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Conroy plans to prioritize youth, asset management as Flames GM

NHL Images / National Hockey League / Getty

Craig Conroy is aware that he has his work cut out for him as the new general manager of the Calgary Flames.

Several key Flames players are entering the final year of their contracts before they can become unrestricted free agents, including Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Backlund, Noah Hanifin, and Chris Tanev. Conroy needs some clarity before the start of the 2023-24 campaign.

"We can't go into a season with seven UFAs," Conroy said during his introductory press conference Tuesday. "It just doesn't make sense."

Conroy, who's been the Flames' assistant GM for the last nine seasons, said that Johnny Gaudreau's exit in free agency last summer taught him a valuable lesson.

"I was hoping Johnny was going to come back," Conroy said. "I thought Johnny was going to come back, but I don't think I would let that happen again."

He added: "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."

Extending all of his key upcoming free agents would be highly difficult, so Conroy isn't opposed to shaking the team up. One way he plans to do so is by injecting some youth.

"I think we're going to change the core a little bit," Conroy said. "Not the core pieces, but I think we're going to add some youth to the lineup."

He added: "It's easier to play veteran players, but we need to move forward. We have a salary cap. Young players definitely help the salary cap."

The Flames boasted a veteran-heavy roster last season under previous GM Brad Treliving. Head coach Darryl Sutter, who was fired in May, was particularly reluctant to count on his young players in feature roles. But that won't be the case under the next head coach, whom Conroy still has to hire.

Conroy said he intends to keep roster spots open for young players to earn in training camp instead of filling them up with veterans.

"There's going to be an opportunity next year - come to training camp and earn a spot," Conroy said. "Take a jersey."

AHL standouts Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, Matthew Phillips, Jeremie Poirier, Dustin Wolf, and 2021 No. 13 pick Matt Coronato will be among the many youngsters vying for NHL jobs next year.

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