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‘To be at the very bottom, that’s a lot of pain’: Craig Conroy dishes on the future of the Flames to The Athletic
By Mike Gould1 month ago
Even after defeating the Ottawa Senators by a 6-3 score on Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames currently rank 24th in the NHL with an 18-18-5 record through 41 games.
The Flames are on pace to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season. They also have decisions to make on three key pending UFAs: Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and Chris Tanev.
Craig Conroy is in his first season as general manager of the Flames, but he’s been in various management role within the organization for more than a decade (and, as a player, even longer before that). He knows the ins and outs of this team.
Conroy spoke at length to The Athletic‘s Eric Duhatschek for a Q+A piece published on Wednesday about the future of the Flames. When asked point-blank about his belief system as it pertains to rebuilds, Conroy was pretty direct in his response.
“I know some people believe in the full rebuild,” Conroy told Duhatschek. “Personally, I feel you want to be competitive, and you want your team to win. So, there is a balance between short- and long-term. You don’t know what you’re going to get for certain assets that you have — or what’s to come. Or maybe somebody here wants to re-sign with you. All those things are still out there.
“But it is a little bit of a juggling act,” Conroy added. “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. Because there’s going to be ups and downs with the Zarys, the Pospisils, and the Dustin Wolfs.”
The Flames have a solid nucleus of young players. In addition to the aforementioned Connor Zary, Martin Pospisil, and Dustin Wolf, the pipeline also includes Matt Coronato, Jakob Pelletier, Samuel Honzek, Rory Kerins, and Ilya Solovyov, among others.
But what the Flames do lack is a potential franchise cornerstone. The club has never selected higher than No. 4 overall in the draft since relocating from Atlanta in 1980. They had that pick in 2014; it turned into Sam Bennett. Not an ideal outcome.
Conroy acknowledged that the Flames’ previous window opened after they selected Bennett, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk with top-10 picks in quick succession, but he stopped short of saying the Flames would willingly entertain going down that pathway again — or that they’d ever aim to make their first-ever top-three pick.
“You have to be really, really bad [to get a top pick] — unless you win the lottery,” Conroy said. “And now, you can’t move up that far anymore. There are different ways to do it. One way is to go right to the bottom and try to build it back up. We had the fourth overall pick and two sixths, with Monahan, Bennett, and Tkachuk and we had a good run. They were all very good players. But that’s over.”
“Wherever you do pick, you have to make the best pick you can. To be at the very bottom, that’s a lot of pain,” Conroy continued. “And the one thing you don’t want to do, you never want to accept losing because you can’t just tell a team, ‘Now we’re going to turn it on and win’ with people who’ve gotten used to losing. For me, that doesn’t work.”
The Flames are currently .500 on the year with 41 games still to play. They have plenty of unfinished business to attend to, and whether Conroy ends up trading all of his UFAs or picking one or two to re-sign, he has a much bigger choice to make about the team’s overarching direction.
Head over to The Athletic to read the full interview!
The NHL trade deadline is slated for March 8 at 3:00 p.m. ET. The Flames have 21 games left to play until then, with the first being their match-up against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday evening.
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