GILBERTSON: Craig Conroy a logical choice to lead Flames as GM

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Craig Conroy wasn’t just the popular pick to be the next general manager of the Calgary Flames.

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He’s the logical choice, too.

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Conroy is already a fan favourite. He might be the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. And yet, with news that the former Flames captain and centre will soon calling the shots at the Saddledome, it is also important to remember this part …

The 51-year-old has put in the work, paid his dues. He’s earned a promotion. He’s been groomed for this role.

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TSN’s Darren Dreger was first to report that Conroy will be officially introduced as GM sometime this week. As soon as Dreger dropped that Sunday on social media, with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman later mentioning Tuesday as the likely target for an announcement, many in the C of Red were celebrating.

Conroy has been on the Flames’ payroll for 20-plus years already. He skated for parts of nine seasons in Calgary’s colours and didn’t take even a mini vacation after retiring, transitioning immediately to a front-office role. He’s been a fixture in the hockey operations department since February 2011, working for the past nine winters as assistant general manager.

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He was Jarome Iginla’s sidekick on the first line.

Later, he was Treliving’s right-hand man.

It’s now his turn in the spotlight. Iggy could, before long, be providing an assist.

Over the past few weeks, Flames president of hockey ops Don Maloney has conducted virtual interviews with dozens of potential candidates for the general manager gig. Marc Bergevin, Stan Bowman and Dave Nonis were reportedly among the short-listers to travel to Calgary for a second round of how-do-ya-dos and what-would-ya-dos. (Friedman wondered if Nonis could still be added to the staff in some capacity.)

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While those other gents boast more been-there and done-that as execs, Conroy has been considered all along as the should-be frontrunner for Treliving’s old job. Maloney ultimately determined that the best option was one of the in-house hopefuls.

As GM, Conroy will bring the same work ethic and competitive fire that helped him to log 1,000-and-some appearances as an NHL player and to score invites to represent the U.S. at both the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and 2006 Winter Olympics.

He’ll bring the same leadership that made him a captain in Calgary and prompted him to hand over the ‘C’ to Iginla when he believed his buddy was ready.

He’ll bring positivity, optimism and the same bubbly personality that led him to dial the post-game radio call-in show after a series victory during the Flames’ fairytale run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004.

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And he brings 12 years of front-office experience. That’s a dozen trade deadlines, a dozen drafts, a dozen free-agent frenzies. This isn’t handing the reins to a guy whose gear hasn’t even dried yet.

Calgary Flames alumnus Craig Conroy speaks during the team’s 40th season luncheon at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday, March 9, 2020.
Calgary Flames alumnus Craig Conroy speaks during the team’s 40th season luncheon at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday, March 9, 2020. Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Postmedia Network

It’s tough to judge the work of an assistant GM, since they don’t make the final decisions, but Conroy was considered a valuable part of Treliving’s inner circle and often dispatched on important scouting missions. He also helped build Team USA’s roster for this current edition of the IIHF World Hockey Championship — and that squad remains undefeated through six round-robin games — but cancelled his plans to travel to Finland for the tournament because of this important business back home.

While it’s understandable, after the 2022-23 Flames underwhelmed their way to a playoff miss, that some were pushing for an external hire, continuity and stability is a smart play. Especially now.

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Conroy knows the current personnel and undoubtedly has an opinion on why so many guys didn’t play up to their potential this past season. He’s respected in the locker room and his strong relationships could prove beneficial in trying to convince some of the key contributors — the likes of Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm — to sign contract extensions rather than testing unrestricted free agency next summer.

He knows the market, knows the fan-base.

And he knows Iggy, knows him well. Word is, Conroy will recruit the all-time franchise scoring leader to rejoin the organization.

Perhaps that announcement is also imminent.

Jarome Iginla, right, celebrates a goal with teammate Craig Conroy at the Saddeldome on Feb. 15, 2007
Jarome Iginla, right, celebrates a goal with teammate Craig Conroy at the Saddeldome on Feb. 15, 2007 Photo by Grant Black /Postmedia file

First, we wait on the official confirmation of Conroy’s promotion.

It’ll be a popular choice, but also a logical one.


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