Missing ingredient

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Darryl Sutter figured something was missing.

So he went out and picked up a little bit of everything yesterday.

In one fell swoop, the Flames GM rid his club of its worst forward while adding depth, experience and increased versatility to a team that will need all of the above if it's to extend its season into the spring.

At a cost of Jamie Lundmark and two draft picks (fourth round this year, second round next), Sutter brought back Craig Conroy who, at the very least, will go down in club lore as the most heralded five-goal scorer ever acquired by the Flames.

And rightly so.

Despite scoring once in his last 21 games, Conroy's career was all at once resurrected yesterday when he was brought back to give the Flames what few others could -- unlimited options.

No, the 35-year-old American won't supplant Daymond Langkow from the top line he used to anchor, he won't wear the captain's C again or post a point a game like he did in 2001. (He won't even get his old stall or No. 22 back -- he'll wear Lundmark's 24).

Jury's out on whether he'll even be able to bump Matthew Lombardi from the second line.

What he will be able to do is fill in for any of the aforementioned, if need be, as well as provide the club with the type of stellar third- or fourth-line checking assignments that earned him a pair of Selke Trophy nominations years ago.

Make no mistake, he'll see plenty of time playing alongside the team's top guns on a Jim Playfair squad that loves to mix lines.

However, he will likely spend his time roaming between the second and third units, taking crucial faceoffs and showcasing the type of defence that got his Flames to the 2004 final while providing leadership that made him one of most popular players in town from 2001 to 2004.

Whatever is asked of him, Sutter knows Conroy can and will do it.

On a team that has a two-year window to challenge for the Stanley Cup before salary-cap issues will see the core dismantled, this move inches the club closer to having the sort of depth needed to challenge Western Conference juggernauts Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville.

Although many wonder how Conroy's US$2.4 million salary will fit in next season, the cost this year is $950,000. Subtract the $250,000 savings from Lundmark's departure and the Flames are still more than $2 million under the $44-million salary cap.

Now there's little doubt Sutter is working hard to add to his history of acquiring impact role players before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Well known as Jarome Iginla's best friend and trusty centre, insiders suggest the captain pushed hard for Conroy's return -- a development made possible by the rise of rookie Anze Kopitar and the Kings' fall in the standings.

Citing the trade as "a great day in my life," few doubt the move will rejuvenate Conroy as he returns to a city he wouldn't have left had the Flames been willing to give him a four-year deal in 2004. It also could push Lombardi to even greater heights (or to the wing) as he's the one being issued the biggest challenge in all of this.

In a nutshell, that's what Conroy's return should do -- make everyone around him better. Few players available could do that, making the move a steal.


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