Coach (who wants to win) 


A bit of a cop-out. All NHL coaches want to win, but let’s pose a question. 

Do you really want to see the proverbial rug pulled out from under Ryan Huska during his first season as a head coach in the NHL? After working towards earning this role for the last 20 years?

Mind you, this is someone pouring his heart and soul into making this team progressively better with each passing day.

It’s one thing to trade pending UFAs for younger players that Huska can work towards improving. With a hattrick against the Coyotes on Thursday, Yegor Sharangovich (30) passed Tyler Toffoli (29) in points on the season for those wondering.  

But to trade out core pieces of the current winning culture like Blake Coleman, Nazem Kadri, or Noah Hanifin?  

Tuesday night saw the Flames bend an Ottawa Senators group until they broke via a four-goal third period rally. Fantastic news for the Flames.  

For the Senators? More of the same as the floundering organization lost their fourth in a row. Two nights later, Ottawa made it five with a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. 

Mind you, the Senators are a team that accumulated top five picks for several seasons following the schematic of a conventional rebuild. With a roster loaded with lottery-winning draft selections and only Claude Giroux, Travis Hamonic, and Domenik Kubalik to serve as veteran leadership, the Senators collapsed to start December and have gone 6-14-0 since then. With losses piling up, the narrative has progressively evolved from We’re ready to compete to What is wrong with this group?

The unnerving phrase “There is more than one way to skin a cat” comes to mind when examining the Calgary Flames and their current approach to success. After all, who skins a cat? 

No, they’re likely not picking up a can’t-miss star from the very top of this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Apologies go out to those looking for an easy answer to a complex problem.

But with a positive work culture, an open-minded approach to playing younger prospects, and a veteran core that will impart on the next generation first-hand the work habits needed to succeed at the NHL level? Why not get with the program and join in on the positivity? 

Even the Grinch managed to clean up his act and wish the best for all parties involved living down in Whoville. How about those skeptics out there among the Flames fanbase?