By D'Arcy McGrath
The Calgary Flames won't be sending in players to the all-star game this year in Denver, but the organization has a rich history of representation a the big game. Calgarypuck takes a look back at Flames All-Star History.
When the NHL all-stars hit the ice today for the skills competition or tomorrow for the game itself, Flame's fans, look as they might, will not see any uniforms indigenous to this city.
The NHL adopted a new policy this year, aimed at putting "the best" in the game, and not keeping to the "at least one player from each city" policy that the league has applied since the advent of the modern all-star game.
The gain in this new direction should be the fact that more merit is applied when selecting rosters. Players with great seasons aren't being looked over for the best player on a struggling team. Never before has this change been needed more with two fresh expansion teams in the league, another one year removed, and yet another just three years removed.
The downside is that hockey fans in cities like Calgary and Montreal don't have a local player to keep their eye on during the two day event in Colorado, though with Montreal's injury woes that might be a blessing in disguise.
Flames at the All-Star Game
This wasn't always the case for the Flames though.
Unlike the past of some other organizations there isn't a single season in the Flames history in Calgary where a player went to the game as a charity case, most season's the Flames were a top club, and when they faltered they still had a bright light to represent the city.
The first all star representative by the Calgary Flames was the Magic Man, Kent Nilsson, who who went to the all-star game in 1981 in a season where he would set a regular season points record for the Flames at 131. The record still stands.
Strangely enough, that was the only all-star appearance for the talented Swedish forward.
In 1985 the Flames sent two players to the all-star game for the first time as Paul Reinhart and Al MacInnis both made the trek.
In 1986 the Flames were represented by rookie Gary Suter in the game. At the end of the season Suter went on to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, as well as win a birth on the all-rookie team.
The all-star game was dropped in favour of Rendezvous in 1987 when a team of NHL all-stars battled the Soviets in Quebec City. The following season in 1988 began a run by the Flames where they were very well represented at the game.
From 1988 to 1994 the Flames were represented by at least two players, a run of seven years. In 1988 they had five players on the Campbell's roster, followed by three straight seasons where four Flames participated in the game.
During the seven golden years, current Flames' goaltender Mike Vernon was deemed worthy of all-star company five times, including a run of four in a row.
After the NHL Lock Out canceled the all-star game in 1995 the Flames entered the lean years where the success of the team on the ice waned.
Theoren Fleury represented the team four straight years starting in 1996, a string that was broken not by poor play, but a trade to the Avalance in February of 1999.
It's ironic that last season had the Flames send two players to the 2000 all-star game a sign of the team possibly turning the corner only to get shut out this season.
Through the twenty years in Calgary, clearly a few players have managed to represent the team more than once. Al MacInnis represented the Flames six times, Theoren Fleury six times, Mike Vernon five times, Joe Niewendyk four times, and Gary Suter four times.
With 30 NHL franchises there just isn't the space needed to put every player having a good season in the all-star game, tough decisions have to be made.
There are a few examples of notable North American players being left off of the roster this season including Mike Modano from Dallas. The absence of players of Modano's ilk have created a suggestion to drop the North America vs. The World format the league is currently using. While the World team is filled with a roster of talented players, the depth doesn't run as deep as the North American squad.
Regardless of which format the league chooses for all-star games in the coming seasons, fans should embrace the merit system now in place this season.
Though each organization may have lean years like the Flames in 2001, but when an emerging team turns the corner the all-star game will be yet another barometer, or coming out party to add to the excitement of a team's success.
Although the choices will be subjective at times, the game will truly be played by the best, the purpose for the game in the first place.