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Craig Conroy promoted to general manager of Calgary Flames

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames promoted from within and gave former player Craig Conroy his first job as an NHL general manager. The Flames introduced the 51-year-old from Potsdam, N.Y., at packed news conference Tuesday at the Saddledome.
Newly-appointed Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy speaks at a press conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday May 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

CALGARY — The Calgary Flames promoted from within and gave former player Craig Conroy his first job as an NHL general manager.

The Flames introduced the 51-year-old from Potsdam, N.Y., at packed news conference Tuesday at the Saddledome. 

Conroy was an assistant GM of the Flames for nine seasons under Brad Treliving, who departed in April after nine years as GM.

Conroy played just over 1,000 NHL games. Half of them were with the Flames over two stints with the club.

He was a Flame when Calgary reached the Stanley Cup final in 2004. Calgary's lone Stanley Cup win was in 1989.

"This is the dream job for me and I might not say that in a couple months," Conroy said with a chuckle. "Right now, that's the way I feel.

"I'm ready to accept this next challenge, and promise to our fans, I'm going to everything I can to bring another Stanley Cup here." 

The Flames also announced that former Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks GM Dave Nonis has joined the team as senior vice-president of hockey operations and assistant GM.

Hockey operations president Don Maloney led the search for Treliving's successor. 

Maloney started with a list of 35 candidates that included former general managers and assistants looking to move up, as well as player agents and hockey people currently working in broadcast. 

Maloney said he also consulted with NHL personnel in New York while whittling the list down to eight people, and then four. 

Conroy's knowledge of the organization at all levels was a bonus, Maloney said.

"He knows the vision and the understanding of what it's going to take to build a winner here in Calgary," Maloney said. 

"He's got an eye for talent. He knows players. That's how we're all going to be evaluated — do we make the right decisions to bring the right players in to win a championship?

"Anybody who knows Craig personally says he's a nice guy. But you know what? You don't play a thousand games in the NHL being a nice guy. 

"There are times when you have to be firm, there are times when you have to be hard and make decisions that allow you to win."

Shortly after retiring, Conroy joined Calgary's front office in 2011 as a special assistant to then-GM Jay Feaster.

Naming a new coach will be Conroy's first order of business to steady a team that's had its share of organizational drama recently.

Darryl Sutter was fired May 1, less than two weeks after the Flames announced Treliving had left.

Conroy's hire will be Calgary's fifth coaching change in eight years.

"We want to get going sooner than later, but we want to get the right person," Conroy said. "We need to work together, we need to be a team. We're not head coach and management. We're a team, we're in this together, we're not going to be at odds. 

"I want someone that is a leader. You want someone to have that passion and be a visionary and bring that to the team. It doesn't have to be an experienced head coach. It could be someone with limited experience as a head coach.

"He's got to be able to communicate. He's got to be able to make this environment a fun place to be."

Treliving turned down a contract extension from the Flames last year.

He'd pulled off a pair of blockbuster moves in signing free agent Nazem Kadri and getting winger Jonathan Huberdeau and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar in a trade with the Florida Panthers.

Treliving made those moves because star winger Johnny Gaudreau chose to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Matthew Tkachuk, who was a restricted free agent at the time, indicated he wanted out of Calgary.

"Johnny leaving . . . it was a learning thing for me," Conroy said. "I was hoping Johnny was going to come back, I thought Johnny was going to come back, but I don't think I would let that happen again.

"You just lost an asset, one of your best players of all time and you didn't get anything for him, that was a real eye-opener for me."

Neither Kadri nor Huberdeau, with a combined 15 years and US$133 million in contracts between them, meshed well with Sutter, and their production was well below their career highs.

"I completely lost my swagger this year," Huberdeau said at the end of the season.

The Flames missed the playoffs by two points after reaching the second round in 2022.

"Did we underachieve last year? Yeah, that starts right at the top with us, all the way down, coaching staff and the players," Conroy said.

"Did I think we were a playoff team last year? One hundred per cent. I was shocked that we didn't make it. It's unacceptable."

Conroy will soon turn his attention to the NHL draft June 28-29 in Nashville, Tenn., where the Flames have the 16th pick in the first round.

Meanwhile, five Flames are headed for unrestricted free agency this summer: forwards Nick Ritchie, Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis and defencemen Michael Stone and Troy Stecher. 

A big task on the horizon for Calgary's first-time GM is eight key players with a year remaining on their contracts, and seven of them scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2024.

That group includes forwards Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli and Dillon Dube and defencemen Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov and Oliver Kylington. 

"We can't go into a season with seven UFAs," Conroy said. "It doesn't make sense. We've got to make sure we do it right for the Calgary Flames."

The Flames, the city, the Calgary Stampede and the provincial government agreeing to a $1.2-billion arena project can help attract players to and retain players in Calgary, Conroy said.

"I do think that'll carry over into when we're talking to college free agents, free agents, just to get people here," Conroy said.

Among Tuesday's managerial shuffle, Calgary's assistant general managers Brad Pascall and Chris Snow were given additional titles. 

Pascall, who was a finalist for the GM's job, is now also vice-president of hockey operations. Snow is vice-president of data and analytics. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press