Let the man cook: Patience the key for Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy’s next moves
Photo credit:@NHLFlames on Twitter
By Ryan Pike2 months ago
Back in December 2013, the Calgary Flames parted ways with then-general manager Jay Feaster. At the time, and frequently afterwards, the club’s president of hockey operations Brian Burke commended Feaster for his work as GM, noting that he’d done a good job cleaning out “the stable” and largely keeping the Flames’ payroll free of albatross contracts.
The situation facing new GM Craig Conroy, inheriting a veteran-laden roster from predecessor Brad Treliving, is a lot more different and challenging than what Treliving walked into in 2014.
When Treliving’s departure was announced back in April, our Robert Munnich described the situation he left as “a big mess.”
Treliving has done some good things when it comes to setting the organization up for future success. He beefed up the amateur scouting staff. He added to the analytics department. And he brought in smart hockey people to help guide the organization moving forward like Brad Pascall and Don Maloney.But he also left behind a big mess for the new management team to clean up. Something that will likely take years to get out of to build a long term contending team.
Among the big challenges left for Conroy to deal with: seven significant players set to become unrestricted free agents – Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, Nikita Zadorov, Chris Tanev and Oliver Kylington – coming off a pair of very up and down seasons under head coach Darryl Sutter. At his introductory press conference, Conroy indicated that the club wouldn’t go into the coming season with the fate of those seven UFAs to be determined.
Seven weeks into his managerial tenure, Conroy has been busy, even if he hasn’t fully dealt with the seven 2024 UFAs yet. Since being hired as GM on May 22, Conroy has hired Ryan Huska to replace Sutter, recruited assistant coach Marc Savard to revamp the club’s power play and offensive attack, added Jarome Iginla as a special advisor to the GM, traded Toffoli to New Jersey, made six selections at the 2023 NHL Draft, and signed 10 players to new contracts – the most significant being Yegor Sharangovich.
After the re-signings of restricted free agents Ben Jones and Emilio Pettersen, the Flames’ off-season “must-dos” are completed aside from hiring a new head coach for the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers.
Would be ideal if the Flames went into training camp or the regular season not knowing if Lindholm, Backlund, Hanifin, Zadorov, Tanev and Kylington will be around long-term? Aside from Kylington, who’s situation is unique due to him missing the 2021-22 season, you do probably need to know their motivations and goals before camp opens.
And in particular, yeah, it’s probably ideal to have the two big fish – Lindholm and Hanifin – figured out. It wouldn’t be ideal to walk your best centre and one of your top blueliners to free agency if you can avoid doing so.
We’ve seen some fan criticism on social media regarding Conroy’s perceived inaction so far as GM, particularly on the 2024 UFAs. It’s fair to prefer Conroy to have those situations handled, but it’s a bit unfair to say he hasn’t done much on those fronts – especially with Toffoli’s fate already being determined. Discussions have reportedly been held with those players’ representatives, and the Flames are reportedly being “careful” on term. When you consider that the Flames have a quartet of players over 30 – Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Blake Coleman and Jacob Markstrom – signed for a combined 21 years, that stance makes a lot of sense. They already have hefty deals to work around, they’d prefer not to have too many more. If nothing else, it seems like the Flames are entering these negotiations with eyes open.
Treliving became GM in 2014. Through a series of swaps and signings over several years, he built a hockey club that was capable of great things – they were the top team in their division in both 2018-19 and 2021-22. But because the Flames’ contractual situation was relatively clean, Treliving was able to get moving immediately. Conroy has a few things he inherited that he needs to figure out, and then based on how those situations turn out, he needs to figure out how to build the team the way he wants to. Add in that established GMs are probably throwing Conroy some low-ball trade offers in an effort to both take advantage of a new executive and figure out how he’ll be operating going forward, rushing into the trade market immediately might not be the best move to maximize player value.
Even with a relatively clean slate to work from, it took Treliving awhile to build the proverbial house of cards that the Flames roster became. And now that Conroy is at the helm, facing some serious contractual complexities, it’ll take him awhile to find thoughtful solutions to the challenges the club faces as he tries to rework the house of cards into something new.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are good hockey clubs. If the Flames are taking a prudent, patient approach to tackling their team’s issues, the fanbase should embrace those same qualities.
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