Olympic Flames While Calgary Flickers

Rob Ficuir - LetsGoKings.com

March 31, 2002

It was late in the game and the their team was down 3-2. Theoren Fleury carried the puck behind the net with a defenceman all over him. He slid the puck out to Joe Niewendyk who one timed a shot into the net. Joining the post goal celebration was defenceman Al MacInnis. When did this goal take place? Was it 1989 when the Calgary Flames (1st overall) made their run to their only Stanley Cup? No, it was 13 years later when these former Flames helped Canada tie Finland on their way to an Olympic Gold Medal.

As I watched that goal unfold I realized how great the Flames of that era were. Seven of the players from that 1989 team are still playing this year in the NHL. Four of them played in the Olympic tournament (Gary Suter for the USA). When you add in Brett Hull who played for the Flames the in 1988 that would be five former Flames still going strong.

How good were the 1989 Flames? They were first overall with 117 points. The 1989 season brought the Flames their second President's Trophy. Their point leader with 51 goals and 110 points was Joe Mullen (the first American born hockey player to score 500 goals) Doug Gilmour, who tied for second in team points with 85, has been a leader wherever he has been. This year the Montreal Canadiens are hoping his leadership will take them to the playoffs.

Since that playoff win in May 1989 the Calgary Flames have not won a playoff series. The last dozen years started with disappointing first round playoff exits and have deteriorated in six non-playoff years in a row.

Why have things gone so bad? A simple answer is money, or lack thereof. By the mid 1990's the stars that had led the Flames to the Stanley Cup were approaching unrestricted free agency. Since the Flames could not afford to pay out the multi-million dollar a year contracts they traded away the stars for prospects. (The Montreal Expos are on the verge of extinction because of this practice). Draft choices and prospects do not make up for bonifide stars.

However money is not the whole problem. The team began to unravel a year after they won the 1989 Stanley Cup. The 1990 Flames were also very good. They finished second overall in the league with 99 points. Somehow Wayne Gretzky and his LA Kings upset the Flames in the first round. The Flames panicked and fired head coach Terry Crisp and traded away forward Joey Mullen (leading scorer in 1989) and defenseman Brad McCrimmon. Mullen went on to score 30 goals three more times in his NHL career. Who did the Flames get for their star? They got a second round draft pick that turned out to be Nicolas Perreault. That trade is Perreault's only NHL claim to fame. McCrimmon lead the Flames in +/- for several seasons. For him they got a second round pick named Dwight Harlock. Harlock is about as famous as Nocolas Perreault.

The firings of 1990 did not in itself destroy the Flames. They still had a solid nucleus. However each year when things didn't go right they made one poor trade after another. I remember how excited the Flames were to get rid of that troublesome Doug Gilmour for that rising star Gary Leeman. History will record this as the Flames worst trade ever. Gilmour went on to score 131 goals in his six years as a Maple Leaf. Leeman scored nine goals in his two years as a Flame.

For the sixth year in a row Flames fans have been told this rebuilding team will be better next year. (But please keep paying big bucks for tickets while our rebuilding program goes into Year 7)

The dismantling of the Stanley Cup Flames took several years. The rebuilding of a real playoff team will take that long, especially on a Canadian budget. Jarome Iginla could be the first Flame to ever win the MVP, Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophy - he was acquired by the Flames in 1995 for Joe Nieuwendyk. Finally they got something for one of their stars. This season the Flames finally have a legitimate number one goalie in Roman Turek (though his play did drop dramatically after signing his big contract extension.)

Many of the small market NHL teams look forward to the 2004 collective bargaining negotiations. If the money in the league were more evenly divided things would be better. However nothing will make up for a few good trades (and nothing will hurt more than more one-sided flops)

Rob Ficuir's is a frequent writer for LetsGoKings.com