The goaltending history of the Calgary Flames franchise has been punctuated by a handful of excellent performances in a desert of otherwise unremarkable ones. In an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, here are the three best goaltenders in the history of the Flames franchise.
3. Dan Bouchard
Part of the first goaltending tandem in Atlanta along with Phil Myre, Bouchard quietly distinguished himself and soon became the top gun for the expansion team. The impressive thing about Bouchard’s game was that he was consistent and occasionally excellent with a very green defensive group in front of him despite having zero NHL games to his credit before being grabbed in the expansion draft.
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Bouchard’s general manager was Cliff Fletcher, nicknamed “Trader Cliff” for the constant tweaking of his club’s roster. Bouchard brought stability in net for the Flames, which allowed Fletcher to spend time upgrading the other parts of the team – and it was an expansion team, so it needed a lot of upgrading.
Bouchard got the Flames through their expansion years. He was traded during their first year in Calgary for Jamie Hislop, who in turn also became a big part of the Flames’ success in the ’80s.
2. Mike Vernon
Mike Vernon was arguably the best homegrown player in the history of the Flames. Born in Calgary and groomed by the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Wranglers, he was drafted by his hometown team in the 1981 NHL Draft and debuted as a full-time pro in 1983-84. He gradually rose through the ranks, becoming Calgary’s starter midway through the 1985-86 season and taking them to the playoffs. Three years later, he backstopped the Flames to a Stanley Cup championship win.
If Bouchard was consistently “good enough” for the Flames, Vernon was consistently very good and occasionally excellent. He wasn’t a large goaltender – listed as just 5-foot-9 – but he made the most of his frame and fully embraced the battling style of goaltending. His shining moment was a gigantic save on Stan Smyl in the 1989 Smythe Division semi-final against Vancouver.
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Vernon was eventually traded to the Detroit Red Wings when the organization decided to hand the reins to Trevor Kidd. (To show you how well that worked out, Vernon was reacquired a few seasons later.)
1. Miikka Kiprusoff
Originally a third-string goalie in San Jose behind Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff was acquired in 2003-04 by the Flames from the Sharks in exchange for a second-round pick. The Flames had been juggling Roman Turek and Jamie McLennan in net, neither of whom seemed to be a long-term solution, and Kiprusoff immediately settled the situation. He ended up setting the modern-day goals-against record that season en route to leading the Flames to a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Simply put, Kiprusoff is the best goaltender in Flames history. He’s the franchise’s statistical leader in every significant goaltending category – notably games, wins and shutouts – and he’s the only netminder in Flames history to win a Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. Kiprusoff’s consistent excellence in net allowed the early-2000s Flames to commit to a grind-it-out style of game and to eventually transition to a more high-event run-and-gun style as the decade wore on.
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A bad season from Kiprusoff was better than a good season from the vast majority of Flames goaltenders. His retirement led to a period of searching for goaltending stability that arguably still hasn’t ended.