The history of the Calgary Flames has been long and eventful. Throughout their decades in the National Hockey League, the Flames have played a lot of hockey against a lot of different teams. Some of those match-ups have blossomed into full-on rivalries.
That said, only a handful of these rivalries have stood the test of time and become ones that define the Flames as a franchise. Here are the five strongest current rivalries involving the Flames, going from least to most important. (An honourable mention goes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, as their rivalry lacks the history of important games that the Flames have with other clubs but the animosity largely comes via one-sided trades.)
5: The Montreal Canadiens
The Flames have met Montreal twice in the playoffs and only play twice a season, which isn’t usually a recipe for a heated rivalry. But the two playoff meetings were in the Stanley Cup Final – the Flames lost in 1986 in five games, but beat the Habs in six games in 1989. The Cup connection is possibly why this is arguably the most respectful major rivalry that the Flames are involved in – the Saddledome is very full of the bleu, blanc et rouge when the Canadiens come to town, but their fans aren’t nearly as aggressive as the ‘Dome sees when other Canadian teams come to town.
In recent years, the Flames/Canadiens rivalry has been punctuated by a pair of events: a 4-0 shutout by the Flames in the 2011 Heritage Classic, and a hat-trick scored by Dale Weise in October 2015 that saw the Saddledome crowd throw hats onto the ice for an opposing player’s achievement.
4: The Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are a more recent rivalry, but one that has really defined the Flames throughout the Salary Cap Era. The Flames lost every game they played in Anaheim for over a decade – setting an NHL record for futility in a single building, a span of 25 games (and 13 years). While that futile span at the Honda Center was snapped this past October, the Flames have yet to beat the Ducks in the playoffs. The team’s last two trips to the playoffs, in 2015 and 2017, have ended with disappointment at the hands of the Ducks. That alone is enough to make games between these two clubs very tense affairs.
3: The Los Angeles Kings
While the Ducks have become the Flames’ most consistent playoff rival, the only reason that rivalry has become established has been because the Flames have figured out ways to beat the Kings. The Flames have played more regular season games against the Kings than any team other than the Canucks, and that familiarity has bred some contempt.
In addition to mere familiarity, the Flames beat out the Kings for playoff spots in 2015 and 2017 – with the Flames beating the Kings in a de facto home playoff game in Calgary in the second-last game of the 2014-15 season to even quality for the playoffs. The violent back-elbow thrown by Matthew Tkachuk on Drew Doughty near the end of the 2016-17 season, resulting in a suspension to Tkachuk, has only ratcheted up the hatred between these clubs.
2: The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are the Flames’ closest geographical rival and the team they’ve lost the most regular season games and playoff series to. These teams play each other a lot and “home” games between these clubs are usually a 60/40 split between fans of both teams. Both teams were excellent in the 1980s, with the Oilers having the benefit of Wayne Gretzky on their roster – which inevitably caused some resentment from the Flames and their fans. Both teams went through rebuilds in the 2010s, with the Oilers having the benefit of multiple first overall picks and (eventually) Connor McDavid – which has also caused some resentment. These teams have a long, bitter history, but their rivalry has often brought out the best in each franchise.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 26, 2017
The lack of a true recent watershed moment involving these two clubs is arguably the only thing keeping the Oilers from being the Flames’ top recent rivalry.
1: The Vancouver Canucks
The Flames have played the Canucks more than they’ve played any other team – regular season or playoffs. They have the most regular season and playoff wins against the Canucks, but they’re also a team that they’ve seemingly defined themselves in recent years against.
The watershed moment for the emergence of the current Flames core arguably came in 2013-14 in the infamous January 2014 line brawl that kicked off the Hockey Night in Canada telecast. Johnny Gaudreau debuted against the Canucks and scored his first NHL goal later that season. They beat the Canucks in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, the franchise’s first playoff round victory in 11 years. Mikael Backlund recorded his first career hat trick against the Canucks, and seemingly relishes scoring against them.
For better or for worse, the recent incarnations of the Flames have become defined by their rivalry with the Canucks. They may lack the overall history of the 1980s Flames/Oilers battles, but the 2010s Flames/Canucks games have been battles and have made each team better.
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.