Four interesting player personnel decisions facing Flames GM Craig Conroy

Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy discusses trying to change the culture in Calgary to make the Flames a more sought-after destination for players and the types of players that would love the city of Calgary.

Craig Conroy has been on the job as Flames General Manager for just two weeks and doesn’t have much time to get his feet wet.

Conroy has a huge coaching hire to figure out and the 2023 NHL Draft is three weeks away. He also has all kinds of player personnel decisions to make this summer, from seven key players entering the final year of contracts to a few who are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Here are four interesting decisions Conroy has on his plate over the next few months.

1. Elias Lindholm

Lindholm’s fate is the most important and pressing personnel decision Calgary needs to figure out. He’s one of the seven players set to hit unrestricted free agency in just over a year, he’s the team’s number one centre, and was strikingly non-committal at April’s locker clean-out day.

With one year remaining on his blue light special bargain deal that carries a $4.85 million AAV, Lindholm is in line for a sizeable raise. Bo Horvat’s eight-year deal at $8.5 million seems like a logical comparable for Lindholm, whether he remains with the Flames or is elsewhere.

“I do know where Elias was thinking prior, so now I want to see where he’s at,” Conroy said at his introductory news conference. “I really do want to see what his mindset is right now. I have a very good relationship (with him) and obviously he’s a priority here.”

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Lindholm’s wishy-washy future outlook in Calgary was believed to be tied to Darryl Sutter remaining as head coach, at least in part. Now that Sutter has been let go, there’s hope Lindholm might be more open to signing a long-term extension.

“For me, he’s a player you can build around,” Conroy added. “I look at him and think everything he does game in and game out, you know faceoffs, all those little plays. He’s a player that even as he kind of gets older, if he moves down a little in the lineup, he’s going to be still effective and help your team win.”

But if the Flames aren’t making meaningful progress on an extension with Lindholm, it feels like a summer trade is likely…as it should be. Knowing his age (28) and the player he’s developed into, letting Lindholm walk in free agency would be poor asset management and Conroy knows it.

As such, whether it’s a long-term extension or a blockbuster trade, Lindholm’s fate will likely be the first domino to fall.

2. Noah Hanifin

Hanifin’s situation isn’t all that different to Lindholm’s. Both players came from Carolina in the 2018 trade and both signed great value six-year deals that same summer. And now, much like Lindholm, 26-year-old Hanifin is just over a year away from UFA status.

The similarities don’t end there. Hanifin is two games away from 600 in the NHL and averaged a career-high 22:39 of ice time this past season. Like Lindholm, agreeing to a contract extension with Hanifin seems like the desirable option for Calgary. He’s a solid, still-young top four defenceman, which is something a team can’t really have enough of.

Hanifin sounded more optimistic than Lindholm when asked about continuing his time with the Flames but stopped short of giving an indication either way. That’s why the same logic needs to apply: if meaningful progress isn’t being made on an extension, Calgary needs to be okay with pivoting to a trade.

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3. Matthew Phillips

Flames fans have a sentimental spot for Phillips. A local product and sixth-round pick in 2016, Phillips has done nothing but produce since being drafted and has been one of the AHL’s highest scoring forwards over the past two seasons.

Frustratingly, though, Phillips appeared in just two NHL games this past season and was sparsely used. It was one of the flashpoints between Sutter and former general manager Brad Treliving and it’s something that’ll definitely play into Phillips’s decision.

Now 25 years old, Phillips will be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“It’s no secret there’s been some changes to the organization,” Phillips told Flames Talk recently. “I think we’ll just kind of wait and see how this unfolds here and what is to come.

“It’s a different situation for me being a free agent. I’ve always kind of had the next year made up for me since I’ve been drafted. You know where you’re going to play, and you know what to expect and such.

“I haven’t made a decision on anything. Just kind of let this process play out, it’s kind of new to me so we’ll see what happens.”

Listed at 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds, Phillips will always have a size disadvantage. But after putting up 31 goals and 76 points in 66 games with the AHL Calgary Wranglers, he’ll garner interest if he goes to free agency.

I’m curious to see if Conroy, the man instrumental in drafting Phillips seven years ago, can convince him to stick around.

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4. Dillon Dube

While not a pending or even soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, Dube is still eligible to negotiate an extension starting this summer. The 2016 second-round pick is under team control for at least three more years, but there’s a compelling case to be made for a long-term extension here.

It makes sense for the Flames. Coming off a career-best 45 points this past season, Dube is trending up and projects as a permanent top six forward as early as next season. Knowing how well Calgary’s calculated gamble on 2015 pick Rasmus Andersson has turned out, a similar approach with Dube makes a lot of sense.

Encouragingly, the belief is Dube has a desire to stay with the Flames long-term, which hasn’t always been the case of late.

So what would a fair contract look like over, say, six years?

Dube, who turns 25 in July, has flirted with 20 goals each of the past two seasons and projects for higher offensive totals going forward. By looking at players of comparable ages and point totals, Dube would be roughly in the $4.5 million range after this season.

Considering a six-year deal would buy four of Dube’s prime UFA years, and the premium that comes with that, an AAV in the $6 million ballpark feels reasonable for both sides.

Is that something Conroy and the Flames would be interested in pursuing?

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