Today on our second NHL Saturday miniseries, we take on the Calgary Flames, a team that started in Atlanta for the 1972-1973 season. After spending 8 seasons in the Deep South, the organization moved way north to Alberta and ended up winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. The Flames also made the Cup Finals in 1986 and 2004, so this is a tradition-rich franchise for the Canadian people. There is a distinct era of peak success represented below, however; see if you can spot it, eh? Enjoy …
No. 5: 1990-1991 Calgary Flames
Two years removed from their only Cup championship, these Flames were one of just five teams in the league to post at least 100 points in the regular season. Calgary finished second in the Smythe Division with a 46-26-8 record, but the Flames lost in the first round of the playoffs to the defending Cup champs from Edmonton as the postseason ended “early” for Calgary. This was disappointing for a team that scored the most goals in the league during the season and ended up No. 2 in the sabermetric rankings.
Five different players posted at least a point a game: right wing Theoren Fleury (51G, 53A in 79 games), defenseman Al MacInnis (28G, 75A, 78G), center Joe Nieuwendyk (45G, 40A, 79G), C Doug Gilmour (20G, 61A, 78G), and RW Sergei Makarov (30G, 49A, 78G). However, even though the Flames were sixth in goals allowed, the team gave up 3.23 scores per game to the opponents, and in the postseason, the goaltending did not improve. Hence, the early exit.
No. 4: 2021-2022 Calgary Flames
We have a very recent entry on this list, which is awesome! In a crazy season that saw 13 teams (!) post at least 100 points, this Calgary squad won the Pacific Division with 111 points, built upon a 50-21-11 record. It was only the third time in franchise history that the Flames won at least 50 games. With the sixth-best offense and the third-best defense, the team was poised for a deep Cup run, but after escaping the Dallas Stars in 7 games to open the postseason, Calgary lost to Edmonton in 5 games.
A dominant front line fueled the scoring: left wing Johnny Gaudreau (40G, 75A, 82G), RW Matthew Tkachuk (42G, 62A, 82G), and C Elias Lindholm (42G, 40A, 82G). Add goaltender Jacob Markstrom (37-15-9, 2.22 GAA, .922 S%, 9 SOs) to the mix, and this was a formidable roster to contend with in the postseason. Yet when the Flames won the first game of the series against the Oilers by a 9-6 score, everyone knew anything was possible in the matchup, and Calgary got the short end of it all.
No. 3: 1989-1990 Calgary Flames
As the defending Cup champs, expectations were high for this Flames roster. But the team finished with just 99 points based on a 42-23-15 record, and the result was a first-round postseason elimination at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in six games. Sure, the Kings had someone named Wayne Gretzky on their roster, but … still. Calgary had led the NHL in scoring during the regular season (4.35 goals per game), but in the playoff series, the Flames managed just 24 scores while giving up 29 goals in return.
Once again, the team had five skaters scoring at least a point a game: Nieuwendyk (45G, 50A, 79G), Gilmour (24G, 67A, 78G), MacInnis (28G, 62A, 79G), and Makarov (24G, 62A, 80G) were joined by D Gary Suter (16G, 60A, 76G). The collective goalies surrendered 3.21 goals each game, and when that broke down in the postseason, even the best offensive attacks can’t save a team from elimination. Hot goaltending decides a lot in the postseason, as we have learned, even if MacInnis was our Norris pick.
No. 2: 1987-1988 Calgary Flames
Finishing No. 1 in the sabermetrics for the regular season, despite giving up the tenth-most goals, this Calgary team posted a 48-23-9 record (105 points) to win the Smythe Division—while topping the NHL in scoring, surprisingly, even ahead of the Gretzky-led Oilers. The Flames opened the Stanley Cup playoffs with a five-game series win over the Kings, but then Edmonton swept Calgary out in the second round … outscoring the Flames by 7 goals, overall. Defense matters.
This time, there were a whopping six players posting at least a point per game: RW Håkan Loob (50G, 56A, 80G), C Mike Bullard (48G, 55A, 79G), Nieuwendyk (51G, 41A, 75G), Suter (21G, 70A, 75G), RW Joe Mullen (40G, 44A, 80G), and MacInnis (25G, 58A, 80G). The goalies, though, gave up a stunning 3.76 goals per game in the regular season, which was worse than the league average. In the postseason, the goaltenders coughed up 18 goals in 4 games to perform even worse. Ouch!
No. 1: 1988-1989 Calgary Flames
This is a rare case where a franchise’s best team ever also set organizational records for wins in a season (54) and points in a season (117) while also winning the league championship—and sabermetrically rating out as the best, too. We give you the Cup champion Flames! The team posted a 16-6 record in Lord Stanley’s playoffs, beating the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games, the Kings in a 4-game sweep, the Chicago Blackhawks in 5 games, and the Montréal Canadiens in 6 games.
The defensive improvement here was key as Calgary finished second in scoring offense (4.43) and second in scoring defense (2.83). What a difference that made in the postseason! G Mike Vernon (37-6-5, 2.66 GAA) and G Rick Wamsley (17-11-4, 2.96 GAA) combined to be the best netminders the franchise had in its successful run explored in this space, and MacInnis wrapped it all up with the Conn Smythe hardware, which we confirmed. “Only” 4 skaters surpassed the point-per-game threshold, by the way.