Craig Conroy's distinguished 1,009-game NHL career almost certainly came to an end Wednesday morning when the Calgary Flames' centre cleared waivers and was given a choice between two comparatively unappetizing options: Either report to the team's AHL affiliate in Abbotsford to work with the organization's young players for the duration of his one-year, $500,000 contract; or retire.
The team has given Conroy until the end of this weekend's all-star break to ponder his options but he could make his decision as early as Thursday.
Conroy met with interim general manager Jay Feaster and team president Ken King late this morning to review his future, but left the building without talking to reporters. His teammates, including Jarome Iginla, were equally tight-lipped about his future, wanting to let the popular and garrulous Conroy speak for himself. However, they all stressed what a wonderful teammate and friend he was and that these were difficult times for him.
Feaster called it "a tough day" and noted that when he was running the Tampa Bay Lightning, he needed to make a similar tough call about Dave Andreychuk's future, not long after Andreychuk captained the team to the Stanley Cup.
Essentially, Feaster said that Conroy went on waivers because the team needed the roster spot. Soon after the all-star break, they expect to activate defenceman Steve Staois from injured reserve. Moreover, they want to give a handful of their younger forwards from Abbotsford cameos in the final third of the season to give them a taste of NHL life and reward them for their work and development this season.
Feaster contacted teams around the league to see if there was any interest in Conroy's services, but found no takers for what would have been minimal dollars (a little over $200,000 for the rest of the season).
Conroy, a former middle-round Montreal Canadiens' draft choice, forged a successful 15-year NHL career that included 182 goals and 542 points. He was a two-time finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded the NHL's top defensive player. He was also considered a moderating voice in the team's dressing room, lightening the mood during the darkest days of the Flames' struggles this season.
If Conroy retires, he will have no shortage of post-career opportunities. James Duthie, the TSN host, has long joked he would be a member of future TSN panels. It is also thought Conroy could land a place as a team ambassador as the Flames revamp their front office following Darryl Sutter's resignation.