Last season, Kent presented his thoughts about the Flames’ elder statesman. Today, as Connie prepares to play in his 1000th game, I wanted to offer a few words about Calgary’s voluble vet.
It’s easy to admire the heights of skill and talent that a Crosby or an Ovechkin display on a sheet of ice, and those types of players are correctly acknowledged for their greatness, but the league isn’t made of very many of those men.
It is, for the majority of players, a workaday environment of sorts, and for that majority, what often distinguishes them from the pack is a mix of smarts and consistent application of their ability. That, to me, is what has gotten Craig Conroy to the point we’re at today.
The most astonishing thing might well be how incredibly unlikely it is that this milestone could ever be attained. Craig Conroy was a 6th round draft choice that played exactly 13 games in the NHL before the age of 25 and had to switch organizations at that age before his career got off the ground.
The Habs sent him away to St. Louis in the fall of 1996 as a throw-in piece of a deal whose marquee names were Shayne Corson and Pierre Turgeon. I suspect as that club went fallow in the late ’90s, Montreal may well have wished that they’d kept him around.
As time has passed, the management in St. Louis and Los Angeles might have shared that twinge of regret after moving him to the Flames, because there are many players that might have enjoyed higher career arcs for a time along the way, but not many have offered the sort of reliable, sensible, professional approach that 24 has graced us with over the last decade and and a half.
Flames’ fans have benefited from seeing Conroy at his best, as he’s been the rare player that will finish his career being significantly more productive in his thirties than in his twenties. In terms of raw scoring, that’s not normal, and the fact that he’s been very good at all the little things that help teams win has made him a valuable contributor to the improvement of the club from the dark days at the start of the millennium.
There was some muted grumbling this past summer when he was re-signed at the league minimum, with the common complaints of too old and no hands being at the forefront. What I think those people have missed is that Craig Conroy gets it. He appears to understand that a successful season for the Flames might not necessarily have him as a central figure, but as a supporting player, and if he’s unhappy about that fact, he’s done a lousy job of communicating it.
That willingness to sublimate his ego in order to make things work doesn’t happen with every player, and that’s a quality any organization would value in an employee. I have no doubt that if the time came where the club felt they could do better, he’d move on without complaint, a happy warrior to the end.
He’s not done yet, though, and I don’t want this to sound like it’s a eulogy, because it isn’t. Craig Conroy made the team out of camp far and square, and he can still skate and think at a NHL level. He’s not really a top-sixer for a good team anymore, but as a spot guy and PKer, he has a place on this team on the merits.
He certainly still has enough game to help, and I suspect if you asked his teammates, they would likely admit that they’re glad he’s along for the ride, and not just because he’s a friendly dude who saves a few of them from being interviewed.
So tonight, we can celebrate a rare achievement for a man that’s offered plenty to the club and to his community. Craig Conroy will receive the accolades of the faithful tonight, and he’ll deserve every last one of them.
Congratulations Sir, and thanks from all of us.