The Flames hockey team was acutally born thousands of miles from Calgary. In 1972 a Georgia based group headed by Tom Cousins brought hockey to the South, with the Atlanta Flames. The team selected Bill Putnam as the president and hired Cliff Fletcher to run the hockey operations as general manager. The Flames began play in an NHL that was facing stiff competition from the World Hockey Association (WHA), which was making inroads within the United States. The Flames put forth competitive clubs, missing the playoffs only twice in their first eight NHL campaigns. In 1980 the team was sold for $16 million to Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania and his Calgary based partners. And so the Flames moved north to the oil patch, playing out of the Corral in Calgary.
Their second season in Calgary saw the Flames move from the Patrick to the Smythe divison, setting the building blocks for future geographic rivalries. With Cliff Fletcher still calling the shots, the Flames added to their core by trading for Lanny McDonald from the Colorado Rockies. The team fell below .500 that year and lost to the surging Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. The rebuilding process got the official get go with the hiring of Bob Johnson as coach. The Flames turned around their season making a dent into the playoffs by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, before losing to their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers. All the while, Cliff Fletcher was adding pieces to a championship team by adding the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk, Al MacInnis, Joel Otto, Dough Risebrough, and Mike Vernon. In the fall of 1983, the Flames moved into their new home, the Olympic Saddledome. That year the Flames took the Edmonton Oilers to a seven game series in the Smythe division final before bowing out. The following season saw Calgary chalk up 94 points in the regular season, but postseason disappointments followed as they lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. But the surging team would soon get over this hump. In 1986 the Flames entered the playoff run with a Calder trophy winner (Gary Suter) anchoring their blueline with MacInnis. They finally got the Edmonton Oiler monkey off their back, defeating their bitter rivals in a tough seven game series. But they faced off against a Montreal Canadiens team with a hot goalie, Patrick Roy. The Canadiens made quick work of the Flames, defeating them in five games to win the Stanley Cup.
Bob Johnson left Calgary in 1987 to coach US amateur hockey program and was replaced by Terry Crisp. The Flames won the Presidents trophy with the most regular season points in 1987, but the next two years belonged to their fellow Albertans in Edmonton. The Oilers would win two straight Stanley Cups and the Flames would have to bide their time. Cliff Fletcher traded for Doug Gilmour in 1988-89 and Theo Fleury cracked the Flames lineup. They went through Vancouver, Los Angeles and Chicago to face the legendary Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. The Habs had defeated the Flames in the 1986 finals, but this time around Lanny McDonald and his teammates had different plans. Lanny's famous handlebar mustache and decidedly western look were heavily marketed and became the essence of Flames' hockey. Lanny was at the end of a great hall of fame career, and he added to it by scoring the second goal in game six of the finals. Doug Gilmour would eventually net the game winner and and an empty netter to salt the win, as the Calgary Flames won their first ever Stanley Cup by defeating the Montreal Canadiens at the famed Forum.
Just as everything had come together for the Flames to win the cup, the fabric of the team was torn the very next year thanks to a player revolt that led to the departure of Terry Crisp. Doug Risebrough took over behind the bench but the Flames bowed out to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. After nineteen years at the helm Cliff Fletcher would also leave Calgary, eventually landing in Toronto and stealing Doug Gilmour in what most regard as a lop-sided trade. Even with solid performances by Gary Roberts and Sergei Makarov, the Flames missed the 1992 playoffs. The next year saw Dave King, the former Canadian national team coach bring his defensive minded system into Calgary. The Flames bounced back to finish second in the Smythe division but lost in the division semi-finals. They continued to play a solid brand of hockey and made three straight appearences to the Conference finals, but were unable to punch through. As most of the players from the Flames' championship team left, Calgary would find itself in the strange position of being a continually underperforming team. With rising salary costs and being a "small market Canadian team" the Flames begam to rebuild with young talent as they fininshed out of the playoffs.
Initially the Flames struggled to get many of their young players into the lineup. But a smart trade with Dallas landed Jerome Iginla into Calgary and he would form the core of the Flames squad. Even with the exciting play of Iginla, the Flames continue to have financial issues as the devalued Canadian dollar, increasing salaries, and not the most robust revenue streams meant that they had to run an extra tight ship. The Flames have not been able to replicate the success they enjoyed in much of their franchise history. A Stanley Cup seems even farther away.
Calgary Flames Overview:
Formerly known as: Atlanta Flames (1972-1980)
Arena: Pengrowth Saddledome
Stanley Cups won: 1 (1989)