New Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy said a lot of positive things in his opening press conference
9 months ago
At noon local time on May 23, 2023, the Calgary Flames officially introduced the new person with the title of general manager: Craig Conroy.
There has been some reaction already – prior to Conroy speaking – from media members and fans alike that this was the right way to go. Especially after reading Frank Seravalli’s external interview list, Conroy popped out as the most progressive candidate Flames president of hockey operations Don Maloney could find.
Dave Nonis – former General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks (2004-08) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (2013-15) – joined management as well in the role of senior vice-president of hockey operations and assistant GM. Chris Snow was promoted to the title of vice-president data/analytics and assistant GM while Brad Pascall got the title of vice-president of hockey operations and assistant GM. A full squad with Conroy as the skipper.
As he addressed the Flames faithful he said plenty of things that resonated well with me and I wanted to share my thoughts on some specifics.
Younger players are going to be given the chance to win spots at camp
The last couple of seasons the Flames training camp hasn’t really had much suspense to it. In the 2021-22 season we saw the training camp group pretty well go untouched the entire year. The 2022-23 season saw the Flames feature a riveting battle for seventh defenceman which resulted them in losing Juuso Valimaki on waivers, instead choosing to keep Connor Mackey. Both of those players currently play for the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary had to roll with Dennis Gilbert until Troy Stecher came at the trade deadline.
Giving Valimaki some more NHL time could have helped – he seemed to find great success in the Coyotes system this season, a standout amongst a team that surpassed expectations. If what Conroy said comes true then current young players Adam Ruzicka, Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Coronato, and Connor Zary could get a real shot to help the Flames next season.
We’ll have to see what the new coach wants to do as well – but its a positive start in regards to Calgary embracing a more youthful roster.
Contracts are a top priority, Lindholm to be one of first calls
Conroy flat out said it – you can not have seven UFAs going into the season. He touched on the Johnny Gaudreau situation as well saying he wouldn’t let something like that happen again.
We forget too quickly because of the new face in the driver’s seat, but all the life lessons learned while Brad Treliving was GM was also learned by this internal group. When Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk left town they left Conroy and the assistant team too. I truly believe him when he says his plans to manage assets are different.
The seven free agents – Toffoli, Backlund, Lindholm, Tanev, Zadorov, Hanifin, Kylington – are now in direct focus as what they want for their future is going to determine what Conroy has to do to start moulding his own team. The Lindholm number probably starts at an $8.5 million AAV based on comparables (such as Bo Horvat) – with max term.
Offensively he wants to see more creativity
After the offensive woes of the last season who wouldn’t be excited to hear this come from your GM’s mouth. Calgary had some frustrated players have some of the worst seasons of their careers last year – a creative rebound and an environment where they can flash the skills that made them stars in the first place is a real positive thought.
Conroy appeared baffled as he talked about what the kids in the NHL were doing nowadays – a crazy sight considering he managed over 1,000 games in the league himself. Even the former pros recognize the NHL is evolving into a young mans game. One where speed of the forecheck reigns supreme over power.
When he mentioned being able to turn the puck over in the attacking zone – as long as you back-checked – it was music to the ears of many. That brings us to the second point he talked about in relation to systematic hockey.
The defensive structure needs to remain present
Hard to be wheeling and dealing around the offensive zone if you’re stuck in yours the entire time. The team did just come from one of the best defensive coaches of all time – yes, Darryl Sutter was that. The Flames were fantastic in terms of shot suppression this past season they just didn’t get the amount of saves necessary to get those extra couple standings points.
The way the Flames defend their own zone and transition the puck is top level – getting some players that can move through the neutral zone more effectively without having to resorting to dump and chase hockey is the next step.
It is nice that Craig mentioned the importance of keeping this – but make no mistake the new coach will want things done his way. It’s a matter of hiring someone with the same philosophy as you. Conroy is semi-lucky he gets a clean slate and doesn’t inherit anyone he didn’t hire. Not every GM gets that opportunity out of the gate.
He wants guys to be happy at the rink
Of course he does – he’s our lovable Craig Conroy. We watched him pivot up and down the Saddledome for 10 years as a player – 507 games as a Flame. When did he not have a smile on his face? If you were a young kid and you were tasked with finding someone that just oozed the love of the game out of every ounce of his being Craig Conroy would jump out instantly.
Everything Conroy said on Tuesday afternoon sounded great – it was a press conference that could the leave fans with a positive feel. After all this negative energy around the team, it is well worth enjoying the positivity.
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