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Conroy may lose 'familiar Flame' status

TIMES SPORTSWRITER
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Craig Conroy is on the phone when someone knocks on the door of his home in Calgary, Alberta.


He puts the caller on hold to answer questions from a Canadian census worker. After several minutes, the woman taking the census finally says, "Why do you look familiar?"


Conroy, a Potsdam native and former Clarkson All-American, explains that he plays for the NHL's Calgary Flames.


But, technically, Conroy does not play for the Flames. His contract expired at the end of the regular season, and he's not sure if he'll be returning to a franchise that he's called home for six full seasons and parts of two others.


Conroy, who turns 39 on Sept. 4, is coming off an injury-plagued regular season and had the least productive season in his NHL career, registering just three goals and 12 assists in 63 games.


"I had a bad year," Conroy said. "It wasn't a great year. I'm going to try to catch on, hopefully with Calgary. If not, then with somebody and kind of go from there."


Conroy made $1 million last year and it's likely if he returns to the Flames he'll have to take a pay cut, given the NHL's current salary-cap restrictions.


"That's the reality of sports," Conroy said. "They are probably going to try to sign the younger guys first. They are under a tight cap here. I don't know what their plans are. I'll have to wait and see. You live with what you've done. I had a lot of injuries this year and it didn't work out the way I'd have liked. Hopefully, I get back to 30 or 35 points."


Conroy estimates that he won't know much about his future until at least July 1, when free-agent signings begin. He does know that he's developed a bond with the fans of Calgary, and is well-known in the town, as the encounter with the census worker indicates.


"The people have been great," Conroy said. "That's a big thing. Every place I've played has been good. I enjoy the city. It's not a huge city, it's a small city. The owners are first-class here. I've been here the longest (of any team). You feel more comfortable, probably, because of the time."


After graduating from Clarkson in 1994, Conroy began his career with a few brief call-ups by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons. He was then traded to the St. Louis Blues where he first emerged as a solid NHL player and stayed with that organization until he was traded to Calgary during the 2000-01 season.


After helping lead the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, Conroy signed with the Los Angeles Kings and played there a year-and-a-half before he was traded back to the Flames. He's played in 991 NHL games and has 180 career goals and 360 career assists.


Conroy was asked if he'd take a minor-league deal if a team wanted him to prove himself before a call-up and said, "My goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If I wasn't going to be a part of it and have a chance, it would be time to say it was a great career and be happy with the way things went for me.


"I feel like I have a lot to give still. I'm just frustrated with one injury after another right from training camp on. I couldn't get healthy this year. It's never been like that before in my career."


Age has started to affect Conroy, whose last big scoring season came in his first year with the Kings in 2005-06 when he provided 22 goals and 44 assists in 78 games.


"It seems like little nagging things that go away in a couple of days linger a little bit longer," Conroy said. "It takes you a little longer to warm up. You have to make sure you really do all your stuff. It's what you eat, how you take care of yourself. You have to work hard to keep yourself there. You are going against 20-year-olds who are young and fresh and ready to go."


Conroy has plans to find some way to stay involved in the game for when his playing career does end. He just isn't sure which avenue he'll take.


"I definitely want to stay in hockey," Conroy said. "Hockey's been so good to me. I think I love the whole radio/TV, all the media-type stuff. I don't know if I would be coaching right away, but I'd like to see how they run a team, learn from the ground up, how they make trades, how they draft. I'd love to get a job with a team, maybe, and if it's with the media, that would be great, too."

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