For the second time in three seasons, the Calgary Flames went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2016-17. As a result of their recent playoff success, and their summer of moves, the Flames may be gaining a lot of new followers in the coming season. In the interest of informing newcomers to the franchise, here’s everything new fans need to know about the Flames.
A Brief History
The Calgary Flames were originally the Atlanta Flames, a 1972 expansion team added so the New York Islanders wouldn’t create an unbalanced NHL schedule. Shockingly, hockey didn’t really take hold in Atlanta and the team was bought by a consortium of local businessmen and moved to town in 1980. The team got really good in the 1980s and won a Stanley Cup in 1989, then poor off-ice decisions and a weak Canadian dollar hammered the team to the point where it almost moved. A run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 reignited fan interest, while introduction of a salary cap in 2005 made the team financially viable again.
In their glory days the Flames boasted Hall of Famers and cult stars on their roster, ranging from Joe Niewendyk, Al MacInnis and Lanny McDonald to Theoren Fleury, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. The club’s recent resurgence has been fueled by recent draft selections Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, T.J. Brodie and Mikael Backlund, as well as trade acquisition Dougie Hamilton. If you’re looking to grab a jersey and don’t want to stand out from the crowd too much, go with Gaudreau or Monahan. If you want to be a bit more daring, go for Backlund or new backup goaltender Eddie Lack.
The Flames are led by team captain Mark Giordano, whose path to NHL stardom is a bit peculiar. Undrafted in both the Ontario Hockey League and the NHL, Giordano was signed by the Flames in the summer of 2005 as a filler body for their shared American Hockey League farm team – he had actually already registered for university and had to back out of his classes to play that year. He ended up quietly becoming one of the Flames’ better prospects and, after a year spent in the Russian Super League due to a contract impasse with then-general manager Darryl Sutter, Giordano became one of the league’s most improbable Norris Trophy contenders. He became team captain in 2013.
Originally owned by a consortium of local businessmen, primarily oil tycoons, the Flames now owned by a differently-composed consortium of local businessmen, still primarily oil tycoons. Original owners Harley Hotchkiss and Daryl Seaman have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as builders. Hotchkiss was a big voice on the NHL’s Board of Governors (and helped get the salary cap instituted to save the smaller market clubs), a role inherited by current ownership chairman Murray Edwards.
The Flames play in the Scotiabank Saddledome just outside of downtown Calgary. Despite a rotating list of corporate sponsors over the years, the building is commonly referred to as either the Saddledome or “the Dome” and is best known for its distinctive saddle-shaped roof. It was built prior to the 1988 Winter Olympics. Nachos, pocket dogs and malts are the top food items in the building.
Talks to replace the Saddledome with a new arena located two blocks north have been intensifying over the past year. The new arena may coincide with a 2026 Winter Olympics bid, but isn’t contingent on that bid going forward.
Flames fans are most likely to froth at the mouth during games with two teams: the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers.
Games with the Canucks have taken on renewed vigor since two incidents: a line brawl on January 18, 2014 at the beginning of a Hockey Night in Canada telecast that saw several players ejected at the opening whistle, as well as a thrilling 2015 first round playoff match-up that saw the Flames win their first playoff series since 2004. Because of these heated moments, otherwise innocuous mid-season meetings have taken on new life.
Of course, the Flames’ historical rival remains the Edmonton Oilers – located three hours north of Calgary. The teams went at it tooth and nail throughout the 1980s – particularly in the playoffs – but a combination of a lack of playoff success for both sides and a lack of playoff meetings since 1991 have taken the air out of the balloon a bit. The recent resurgence for both sides – fueled by players like Gaudreau and Connor McDavid – has led to renewed optimism that the rivalry will begin to mean something again.
Please Don’t Mention…
In polite company, please don’t mention the Martin Gelinas “non-goal” in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. It’s also probably best if you refrain from talking about the much-maligned “Young Guns” era of Flames hockey from 1995-2000 which saw the team wear awful “pedestal” jerseys and miss the playoffs nearly every season.
The crowd shouts “C!” and “Red!” during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner in a tradition that began during the 2004 playoffs.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.