Newly installed senior VP of hockey operations to ‘assist’ new GM Craig Conroy in Canadian market matters
Dave Nonis has seen plenty in his tours of duty — two of them — as general manager for NHL clubs in Canada.
So he’s bringing fresh eyes to the Calgary Flames after being introduced Tuesday as the team’s assistant GM and senior vice-president of hockey operations.
And the first thing he sees is potential, even if Canadian cities are not the preferred destination on the puck map for most players.
“I think that this is a great hockey market,” said Nonis, during the news conference headlined by the appointment of Craig Conroy to the GM chair. “It’s got a rich history. Once we start to do some of the things we need to do, then I think we will be able to attract free agents.
“Are all players going to want to play in Canada? No,” continued Nonis. “But I think there’s enough quality players we can develop on our own. Once we start having the production we know we’ll have, then we’ll be able to get people to stay here.”
Nonis has met those hurdles before as GM of both the Vancouver Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs in his illustrious 30-year career.
After serving for six years as the Canucks’ senior VP and director of hockey operations, he had a four-year term as the team’s GM, ending in 2008.
By the following Christmas, after a short time as senior advisor of hockey operations with the Anaheim Ducks, Nonis joined the Maple Leafs in that same role and eventually became the GM in Toronto for two-plus seasons from 2013-15.
So he knows well the GM/hockey operations side of the business, especially north of the border.
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“Being a general manager in two Canadian hockey markets is certainly important and helpful,” said Don Maloney, Flames president of hockey operations. “Dave has experience in every area of the business. He’s an experienced contract negotiator. He’s had relationships with players through his knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement. He understands the importance of cap management.
“He will be involved in every area of the hockey operations.”
That will be a help to Conroy, whose focus hasn’t been in money matters, as will the experience of both Maloney himself and assistant GM Chris Snow in that regard. Brad Pascall, also an assistant GM as well as VP of hockey operations, rounds out an executive which Maloney says will “assist” the newly installed GM.
But it’s Nonis who is the new guy bringing fresh plans, and a lot of what the 56-year-old B.C. native learned came while working alongside savvy puck guru Brian Burke.
During all three of his early-career stops — with the Canucks, the Ducks and the Leafs — Burke was part of the landscape, with Nonis actually replacing him as GM in both Vancouver and Toronto.
“Dave’s worked with Brian Burke for a long time, and I’ve heard how highly he’s thought of,” Conroy said. “And a lot of his strengths in our short time talking are some of my weaknesses. He’s going to be a great sounding board.”
The early returns say the two are already on the same page.
“We’ve had just very short conversations,” Nonis said. “But I can tell you it went great — we think pretty much the same way about a lot of issues. Some of those issues will relate to how to deal with the Canadian market, and there’s certain things that are different in a Canadian market and how you have to deal with people and the fans and the media. I think it’s obviously going to go very well.
“Winning attracts people,” continued Nonis. “And I think that’s the thing we have to focus on. And to start to win, it’s like Craig is talking about — maybe by turning the roster over a little bit to younger players by drafting and developing them, and now you have a different group of players becoming the heartbeat of your organization. Then you start to win some hockey games and get a new building. I believe we can attract free agents here.”
From 2015-22, Nonis was back with the Ducks, working as a special assignment scout, a consultant to the GM and — eventually — assistant GM.
“Just listening to Craig talk, I don’t think he needs much in terms of instruction on how to how to deal with the Canadian market,” Nonis said. “I think he’s probably pretty well dialled in on it.
“But being a GM in a Canadian market has its challenges,” added Nonis. “There’s some difficulties when things aren’t going great. And Don actually asked during the interview process, and (Flames president & CEO) John (Bean), as well, ‘Why would you want to come back and do this again in a Canadian market?’ It is something if you can do it and get through it and can handle that, it’s a special place to be.”
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