Craig Conroy has been the general manager of the Calgary Flames for over a week now, and rumours are swirling about who the next head coach of the team will be. Andrew Brunette, a top candidate for the job, signed on with the Nashville Predators yesterday, so Conroy has his work cut out for him. This is going to be a massive offseason for the team; Conroy has promised to do things a very different way than Brad Treliving, but the work starts now.
Here’s what Conroy has on the docket this offseason, his to-do list for his first year as GM.
Bring on new coaching staff
With Brunette off the board, all signs point to the Flames picking between a small pool of players, both internally and externally. Right now, it’s believed that the top external candidates are recently veteran coaches Gerard Gallant and Peter Laviolette, and former Flames Marc Savard and Alex Tanguay.
Conroy has said he’s looking for a head coach that will promote offensive creativity, ensure a fun environment for the players and make it enjoyable to come to the rink everyday, and someone to work together with.
It seems like an internal candidate would make sense considering how strong Huska and Love are, their intimate knowledge of the team both at the NHL and AHL level, and the price tag. The Flames will be paying Darryl Sutter $4.2M next season to not coach them, it would be a financially prudent decision to promote from within especially with such good internal candidates to pick from.
This is at the top of Conroy’s list.
His first NHL Draft as GM
One area that Treliving was quite good at in the first half of his tenure as GM was the draft. Conroy has talked about his mentality heading into the draft as being similar as Treliving’s: take the best player available. Conroy has also said that it is paramount for the Flames to build through the draft.
He specifically pointed out how the Tampa Bay Lightning were built through the draft, in all rounds, and how important it was to get every pick right. You need to get core pieces through the draft, and this will be front of mind for both him and his scouting team.
The Flames currently hold five picks in the 2023 draft, one each in the first, second, fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. They’ll draft 16th, 48th, 112th, 176th, and 208th.
The 2023 NHL draft will be held in Nashville on June 28 and 29.
Tending to free agency
Immediately following the draft is free agency, which starts on July 1 (it’s also Jarome Iginla‘s birthday). This marks the date when the Flames will see five roster players enter unrestricted free agency with the option to sign with any team they want. These players are: Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, Nick Ritchie, Troy Stecher, and Michael Stone.
Conroy has said at several points that he doesn’t support signing veteran players too early in the offseason just to fill in the roster. Instead, he wants to leave spots open for younger players to prove themselves in the organization. That is a clear sign that we should not expect the Flames to bring back any of Lucic, Lewis, Ritchie, or Stone.
The most probable player to return is Stecher after a very solid stretch run for the Flames after he was traded by the Arizona Coyotes. Stecher’s skillset is not something the Flames have on their blueline other than in Oliver Kylington, who missed the 2022–23 season. Stecher could be the perfect 6/7 defender for the team.
Trade or sign pending UFAs
July 1 also marks the date that pending UFAs are able to sign contract extensions with the team as their contracts enter their final years. As has been widely discussed this offseason, the Flames have seven NHLers who will be pending UFAs next season, plus another two AHLers on NHL deals. These players are: Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Kevin Rooney, Nick DeSimone, and Kylington.
We believe that Kylington will get an exemption on his contract for last season, and will actually enter the 2023–24 with two years left on his deal. Outside of that, there are some massive decisions to be made.
Conroy has said many times that he wants players on the Flames who want to be Flames. If there is any sense of noncommittal from pending UFAs, Conroy has indicated that he will find them new homes. Top of the list is Lindholm who is the team’s current number one centre and has expressed mixed feelings on signing in Calgary long-term. Conroy needs to figure out what the plan is with Lindholm ASAP. He has also said he will not enter the season with seven pending UFAs, so expect some trades or extensions to happen early in the offseason.
The Flames also have a long list of pending RFAs which includes two guaranteed roster players and two more that will be pushing. The list is: Dillon Dube, Adam Ruzicka, Jakob Pelletier, Cole Schwindt, Adam Klapka, Yan Kuznetsov, Ilya Solovyov, and Dustin Wolf.
The Flames aren’t on the clock as they will retain the rights to all of these players once the 2023–24 season ends, but it would not be surprising for Conroy to make a statement by extending some of the future mainstays of the team.
Assessing Calgary’s top minor leaguers
While Darryl Sutter refused to play the kids, the Flames have a few top AHLers that need contracts as well. At the front of the list is Calgary Wrangler’s leading scorer Matthew Phillips, who will be a Group 6 UFA this offseason. He’ll get a chance to sign wherever he wants once July 1 hits, and if the Flames want to retain the hometown star they will likely need to do so before the end of June.
Conroy and Phillips have spoken and so far there is no news to report on whether he will be returning to the Flames next season. With a GM and hopefully a coach who will give Phillips a real shot at the NHL, it would be tough to see him leave and play for another team. Conroy no doubt wants one more season to see what Phillips can do as a member of the big club.
Nick Meloche is also a G6 UFA, however he played exclusively with the Wranglers last season and doesn’t offer a ton of NHL upside. It would not be surprising to see him walk.
None of these players will move the needle for the NHL team, but could all return to help the Wranglers and increase organizational depth.
Naming the next Flames captain
One of the hottest topics is that of the Flames captaincy. Conroy has said that the team will enter next season with a captain after skating without one for the past two seasons. There are several players who are legitimate candidates.
Backlund and Lindholm could wear the “C” depending on their contract status. If Backlund is re-signed, it has been widely reported that he would love to be the captain and that his teammates would support his leadership as well. Lindholm is another solid candidate, but his contract status is also up in the air.
For those who are already signed for multiple seasons, Rasmus Andersson appears to be the frontrunner. However, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and Blake Coleman could also be in the running. A dark horse candidate might even be MacKenzie Weegar.
This is going to be a huge decision. Being the captain of an NHL team, especially in a Canadian market, and even more so with a brand new head coach and GM, is a massive role. The team needs to get this right.
Other roster changes
A few other roster decisions will also need to be made. Conroy has said he wants to leave room for younger players, but how he goes about doing that remains to be seen. Will he orchestrate trades to open roster spots and recoup assets? He has said that Wolf is ready for the NHL and that he will “see if teams want a goalie”. Could this mean a Dan Vladar trade is in the works?
A busy start to the new job
We know the major pieces of the Flames will be here next season, but outside of that the roster could look very different. Let’s see what Conroy does in the coming weeks and months to put his fingerprints on this team.