CALGARY – Craig Conroy felt abashed Thursday when he saw the circle of television cameras and lights around him.
The 39-year-old Calgary Flames winger thought it was too much attention for what he was about to say, which was he’s leaning towards retirement, but will make a decision over the NHL’s all-star weekend.
“I feel overwhelmed right now,” Conroy said as the camera shutters clicked around him.
It’s a measure of how much Conroy is liked, not just by Flames fans, but the media as well. Even the possibility he would announce his retirement brought reporters and cameras out in full force.
Conroy, who played his 1,000th NHL game in a Flames uniform in October, was put on waivers this week by the Flames and cleared them Wednesday.
He has the option of reporting to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, or taking his articulate and charismatic personality into the broadcast booth where he seems destined to go. A position in the Flames organization isn’t out of the question, either.
“Would it kill me to go to the minors and do it? Is my heart in that? Could I help them there?” Conroy wondered aloud. “Those are the kind of questions I ask myself.
“The overwhelming support that I’ve got, that’s what makes me emotional. The city, the people . . . and it hasn’t been just the last few days, it’s been all year.”
Flames president Ken King and acting general manager Jay Feaster urged Conroy to take the time afforded him by the all-star break to think about what he’d like to do. Conroy intended to take his family to nearby Banff for a short holiday and make public his decision next week.
“I’ll be honest. I’m leaning towards retirement,” Conroy said. “That’s where I’m headed.”
Conroy has been a healthy scratch for 28 of Calgary’s last 29 games. The last time he was in the lineup was Dec. 20 versus Minnesota.
The Potsdam, N.Y., native came to Calgary’s training camp last fall with no guarantees he’d make the lineup, but injuries to several Flames forwards created room for the veteran and he signed a two-way contract for the league minimum of US$500,000.
He received the silver stick that goes to players who achieve 1,000 NHL career games on Oct. 28. The injured forwards began trickling back into the lineup and Conroy played just nine more games after that. He has two goals in 18 games this season.
Feaster wants to reward young Abbotsford players who have performed well with the occasional call-up, so there is little chance of Conroy getting back into the lineup.
“You know what? I wasn’t going to get to play,” Conroy said. “That’s the reality of pro sports. It’s always a little disappointing when you hear it, but they were very honest.”
Conroy was a sixth-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1990. He appeared in just 13 games for the Habs, but played another 15 seasons in the NHL for St. Louis, Los Angeles and twice for Calgary. The six-foot-two, 193-pound forward was a member of the U.S. Olympic team in 2006.
In 1,009 career games, Conroy has 182 goals and 360 assists. He gained the love of Flames Nation during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final of 2004, in which he had 17 points in 26 games.
Conroy was welcomed back with open arms when the Kings traded him to Calgary in 2007. He’s been a favourite with the media because of his ready smile and willingness to talk about any subject, which took media pressure off his friend and team captain Jarome Iginla.
“I’ve talked to Jarome the last few days, talked to most of the guys actually so that’s the hardest part when you’re talking to them,” Conroy said. “They are your buddies and you’re not going to be in that locker room with them any more, so that’s a little difficult.”