The Calgary Flames organization has had its fair share of star players over the years. They have had several players who are now in the Hall of Fame, including Jarome Iginla and Al MacInnis, as well as other incredible talents, such as Theo Fleury and Miikka Kiprusoff.
While the list of star players who thrived in Calgary is quite large, it would be even bigger had they not given up on certain individuals too early. There have been several former Flames over the years who went on to become star-caliber players after leaving Cowtown. Here’s a look at them.
An NHL icon many forget started his career with the Flames was Brett Hull. ‘The Golden Brett’ was a late-round pick of the Flames, not being selected until the sixth round (117th overall) of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. A big reason he fell down the draft boards was due to the fact he spent his draft season in the BCHL, but his ridiculous 105 goals and 188 points in just 57 games suggested he still should have been taken much higher.
The next season, Hull committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where in two seasons, he had 84 goals and 144 points in 90 games. After the 1985-86 season, he chose to go pro and signed a deal with the Flames. He appeared in just five NHL games that season but absolutely tore it up in the AHL with 50 goals and 92 points in 67 contests. He made the Flames out of training camp for the 1987-88 season and was off to a fantastic start through his first 52 games as he had recorded 50 points. He looked like he was on his way to becoming a superstar player.
Despite this, Hull was traded that very season to the St. Louis Blues, along with Steve Bozek, in exchange for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. This trade seemed very questionable at the time and is now regarded as one of the worst trades in league history. Hull went on to play 744 games with the Blues, scoring 527 goals and 936 points. He also had stints with the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings that were both highly productive.
Hull is widely regarded as one of the game’s best-ever goal scorers, sitting fourth all-time with 741 total. He is the all-time leader in both goals as well as points (1391) by an American-born skater and is on a very short list of players to have ever scored 50 goals in 50 games, something he was able to accomplish twice in his illustrious career. This trade ruined what could have been many magical years for the Flames.
Martin St. Louis
When thinking back on Martin St. Louis’ outstanding career, most would picture him in a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey. The two-time Art Ross Trophy winner played 972 of his 1134 career games with the Bolts. Before joining Tampa and getting traction on what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career, however, he was a struggling forward with the Flames.
Despite putting up very impressive numbers for four seasons at the University of Vermont, St. Louis was never drafted or even signed by an NHL team once his college career had wrapped up. His size played a major factor in this, as teams didn’t believe he could compete at the professional level. However, after signing a deal with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the IHL and posting 50 points in 56 games, he agreed to terms on a contract with the Flames. He finished out the season in their AHL system, where he had 15 goals and 26 points in 25 games.
The next season, he was able to get in 13 NHL games but wasn’t able to create much as he had just two points. He played the majority of that season (1998-99) in the AHL as well and continued to put up big numbers. Then came the 1999-00 season, where despite not making the team out of camp, he soon earned a call-up after putting up a ridiculous 15 goals and 26 points in 17 AHL games. Unfortunately, he was once again unable to have an impact with the Flames, scoring just three goals and 18 points in 56 contests.
Due to his struggles, the Flames left him available for the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft, but he went unselected. Soon after, he was bought out by the Flames and inked a new deal with the Lightning, where his career began to blossom. Just a few short years after arriving in Tampa, he became a household name around the league, and on top of the two Art Ross Trophies mentioned above, he also won both a Hart and Lester B. Pearson Trophy along with three Lady Byngs. Former Flames management and coaching staff made a big-time mistake here not giving him more opportunity at the NHL level.
Though Marc Savard isn’t as elite of a name as the two players listed above, he still had a fantastic career and truly developed into a star player after leaving the Flames. Unlike the other two above, he didn’t begin his NHL career in the Flames organization, instead, being taken by the New York Rangers in the fourth round (91st overall) of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft and going on to play a total of 98 games with them a few years later.
During his first season as a pro (1997-98), it was clear he had a ton of skill, as he managed to put up 74 points in 58 AHL games. He struggled at the NHL level that year, however, posting just six points in 28 games. As a result, he began the next season in the AHL but was soon called up and was much more productive this time around with 45 points in 70 games. But despite the improved season, the Rangers chose to trade him to the Flames during the 1999 offseason.
Savard’s first two seasons with the Flames were fairly productive, as he had a combined 45 goals and 118 points in 155 games. However, in his third season, his numbers dropped off as he had just 33 points in 56 games. He started off the next season, 2002-03, very slow with three points in 10 games, and the Flames decided they had seen enough, trading him to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for Ruslan Zainullan. It was with the Thrashers where Savard’s career really began to take off, which included a 97-point 2005-06 season.
Savard then went on to have multiple very successful seasons with the Boston Bruins before concussions ended his career, which was quite unfortunate given how offensively productive he still was at the time. In 488 career games after being traded by the Flames, he put up 501 points. He ended his career with 706 points in 807 games. Meanwhile, the player the Flames traded him for in Zainullan didn’t play in a single NHL game.
Many people forget because he spent such a short amount of time in the NHL with them, but the Flames had goaltender Jean Sebastien Giguere in their system from 1997-2000. The now-retired netminder was originally taken 13th overall by the Hartford Whalers in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft but was traded just two years later, along with Andrew Cassels, in exchange for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd.
At the time of the trade, Giguere was a high-end prospect, given his lofty draft position just a few years prior. But he struggled in limited opportunities at the NHL level, as in a combined 22 games over two seasons with the Flames, he had just a 3.07 goals against average (GAA) and a .902 save percentage (SV%). To make matters even worse, his numbers in the AHL during his final two years in the Flames organization were very disappointing, which resulted in the Flames trading him to the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks during the 2000 offseason in exchange for a second-round pick.
It was with the Ducks where Giguere’s career really took off, as he played in 34 NHL games that very next season. By the time the 2001-02 season began, he had become Anaheim’s starting netminder, a role he held onto for the next seven seasons. While he had many successful regular seasons with the Ducks, the biggest moment of his NHL career came during the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he led his team to the Cup final. Unfortunately, they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils, but Giguere’s 15-6 playoff record, along with his 1.62 GAA and .945 SV%, were still good enough for him to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy. He became just the fifth player ever to win the Trophy despite not winning the Stanley Cup.
The Ducks went on to trade Giguere to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2009-10 season, where he spent the next year and a half before playing his final three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. By the time his career was all said and done, he had appeared in 597 games, recording a 262-216-75 record along with a 2.53 GAA and a .913 SV%. Thankfully, he was also able to get a Stanley Cup just a few years after the heartbreaking 2003 playoffs, as he and the Ducks were able to win it all in 2007.
Franchise Altering Mistakes
While it goes without saying, former Flames management groups would certainly like do-overs on all four of the players mentioned above. Every team in the league has some judgments in errors when it comes to evaluating talent. However, with how good these players turned out to be, it makes for an extremely tough pill to swallow for Flames fans. Who knows, perhaps if things were done differently, this team could have an extra Stanley Cup banner or two hanging from the rafters of the Saddledome right now.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.