The culture of the Calgary Flames is broken – it’s time to rebuild

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 29: Craig Conroy of the Calgary Flames attends the 2023 NHL Draft at the Bridgestone Arena on June 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 29: Craig Conroy of the Calgary Flames attends the 2023 NHL Draft at the Bridgestone Arena on June 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Culture runs through an organization – it’s the blood in the veins. No single person is responsible for it, but everyone contributes to it and when it’s positive, everyone benefits from it. It’s top-down. It’s bottom-up. When it comes to winning in the NHL, culture is a necessary ingredient – it defines identity, values, direction, and purpose.

In the case of the the Calgary Flames, the organizational culture is abhorrent and as a result, the team is not in a position to come even close to contending for a Stanley Cup, the on-ice product has no identity, and it’s clear the front office under general manager Craig Conroy is is struggling with values, direction, and purpose.

Poor culture within the Flames organization is the reason star players, like Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, have chosen “greener” pastures. It’s why newcomers have seen their games fall of cliffs and fans are always searching for a scapegoat rather than an unsung hero. Blatantly, it’s the cause for perpetual mediocrity in Calgary.

Regardless of who the general manager, head coach, leadership group, or first line is, there’s poison in the well in Calgary. Sure, Tyler Toffoli has 10 points in eight games with the Devils and Sean Monahan has seven points in the same number of games as a Hab, but it’s too easy to point at those players and say, “Hey, the Flames should have kept those guys!”

The truth is that neither of those players would be performing as well if they were still in Calgary and that Elias Lindholm, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, and any other skater on the Flames’ roster would be performing much better if they were members of most other teams in the league.

A players-only meeting, a monumental trade, a new head coach, or whatever stop-gap solution you can think of won’t fix culture. There is no overnight fix.

The only culture solutions in a professional hockey club are to win so many games that the “ick” is flushed from the system, change ownership, and/or rebuild completely. For the Flames, an unprecedented winning streak isn’t about to happen this season and as awesome as it would be, N. Murray Edwards and his Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation co-owners aren’t going to sell the team.

The only option left on the table is to scrap the mentality that making the playoffs in a wild card spot (or just missing the playoffs) every year is a good thing. John Bean, Don Maloney, and Craig Conroy need to throw every conception they have about their hockey club into the trash and create a five-year plan to build a competitive hockey team.

A new arena is coming to Calgary, Jarome Iginla is back in the organization, the salary cap is about to rise, and the Flames are bad enough this season to justify a new direction.

If it starts with selling assets, the Flames could still accidentally make the playoffs this season, but have better picks and prospects in their back pocket. If they refuse to hammer the reset button along with the adoption of a five-year plan, they’re simply going to delay the inevitable with less money and worse assets in the short and long-term future.

It’s not about tanking this season for an outside shot at drafting Celebrini, grabbing a handful of extra picks or prospects at the deadline, or putting guys from the Wranglers in the lineup. It’s about establishing exactly what the Calgary Flames aspire to be in five years and developing a thorough roadmap of how to get there. The Flames have to put an honest effort into long-term culture in order to execute as a growing business, not a year-over-year revenue stream.

While I’m not convinced that even a thorough rebuild can solve the culture issues in the Calgary Flames organization, it’s the only option on the table. Five-year plan. Rebuild. Let the market dictate when to start moving pieces and don’t assume five or six wins in the next ten games leading up to American Thanksgiving means everything is okay with the Flames in Calgary.

Conroy would begin a much-needed rebuild with strong support from the C of Red. Based on data collected through our Calgary Flames Fan Survey, over 93 percent of Flames fans would support a rebuild beginning this season.

Reference the rebuilding of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings under Steve Yzerman’s stewardship to understand just how much time and patience a proper rebuild can take. Reference the Boston Bruins to see how strong organizational culture can manifest in an NHL club.

If Edwards really is opposed to a proper rebuild for fear of revenue impacts, it’s time for him to wake up and realize how much money he could be making in five years with a new building and a Stanley Cup contender compared to an infected club void of direction. Perhaps the continuance of empty seats in the Saddledome or the embarrassment I hope Edwards feels after having attended the Heritage Classic in Edmonton yesterday will ring the alarm for ownership.

Calgary Flames Fan Survey: Submit your responses now!. dark. Next