The Atlanta Flames were a professional ice hockey team based in Atlanta, Georgia from 1972 until 1980.
The team was created as part of the NHL's conflict with the rival World Hockey Association (WHA) in a bid to keep the latter league out of the Omni Coliseum.
The team enjoyed modest success on the ice, qualifying for the post-season in six of its eight seasons, but they failed to win a playoff series.
Off the ice, the franchise struggled to draw fans. After averaging only 10,000 per game in 1979–80, it was sold and relocated to Canada to become the Calgary Flames.
Eric Vail was the team's top goal scorer with 174 while Tom Lysiak led with 431 points. Guy Chouinard was the lone player to score 50 goals in one season. Goaltender Dan Bouchard led the team in wins (166) and shutouts (20).
Team Formation The NHL (which had grown from six teams in 1966 to fourteen in 1970) had not planned a further expansion until at least 1973. The formation of a rival major league, the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1971 altered the NHL's plans and resulted in the two leagues battling for players and markets.
The NHL sought to keep the WHA out of the newly constructed Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York. On November 9, 1971, it was announced that it was expanding to Long Island, New York and Atlanta.
The Atlanta franchise was awarded to Tom Cousins, who also owned the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and would play out of the Omni Coliseum. The team cost $6 million. Cousins named the franchise the Flames in homage to the burning of Atlanta by United States Army general William Sherman during the American Civil War.
The team stocked its roster via an expansion draft held on June 6, 1972. Fletcher focused on goaltending, choosing Phil Myre as his first selection and rookie Dan Bouchard as his second. He drafted a competent roster, but one that was young and inexperienced.
On October 7, 1972, the Flames made their NHL debut in Long Island against their expansion cousins, the New York Islanders.
They won the game 3–2, while Morris Stefaniw scored the first goal in franchise history. They made their home debut a week later on October 14, 1972.
Hosting the first event in Omni Coliseum history, the Flames tied the Buffalo Sabres, 1–1 before a sellout crowd of 14,568.
The team was respectable through much of the season on the strength of Bouchard and Myre's goaltending performances and by mid-January, had a 20–19–8 win-loss-tie record. The Flames won only five more games through the rest of the season, finishing at 25–38–15.
Atlanta finished in seventh place in the West Division and missed the playoffs.
The team was reasonably successful at the gate, selling nearly 7,000 season tickets by the start of the season, and averaging 12,516 fans per game.
Tom Lysiak (who was selected second overall at the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft) joined the Flames for the 1973–74 season and made an immediate impact. He led the Flames in scoring with 64 points and finished second to the Islanders' Denis Potvin in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
Improving to 30–34–14, the Flames finished fourth in the West and qualified for the 1974 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They made their playoff debut against the division-winning Philadelphia Flyers. The first game (which was played April 9, 1974) was a 4–1 victory for the Flyers. The Flyers went on to defeat the Flames in their best-of-seven series with four consecutive wins.
Geoffrion was praised for his coaching of the club and finished second in voting for the Jack Adams Award as top coach.
The NHL's expansion to 18 teams in 1974–75 resulted in realignment. The league moved to a four division format, placing the Flames in the Patrick Division.
Once again, Lysiak led the Flames in scoring with 77 points while Eric Vail (who was playing his first full season) led with 39 goals. Vail's total led all rookies and earned him the Calder Trophy.
The team overcame an eight-game losing streak in December and injuries to several key players to post their first winning season with a 34–31–15 record, however, they finished fourth in the Patrick Division and failed to qualify for the post-season.
Geoffrion resigned as head coach late in the season due to personal reasons. He was replaced with Fred Creighton, who had been coaching the Flames' minor league team.
Creighton produced a consistent, but not outstanding team as the Flames finished third in the Patrick for the following three seasons and won a couple games more than they lost each year.
The team qualified for the playoffs all three years, but lost in the preliminary round each time.
In the 1975-76 NHL season, the team lost against the Los Angeles Kings in a best of three series 2 games to 0. In the 1976-77 NHL season, they went against the Los Angeles Kings again in the first round and was down 1-0 before finally earning a victory.
Vail scored the game-winning goal in a 3–2 victory over the on April 7, 1977, but they lost game three and lost in a best of three series 2 games to 1.
Willi Plett (a 1975 draft pick) emerged as a young star for the Flames. He scored 33 goals in his rookie season of 1976–77 and won the Calder Trophy.
Seeking to improve his team's fortunes, Fletcher made several moves over the following seasons to rework the Flames roster. His goaltending tandem of Bouchard and Myre had begun to feud with each other by the 1977–78 season as both sought more playing time.
Fletcher responded by naming Bouchard his number one goaltender and trading Myre to the St. Louis Blues for three players.
They made it into the playoffs again but were the only team to fall to a team with fewer points than them, the Detroit Red Wings in a best-of-three series, 2 games to 0.
Fletcher hoped that the addition of Russell would help his team achieve playoff success.
Buoyed by a franchise record ten-game winning streak in October of 1978, the 1978–79 Flames posted the best record in their Atlanta years at 41–31–8.
Bob MacMillan (who was acquired in the Myre deal) became the first Flame other than Lysiak to lead the team in scoring in six years.
Along with Guy Chouinard, he was one of the first two Flames' players to score 100 points in one season. He also became the team's first 50-goal scorer.
MacMillan won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season as the NHL's most gentlemanly player.
In the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they lost in a best of three series 2 games to 0.
As the team stagnated on the ice, the Flames struggled at the gate. They peaked at an average of 14,161 fans per game in their second season, 1973–74, but fell to 12,258 three years later and then 10,500 in 1977–78.
Concerns that low attendance could result in the relocation of the team surfaced by 1976 which prompted politicians and the players themselves to purchase tickets in a bid to stabilize the franchise.
The Flames attempted to boost attendance in 1980 by signing Jim Craig (a goaltender of the American Olympic team that had won the Olympic gold medal following its "Miracle on Ice" victory over the Soviet Union).
Fletcher made other moves throughout the season.
Fletcher also had one of the best drafts of his career as general manager, selecting four players in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft (Paul Reinhart, Jim Peplinski, Pat Riggin and Tim Hunter) who would ultimately become regulars in the Flames line up, however, while the Flames again qualified for the playoffs in 1980, they again lost in the first round, losing a best-of-five series to the New York Rangers three games to one.
Their final game, a 5–2 loss, was played in Atlanta on April 12, 1980. The attendance fell to an average of 10,024.
The Team Relocates to CalgaryEdit
Cousins announced that he was seeking to sell the club following the Flames' exit from the playoffs. He claimed to have suffered significant financial losses on the team while low viewership hampered his ability to sign a television contract for the team.
The team (estimated to have lost $12 million in its eight years) had been rumored for months to be moving to Calgary even though Dallas & Houston were also mentioned as possible destinations.
The Seaman brothers, Daryl and Byron had made an offer of $14 million while the City of Calgary prepared to build a new arena for the team, however, Canadian businessman Nelson Skalbania emerged as a rival bidder for the team before joining the Calgary consortium.
The group agreed to purchase the Flames for $16 million (which at the time the highest price ever paid for a NHL team).
On May 21, 1980, the sale was announced and the franchise became the Calgary Flames. The last active Atlanta Flames player in the NHL was Kent Nilsson (who played his last NHL game in 1995).
Several former players of the team returned to Atlanta once their careers ended. Among them, Tom Lysiak operated a horse farm outside the city, Eric Vail returned to operate a nightclub and Willi Plett operated a sports theme park & golf course.
- Games: Rey Comeau & Eric Vail, 469
- Goals: Eric Vail, 174
- Assists: Tom Lysiak, 276
- Points: Tom Lysiak, 431
- Penalty minutes: Pat Quinn, 555
- Goaltender games: Dan Bouchard, 384
- Goaltender wins: Dan Bouchard, 164
- Shutouts: Dan Bouchard, 20
First Round Draft PicksEdit
- 1972: Jacques Richard (second overall)
- 1973: Tom Lysiak (second overall)
- 1974: none
- 1975: Richard Mulhern (eighth overall)
- 1976: David Shand (eighth overall) and Harold Phillipoff (10th overall)
- 1977: none
- 1978: Brad Marsh (11th overall)
- 1979: Paul Reinhart (12th overall)
- Most goals in a season: Guy Chouinard, 50 (1978–79)
- Most assists in a season: Bob MacMillan, 71 (1978–79)
- Most points in a season: Bob MacMillan, 108 (1978–79)
- Most penalty minutes in a season: Willi Plett, 231 (1979–80)
- Most points in a season, defenseman: Ken Houston, 54 (1979–80)
- Most points in a season, rookie: Tom Lysiak, 64 (1973–74)
- Most wins in a season: Dan Bouchard, 32 (1978–79)