The Calgary Flames are in the middle of their 50th season as a member of the NHL. The organization began as the Atlanta Flames in 1972 before relocating to Calgary in the summer of 1980. Furthermore, their relocation launched the Battle of the Alberta, leading to several memorable regular season and playoff moments against the Edmonton Oilers.
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Although the Flames won only one Stanley Cup championship in 1989, they have been to the Final on two other occasions, in 1986 and 2004. Coincidently, when you look through the team’s history book, the three players whose numbers the franchise has retired were all instrumental in those three extended playoff runs. Moreover, the two players who are now members of the “Forever a Flame” program are also franchise icons who were part of the team’s early success in the late 1980s.
Lanny McDonald’s #9 Becomes First Flames Retired Number – Mar. 17, 1990
Lanny McDonald, who now serves as a Flames ambassador for community events, was born in Hanna, Alberta, 217 kilometers away from the Scotiabank Saddledome. Initially drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as the 10th overall pick in 1973, he made his debut later that year and played with the team for seven years.
After scoring 30 goals in three straight seasons, McDonald found himself on the way to the Colorado Rockies after 26 games in 1979-80. McDonald played 142 games over three seasons with the Rockies before Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher orchestrated a trade for the grizzled veteran on Nov. 25, 1981. The rest, as they say, is history.
McDonald had 34 goals in 55 games in his first half-season with his new team (Calgary) before setting the franchise mark with 66 goals during 1982-83 while suiting up for all 80 games. His performance that year earned him the Bill Masterson Trophy (Perseverance and Sportsmanship) and an eighth-place finish in Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player) voting. Although he never scored more than 33 goals in a season again, McDonald became an integral part of the franchise by being named co-captain during the 1983-84 season, an honor he held until retirement in 1988-89.
Most Flames fans remember the team’s only championship celebration when the man with an iconic scruffy red mustache and beard hoisted the cup. Moreover, not many players get to ride off into the sunset as champions; however, through his teammates’ help, McDonald achieved just that. Indeed, the Stanley Cup run in 1989 was memorable for McDonald, who just surpassed 1,000 points and 500 goals before the playoffs started.
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The Flames had no retired numbers until this point in their history, so when McDonald’s number went to the rafters at Scotiabank Saddledome on Mar. 17, 1990, he became the first player bestowed with such an honor. After eight years with the organization, he retired with 215 goals, 191 assists, and 406 points en route to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.
Calgary Born Mike Vernon Achieves Boyhood Dream – Feb. 6, 2007
Mike Vernon was born in Calgary on Feb. 24, 1953, and after growing as a goalie through the minor hockey system in the city, he eventually earned a shot to play in the NHL at the 1981 Entry Draft. The Flames used the 56th selection to draft Vernon, who had just won back-to-back Western Hockey League MVP and Top Goaltender Awards in 1982 and 1983. Despite only playing 19 games between 1983 and 1986, he became an NHL regular during the 1986-87 season, appearing in 54 games and collecting 30 wins.
During his sophomore campaign (1987-88), Vernon set a team record with 39 wins in 64 games before another spectacular season in 1988-89 (37 wins). Additionally, that same year he guided the Flames to the Presidents’ Trophy (Best Regular Season Team) and another berth in the Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens. All eyes were on the goaltender matchup as Vernon outduelled Patrick Roy to provide Calgary with their first championship.
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After five more seasons with the Flames, the team traded their franchise goalie to the Detroit Red Wings on June 29, 1994, leaving the door open for Trevor Kidd to take over the job full-time. Eventually, he would lead the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup title in 55 years in 1997, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process. Although his time with Detroit was memorable, he also played with the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers before a reunion with the Flames in 2000.
When Vernon retired on Sept. 13, 2002, he owned all the Flames goaltender records, including 527 games, 262 wins, 188 losses, 81 playoff games, and 43 playoff wins. At the time, he was the NHL’s seventh-winningest goalie and one of the few netminders to win the Conn Smythe. Consequently, the Flames organization recognized Vernon’s contributions to the club by retiring his #30 to the rafters in a ceremony hosted on Feb. 6, 2007, against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Flame’s Honor Their All-Time Leading Scorer Jarome Iginla – Mar. 2, 2019
The Flames had a lengthy contract dispute with All-Star center Joe Nieuwendyk in the summer of 1995. Unable to come to terms, the team traded away their former first-round pick to the Dallas Stars in December 1995, which altered the franchise’s course for the next two decades. In exchange for the six-time 30-goal scorer, the Flames acquired Jarome Iginla, a former first-round pick (11th overall) in that year’s Entry Draft. Little did anyone know on that day, the Flames would find their all-time leading scorer, a kid born and raised in Edmonton.
Iginla opened up his NHL career with 21 goals and 50 points in his first season, 1996-97, to finish second in the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) voting. After a sophomore slump in 1997-98, he regained his scoring touch to pot 28 goals, kicking off 13 years in a row where he netted more than 28 lamp-lighters during the regular season. During an era when scoring was down across the league, Iginla set a career-high with 52 goals in 2001-02 en route to winning the Lester B. Pearson Award (MVP voted by players), the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals), and the Art Ross Trophy (league’s leading scorer).
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Two years after his best season, Iginla paced the league again in goals scored (41) to win his second career Rocket Richard trophy in 2003-04. Furthermore, he claimed the King Clancy Award (leadership) while being captain of the Flames during their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1989, an eventual loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. Unfortunately, the league would go on strike shortly after, costing Iginla a golden opportunity to win in the prime of his career, a moment he could never recapture again.
On Mar. 1, 2009, Iginla scored two goals and added three assists (five points) to surpass Theoren Fleury as the franchise’s leading scorer. Additionally, a year later, on Mar. 3, 2010, Iginla passed Fleury again to become the Flames’ all-time goal scorer with #365. Unfortunately, all good things have to end, and with the franchise treading water for several seasons, the player and organization agreed to part ways.
The Flames traded away the face of the team to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Mar. 28, 2013. When Iginla left, his name was itched upon most of the team’s records, like 1219 games, 525 goals, 570 assists, and 1095 points, with nine seasons as team captain. His impact on the organization and community is unmeasurable, as he helped to break barriers and make sure hockey was for everyone.
Sadly, Iginla finished his career searching for a Stanley Cup title that he would never win with additional stops playing for the Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, and Los Angeles Kings before retiring on July 30, 2018. Naturally, the Flames didn’t wait long to honor their best player, retiring Iginla’s iconic #12 in a ceremony on Mar. 2, 2019, against the Minnesota Wild.
Flames introduce “Forever a Flame” Program – Feb. 15, 2012
In 2012, the Flames created a program to honor past players who made significant contributions to the franchise without officially retiring their numbers. That year, the club celebrated the first inductee, Al MacInnis, on Feb. 27, 2012, whose #2 banner made its way to the rafters at the Saddledome.
As the 15th overall selection in the 1981 Entry Draft, MacInnis would star on the Flames’ blueline for 13 seasons, winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe in 1989. Before joining the St. Louis Blues through a trade in 1994, he departed the organization as their best defenseman with 803 games, 213 goals, 609 assists, and 822 points. Eventually, MacInnis would become one of five members of the 1989 team to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame with his induction in 2007.
The Flames celebrated the 25th anniversary of their championship in 2014 by honoring their former captain Nieuwendyk’s #25 in a ceremony on Mar. 7, 2014. As a former-first pick (27th overall) in 1985, he blossomed into an elite goal scorer with the team, winning the Calder Trophy and All-Rookie honors during his first season. Furthermore, he would be an integral member of the 1989 winning team, scoring 51 goals that season, his second consecutive season with 51 goals. Nieuwendyk departed the Flames in 1995, ending his nine-year run with 577 games, 314 goals, 302 assists, and 616 points. Although he would win the Stanley Cup with Dallas and New Jersey, his best years were with the Flames organization.
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Through 50 seasons, the Flames have only retired three numbers and honored two; however, the team has yet to issue #14 (Fleury) and #34 (Miikka Kiprusoff) upon their departures. Right now, those players are front runners for induction into the Forever a Flame program, with two additional names, Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund, to join the list upon retirement. Nevertheless, the Flames take jersey retirement very seriously, bestowing the honor upon a select few, which means a player has to have done something special while wearing the flaming C logo.