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In 1972, in direct response to the formation of the renegade World Hockey Association, the NHL admitted two new teams to its ranks. Gone But Not Forgotten returns with an in-depth look at out-of-the-box selection Atlanta as the league set up shop in the heart of Dixie with the birth of the Flames.
The Atlanta Flames entered the NHL in 1972, along with the New York Islanders in a quickly conceived expansion which saw the league move to stop the potential advance of the newly formed WHA into the new buildings constructed in both markets. Keeping the WHA's New York Raiders out of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island was especially important as the new league's flagship franchise was forced to share Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers, putting them at a huge disadvantage. The Raiders (who were sold and changed their name to Golden Blades after season one) were forced to move to Cherry Hill, NJ twenty games into their second season briefly becoming the Jersey Knights before finally settling in San Diego as the Mariners the following year. The announcement on November 9, 1971 that the NHL was awarding one of the two new franchises to the city of Atlanta was more surprising. The new Omni Coliseum gave the city the edge over fellow applicants Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Denver and San Diego. Atlanta Hawks owner Tom Cousins made the winning $6 million bid and the Deep South would gets its first crack at NHL hockey.
Cliff Fletcher was hired from the St. Louis Blues organization to be the team's general manager and the legendary Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion was hired as its first head coach. Fletcher would do a fine job in the expansion draft, selecting goaltenders Phil Myre and Dan Bouchard and building a solid defense in front of them by adding veterans like Pat Quinn, Randy Manery and Bill Plager. Keith McCreary, a right wing selected from the Pittsburgh Penguins would be the club's first captain. The Flames would pick second in the amateur draft, after the Islanders, and hit on first round selection, center Jacques Richard, who made the roster as a rookie. Richard was the only one of the team's draft choices who saw time with the big club during its inaugural season. The team was quiet during the offseason, making only a few minor moves, choosing to go forward mostly with the players it had chosen in the expansion draft. Atlanta did pick up center Bill Hogaboam from the New York Rangers by trading them expansion draft selection Bill Heindl Jr. but he would only appear in two games for the Flames. They would also acquire defenseman Bob Paradise from Minnesota and center Rey Comeau from Montreal for cash. In an interesting move, free agent defenseman Ed Kea from Florida's St. Petersburg Suns of the low-level Eastern Hockey League was signed. It would take Kea three years, but he would eventually climb the ladder and become a regular for the Flames. Atlanta would be placed in the NHL's inaccurately named West Division with the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and California Golden Seals.
The first Flames game in history was on the road against the New York Islanders on October 7, 1972. Atlanta picked up a 3-2 win with Morris Stefaniw netting the club's first ever goal. It would be the only goal Stefniw scored in his brief NHL career. The team would finish its first road trip by losing 5-3 to Buffalo, 4-1 to Chicago and 3-0 to Montreal. The Flames first game at the Omni was a 1-1 draw with the Buffalo Sabres in front of a sellout crowd of 14,568 fans on October 14th. Ernie Hicke scored for Atlanta while Phil Myre made 30 saves to preserve the tie. After getting blasted by Minnesota 6-0 in their next game at home, the Flames embarked on a six game road swing which saw them post a surprising 4-2 record. Atlanta opened the trip with a 3-2 win over Minnesota before falling 7-2 in Buffalo. The team then headed west, edging the Golden Seals 4-3 in Oakland and losing 3-2 to Los Angeles. The Flames beat Vancouver 2-1 before finishing off the long trek with a 4-2 win in Detroit. The tandem of Myre and Bouchard helped keep the Flames respectable and they raised their record to 10-11-3 with a 6-2 home win over the Penguins on November 26th. Two days later, Cliff Fletcher dealt Bill Hogaboam to the Detroit Red Wings for center Leon Rochefort in an effort to help the offense after picking up defenseman Noel Picard off the waiver wire from St. Louis a few days earlier. To make room for Picard, veteran blue liner Ron Harris was dealt to the Rangers for center Curt Bennett.
The team would go on a four-game winless streak before beating Vancouver by a 5-2 count at the Omni. In January, the Flames would defeat Vancouver, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles to sweep a four game homestand and climb above the .500 mark for the first time since their opening night victory. The team went winless in their next five before evening their record again with impressive wins over Buffalo and Minnesota. Unfortunately, a four game losing skid would help derail the new club's postseason bid as the Flames offense would completely dry up. Atlanta would win only three out of their final twenty-five games to tumble to seventh place in the West Division. They finished off the schedule with a 4-4 tie against the Islanders to end a season high six game losing streak. Despite the late season swoon and playoff miss, the Flames finished with a respectable 25-38-15 record, thirty-five points better than their expansion brethren, the New York Islanders. Bob Leiter, a late pick in the expansion draft would lead the team in scoring with a career high 60 points. Rey Comeau and Keith McCreary would break the twenty goal barrier while rookie Jacques Richard scored 13 goals and added 18 assists. Phil Myre would win 16 games while posting a 3.03 GAA with two shutouts.
Prior to the 1973-74 season, Atlanta held the fifth overall pick in the May 15th amateur draft and swapped it for Montreal's first round pick which was second overall. Montreal also received Atlanta's first round pick in 1977 and second round pick in 1978. Atlanta used the choice wisely on Medicine Hat Tigers center Tom Lysiak, who would play in 77 games during the upcoming season. Lysiak had let it be known that he would rather play in the WHA then go to Montreal so the Canadiens were willing to move down the draft board after failing to acquire the Islanders first overall pick and the chance to select Denis Potvin. Fletcher also hit on fourth round selection Eric Vail who had a 23 game stint with the big club. Vail would make a much larger impact in the near future. In two separate trades made with Montreal on May 29th, the Flames acquired right wing Chuck Arnason for their first round selection in the 1974 amateur draft and defenseman Bob Murray for their third rounder in 1977. In June, the Flames traded minor leaguer Ted Tucker to California for cash and lost Bill Plager to Minnesota in the intra-league draft. They selected defenseman Doug Mohns from the North Stars in the intra-league draft to help fill the void left by the loss of Plager.
The Flames opened the season with a 1-1 tie against the Islanders and a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on home ice. They won their first of the season one night later by shutting out St. Louis 1-0. They followed the win over the Blues with impressive victories over the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. After dropping two on the West Coast to Vancouver and Los Angeles, the Flames reeled off four wins in a row followed by three straight ties. After losing three in a row, Atlanta rebounded to win three straight to push their record to 10-6-4. Atlanta continued to be streaky but a 3-2 win over Chicago on January 3rd kept them two games above the .500 mark. Before their next game against the Rangers, the Flames would deal Bob Paradise and the disappointing Chuck Arnason to Pittsburgh for winger Al McDonough and claim forward Bryan Hextall Jr. off waivers from the Penguins two days later. The roster tweaking would have an adverse effect as the Flames went on a 2-9-1 skid which threatened their push for the postseason. A huge 5-3 win over Montreal at the Omni on February 1st finally stopped the bleeding. Led by rookie Lysiak and sophomore Jacques Richard, the Flames would play at a .500 clip the rest of the way to finish in fourth place in the West Division and qualify for the playoffs for the first time with a 30-34-14 record. In the playoffs, the Flames would take on the powerful Philadelphia Flyers who finished on top of the West Division. The Flyers cruised by Atlanta 4-1 in the series opener in Philadelphia. Orest Kindrachuk led the way by notching two third period goals. After not scoring during the regular season, defenseman Bob Murray got the Flames first ever playoff goal in the third period to cut the Flyer lead to 3-1. In game two, Rick MacLeish netted a natural hat trick in the second period and added an assist in the third to power a 5-1 Flyer victory. Philadelphia jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Rey Comeau scored to get Atlanta on the board. Phil Myre would again take the loss in goal. The series moved to the Omni in Atlanta for game three. Dan Bouchard would take over between the pipes but the Flyers still rolled, this time winning by a 4-1 count. Larry Romanchych scored the only Flames goal of the game as Bernie Parent continued to stymie the Atlanta offense. Myre returned to start game four and the Flames responded. Larry Romanchych scored his second of the series to stake Atlanta to a 1-0 advantage after the opening period. In the second, goals by Jean Lemieux and Rey Comeau put Atlanta ahead 3-0 before Andre Dupont got one back for the Flyers. Third period power play goals by Philadelphia's Gary Dornhoefer and Bobby Clarke evened the game, denying the Flames their first playoff victory. The Flyers would complete the sweep in overtime with enforcer Dave Schultz getting the elimination goal at the 5:40 mark for the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Rookie Tom Lysiak led the team in regular season scoring with 64 points and finished second in the voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy. He also added two assists in the playoffs. Jacques Richard scored a team leading 27 goals while Bob Leiter and Larry Romanchych also surpassed the twenty goal mark. Dan Bouchard supplanted Phil Myre as the team's main goaltender for the majority of the regular season and won 19 games while posting a sparkling 2.77 GAA and 5 shutouts.
The NHL would add two new teams, the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts, for the 1974-75 season and expand the regular season to 80 games. The league also switched to an alignment of two conferences and four divisions. A new playoff format was introduced with the top three finishers in each division automatically making the postseason. The Flames were placed in the Patrick Division with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Without a first round pick in the amateur draft, the Flames selected forward Guy Chouinard, who would appear in five games during the regular season, in the second round, 28th overall. On May 28th, The Flames traded spare parts John Flesch and Don Martineau to the Minnesota North Stars for forwards Buster Harvey and Jerry Byers. In June, Atlanta lost Butch Deadmarsh, Kerry Ketter and Lew Morrison in the expansion draft and dealt defenseman Doug Mohns to the newly formed Capitals for cash. In July, John Stewart was sent to the Golden Seals for forward Hilliard Graves and five days before the season started, Leon Rochefort was traded to Vancouver for cash. The Flames began the campaign with a 3-3 tie against the Canucks followed by 3-0 shutout loss to the Golden Seals in Oakland. They finished the four game road trip with a 4-3 win over Chicago and a 4-2 loss to Detroit. The team took its first two at home, beating Kansas City 4-2 followed by a 5-1 decision over the Penguins. After a mediocre October, a stellar November had the Flames sitting pretty with a 13-7-5 record but an eight game losing streak to start December put the team behind its new Patrick Division rivals. A 6-2 win over the Blues turned the tide and sent Atlanta on a ten game unbeaten run. In early January, the Flames acquired defenseman Barry Gibbs from Minnesota for defenseman Dwight Bialowas and right wing Dean Talafous. A month later coach Bernie Geoffrion stepped down for personal reasons. He was replaced by Fred Creighton who had been coaching the Omaha Knights, Atlanta's CHL farm team. The Flames struggled during the latter part of the schedule, slipping two games under .500 after a 3-0 loss to St. Louis on March 11th. A 9-4 rout of Minnesota one night later sparked an 8-1-2 run but it wasn't quite enough as the Flames fell five points shy of a playoff spot after dropping their final two games of the season to the Rangers and Flyers respectively. Atlanta finished with a 34-31-15 record but did not qualify for the playoffs despite having more points than playoff-bound Chicago and Toronto due to their fourth place standing in the Patrick Division. Tom Lysiak led the team in scoring with 77 points and Eric Vail notched 39 goals to lead in that department. Vail would win the Calder Memorial Trophy for his fine rookie season. Jacques Richard slumped to 29 points while Tim Ecclestone, a November pickup from Toronto finished with 34 points in his 62 games with Atlanta. Dan Bouchard and Phil Myre split time in net with both providing quality starts. Defenseman Pat Quinn was the team's penalty leader spending 156 minutes in the sin bin.
The Flames began preparing for the 1975-76 season by picking up forward Bill Plett from Toronto on waivers. In the amateur draft, Atlanta took defenseman Richard Mulhern in the first round. Mulhern would play twelve games with the Flames during the upcoming season and score one goal, but he was ultimately a bust. Second round selection Rick Bowness appeared in five games. The team hit big with fifth rounder Willi Plett. Plett played four scoreless games with Atlanta during the season but would make an impact the following year after a strong minor league campaign with the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL. In June, the team traded Bryan Hextall Jr. to Detroit for forward Dave Kryskov. In September, Atlanta acquired minor league goaltender Curt Ridley from the Rangers for Jerry Byers and center Claude St. Sauveur from the California Golden Seals for cash. A week before the start of the season, the team parted ways with first ever amateur draft choice Jacques Richard, trading him to Buffalo for defenseman Larry Carriere, a first round selection in 1976 and cash. Pat Quinn became the team's second captain after Keith McCreary retired. The Flames began the season on October 8th with a 4-3 home loss to the Golden Seals. The club dropped their next three games before beating Kansas City by a 5-3 count. Five days earlier, the Flames and Scouts had done business with Buster Harvey going to Kansas City for center Richard Lemieux and future considerations. Atlanta was up and down during the early portion of the campaign. A 7-4 win over Buffalo on December 14th gave the team its first winning record of the season at 14-13-3. The team would go on 9-3-2 run after the win over the Sabres to solidify their hold on third place in the Patrick Division. In late January, Atlanta traded Curt Ridley to the Vancouver Canucks for another first round selection in 1976 and two days later acquired forward Bill Clement from Washington for Jean Lemieux, Gerry Meehan and the first rounder they picked up from Buffalo in the Jacques Richard trade. In February, the Flames went on 1-6-1 skid but the team kicked the offense back into gear, pasting the Rangers 9-4 to snap the spell of bad play and spark a five game unbeaten streak. Atlanta cruised into the postseason with a season-ending 5-2 win over the Islanders at the Omni to finish in third place with a 35-33-12 record, fifteen points ahead of the fourth place New York Rangers. In the playoffs, the Flames would face the Los Angeles Kings in a best of three preliminary round series. Led by a goal and assist from Tommy Williams, the Kings took the opener in Los Angeles by a 2-1 count. Barry Gibbs scored the only goal for Atlanta with assists going to Bill Clement and Pat Quinn. Los Angeles completed the quick sweep with Rogie Vachon posting a 1-0 shutout in Atlanta. Bob Berry scored the series winner for the Kings, putting a rebound past Dan Bouchard with 1:44 remaining in the third period. Tom Lysiak posted a career high 82 points to lead the Flames in regular season scoring again. Curt Bennett contributed a career high 34 goals while former and future WHA player Claude St. Sauveur tallied 24 in his only NHL campaign. Bill Clement picked up 27 points in 31 games with Atlanta while Eric Vail slumped to 16 goals in his sophomore year. Bouchard won 19 games and posted a fantastic 2.54 GAA with two shutouts.
Atlanta held two first round selections in the amateur draft prior to the start of the 1976-77 season. They selected defenseman Dave Shand, 8th overall, and winger Harold Phillipoff two picks later. Shand would appear in 55 games as a rookie while Phillipoff would spend the season with the AHL's Nova Scotia Voyageurs. While both were solid players, neither would really live up to being first round selections. Second round pick, left wing Bobby Simpson, would become an instant regular, scoring 13 goals in 72 games. The team would also select slick Swede Kent Nilsson in the fifth round but he would stay in Sweden for another season before a two year stint with the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA. After a very quiet offseason, the Flames opened up with a 6-5 loss to the Capitals in Washington but would win five of their next six games to post a 5-2 record to start the campaign. The Flames would fall below .500 on November 6th after a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Three straight ties would lead to 9-1-5 run that would push the team past the New York Rangers in the standings again. On December 1st, the club traded Bill Flett to the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA for cash. One day later Atlanta acquired forward John Gould and a second round pick in 1977 from Vancouver for Hilliard Graves and Larry Carriere. The Flames slogged through the rest of the regular season led offensively by Lysiak, who assumed the captaincy after Pat Quinn suffered a career-ending ankle injury, rookie Willi Plett and a bounce back season from Eric Vail. In mid-March, Atlanta swept an important home and home showdown with the Rangers, winning 6-3 at the Omni and by a 5-3 count in New York one night later, to assure another third place finish in the Patrick Division. The Flames ended the campaign with a 34-34-12 record and would face Los Angeles for the second straight season in the playoffs. The Kings took the opening game in Los Angeles with a solid 5-2 win. The series shifted to the Omni for game two where the Flames would delight the raucous home crowd with their first ever win in the playoffs. Atlanta prevailed by a 3-2 count with Eric Vail scoring the eventual game winner in the second period. Phil Myre stopped nineteen shots to post the win, sending the series back to Los Angeles for a decisive game three. Unfortunately, Atlanta would once again fail to advance to the second round as a Butch Goring hat trick propelled the Kings to a 4-2 victory. Tom Lysiak potted 30 goals and his 81 points led the team for the fourth season in a row. Willi Plett won the Calder Memorial Trophy, scoring 33 goals and 56 points in 64 games while Eric Vail returned to form by finishing with 32 goals. Phil Myre and Dan Bouchard each won 17 games with Myre's 3.07 GAA being the better of the two goaltenders.
The Flames readied for the upcoming 1977-78 campaign by doing very little to their roster for the second season in a row. During the offseason the team traded original Flame Randy Manery to Los Angeles for Ab DeMarco Jr. DeMarco would end up bolting for the WHA, joining the Edmonton Oilers instead of the Flames. The team also traded defenseman Rick Bowness to the Detroit Red Wings for cash. Atlanta did not have a first round pick in the amateur draft but did make a good choice in getting Miles Zaharko in the second round. The young defenseman would suit up for 71 games as a rookie. The team also drafted future US Olympic hero Jim Craig in the fourth round. The NHL made a slight change to the playoff format. Only the top two finishers in each division would be guaranteed a playoff spot. Those eight teams would be joined by the next four teams with the highest point totals regardless of division. The Flames opened the season with a 2-2 tie in Boston. The draw was a sign of things to come as Atlanta continued their mediocre play from the prior season. The Flames were 7-7-6 after 20 games and with team continuing to tread water a couple of weeks later, GM Cliff Fletcher pulled off a huge deal on December 12th to try and breathe some life into his moribund club. The Flames partnered with the Blues in a seven piece swap with Phil Myre, Curt Bennett and Barry Gibbs going to St. Louis while defenseman Dick Redmond, forward Bob MacMillan, goalie Yves Belanger and a second round pick in 1979 came back to Atlanta. The team dropped its next three games after the trade, including an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the hapless Cleveland Barons, but a three game winning streak in early January, capped off by a 4-2 decision over the Colorado Rockies, got the team back to .500 at the middle point in the schedule. The Flames continued to stumble along until early March when the offense finally awoke in a 9-3 rout of the Barons. The Flames would drop a tough 5-3 decision to the Flyers the next time out but the offense would explode again in an 8-3 win over Vancouver. Atlanta would win nine of their next eleven games to clinch another playoff berth, finishing with a record of 34-27-19. The Flames would meet the Detroit Red Wings, who were making their first postseason appearance in eight years, in the first round of the playoffs. Atlanta held home ice advantage for the first time ever but it would not help. The Red Wings pulled off a 5-3 upset in game one at the Omni, converting three times on the power play to pick up the important road win. Game two shifted to Detroit's Olympia, where after a scoreless first, Tom Lysiak and Red Wing Vaclav Nedomansky traded second period goals. Bill Lochead put Detroit up 2-1 in the third period before Bobby Lalonde tied things up for Atlanta five minutes later. Lochead would score again to douse the Flames, beating Dan Bouchard with only 1:34 left on the clock. This was the fourth time the Flames had bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. Tom Lysiak led the team in regular season scoring again, although his point total slipped a bit to 69. Bob MacMillan scored a team-leading 31 goals while Guy Chouinard, Eric Vail, Willi Plett, Ken Houston and Bill Clement all scored twenty or more. With Phil Myre out of the picture, Dan Bouchard appeared in 58 games and posted 25 wins, both career highs to that point.
The Flames began preparing for the 1978-79 season by signing free agent center Gene Carr from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 6th. At the amateur draft held on June 15th, Atlanta took physical defenseman Brad Marsh with their first round selection, 11th overall. Marsh would suit up for all 80 games during the upcoming season and contribute 19 assists. None of the other players taken would crack the roster that season. The team lost free agents Rey Comeau, to Colorado, and Ab DeMarco Jr. to the Boston Bruins. In August, the team signed free agent goaltender Reggie Lemelin from Philadelphia to battle Yves Belanger for the right to be Bouchard's primary backup. On September 6th, the Flames acquired Gregg Sheppard from Boston for veteran blue liner Dick Redmond and then sent Sheppard to Pittsburgh for sniper Jean Pronovost to complete a three-way deal. One day before the start of the season, Atlanta picked up forward Gerry O'Flaherty from Minnesota for cash. O'Flaherty would end up appearing in only one game for the Flames. With the roster now set, Atlanta opened the schedule on October 11th, with a 4-4 tie in Chicago.
The team skated to a 3-3 draw in their home-opener against the Capitals two days later. The Flames would defeat the Capitals in Washington by a 6-3 count the next night to pick up their first win of the young season. The victory against Washington was the start of a franchise record ten game winning streak which included impressive defeats of Montreal and the New York Islanders. In the ninth and tenth wins of the streak, Bouchard posted shutouts against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Montreal would finally hand Atlanta its first loss of the season by defeating the Flames 4-2 at the hallowed Forum. On the same day, Atlanta picked up defenseman Rod Seiling from St. Louis for cash. The Flames would beat Vancouver and Chicago to push their record to a scorching 12-1-2 before dropping consecutive games against the Islanders and Capitals. Atlanta would continue to cool off, losing five straight games as November turned into December before beating the Colorado Rockies 4-3 in Denver to halt the slide. As they approached the midway point of the season, Atlanta slipped again dropping five of six games before beating the Rangers and Maple Leafs to sit five games above the .500 mark. On January 16th, the Flames traded former first rounder Richard Mulhern to Los Angeles for defenseman Bob Murdoch. The teams also swapped second round picks in the 1980 draft. That night, Atlanta would hammer the Flyers by a 5-0 count with Bouchard picking up his third shutout of the season. In the middle of February, the Flames went on an eight game unbeaten run before falling 3-2 to the Islanders on March 2nd. After a 7-5 win over the Boston Bruins and a 5-5 tie with Sabres at home, the Flames got routed 9-4 in Buffalo on March 11th. Two days later, the Flames hooked up with Chicago in an eight player blockbuster deal. Franchise point leader and team captain Tom Lysiak was dealt to the Blackhawks along with Miles Zaharko, Pat Ribble, Greg Fox and Harold Phillipoff. Chicago would send the Flames forwards Ivan Boldirev and Darcy Rota along with defenseman Phil Russell.
Fans in Atlanta were stunned by the trade as was Lysiak. Perhaps the Flames felt a change in chemistry was needed to finally get the club past the first round of the playoffs. The emergence of Guy Chouinard as a dangerous scoring threat also made Lysiak seemingly somewhat expendable. Jean Pronovost replaced Lysiak as captain and Atlanta won its first game following the trade, beating the Rangers 6-4 in New York, but lost four straight afterwards. They rebounded by smoking the Blues 8-2 at the Omni to break the streak. The Flames would go 3-3-1 to close out the schedule, finishing with a 4-2 road loss to Philadelphia. Atlanta finished last in the tough Patrick Division but qualified for the playoffs as the six seed. Despite the fourth place finish, the team's 41 wins and 90 points were franchise highs. The Flames would meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in a best of three, preliminary round matchup. In game one in Atlanta, Walt McKechnie scored shorthanded and then added another right after the penalty expired to stake Toronto to 2-0 second period lead. Jean Pronovost scored off a feed from Ivan Boldirev to pull the Flames back within one. Maple Leaf goalie Mike Palmateer would shut the door in the third as Toronto barely held on for a 2-1 victory. The game featured a huge brawl near the end of the second period and the teams combined for 222 penalty minutes during the contest. The series shifted to Toronto for game two and the Leafs blitzed the Flames early in the first period, scoring three in goals in a twenty-three second span to set an NHL record. Darryl Sittler netted the first two while Ron Ellis potted the third. The Flames couldn't recover and fell by a 7-4 count to bow out in the first round yet again. Guy Chouinard scored a goal and added two assists in the loss. Bob MacMillan led the team in regular season scoring with a franchise record 108 points. MacMillan would never approach this total again. Guy Chouinard posted the first 50 goal campaign in club history and added 57 assists. This would also be the only time Chouinard broke the 100 point barrier. Eric Vail scored 35 goals while Jean Pronovost picked up 67 points. Ken Houston, Willi Plett and Bobby Lalonde all scored twenty-plus goals. Tom Lysiak added 58 points in 52 games before the trade to Chicago while Darcy Rota and Ivan Boldirev each totaled 14 points in their 13 regular season games with Atlanta.
The summer prior to the start of the 1979-80 season was one of change for the NHL and the Flames. The war with the WHA was over and the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets joined the league as expansion teams while the Birmingham Bulls and Cincinnati Stingers were paid to disband. The Bulls and Stingers ended up joining the CHL with the Bulls becoming Atlanta's affiliate. The NHL playoff pool was expanded to sixteen teams, the four division winners would automatically qualify and then the next twelve teams based on points. The Flames gained a new rival when the Washington Capitals moved into the Patrick Division as the league realigned to accommodate the four new teams. Al MacNeil was hired to replace Fred Creighton as the team's head coach. The Flames started off their roster moves by trading Bobby Simpson to St. Louis to get back two-time thirty goal scorer Curt Bennett and signing Finnish defenseman Pekka Rautakallio. On June 13th, as part of the merger agreement with the former WHA clubs, Atlanta reclaimed dynamic forward Kent Nilsson from Winnipeg. In the expansion draft, the Flames lost John Gould to the Oilers, Gene Carr to the Jets and prospects Rick Hodgson and Brian Hill to the Whalers. GM Cliff Fletcher had a very good performance at the entry draft. Defenseman Paul Reinhart, selected in the first round, would crack the roster and play in 79 games. Goaltender Pat Riggin, who had a year of pro service with WHA Birmingham, was placed into the entry draft pool and the Flames grabbed him in the second round. Riggin would eventually win the backup job and appear in 25 games with Atlanta during the upcoming season. Fletcher also selected future Flames regulars Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski. In addition to drafting Riggin, the Flames signed a quartet of ex-WHA Bulls to free agent deals, inking Paul Henderson, Serge Beaudoin, Dave Gorman and Rick Adduono for organizational depth. While the quartet spent most of their time with the CHL version of the Bulls, Henderson would appear in 30 games with Atlanta. The club also signed Lethbridge Broncos center Earl Ingarfield Jr. and lost goalie Yves Belanger to the Bruins in free agency.
The Flames kicked off the season on October 10th with a 5-3 road win over the Quebec Nordiques. Earlier that day team acquired Garry Unger from St. Louis for Ed Kea, Red Laurence and a second round draft pick in 1981. The Flames picked up their first loss the next time out, falling 3-1 to the Canadiens in Montreal before returning home to Atlanta. The Flames pummeled the Flyers 9-2 in their home-opener at the Omni. It was the only game the Flyers would lose for almost three months afterwards. Atlanta would drop three and tie one of their next four and on October 23rd, the team parted ways with Bobby Lalonde, sending him to the Bruins for future considerations before beating Edmonton 7-3 at home to start a seven game unbeaten streak. The Flames would lose three straight games before briefly righting the ship with four consecutive wins. After the last win in that streak, a 4-1 decision over the Penguins, the club started to sag, finishing the first half of the schedule three games under the .500 mark.
The Flames started the second half of the campaign with a 5-3 loss in Montreal but reeled off consecutive road wins over Vancouver, Colorado and Los Angeles. A five game winning streak in early February got the team back to a winning record of 25-22-7. On February 8th, the club sent two of the players acquired in the Lysiak blockbuster, Darcy Rota and Ivan Boldirev, to Vancouver for forwards Don Lever and Brad Smith. Atlanta would go 6-2-2 in the first ten games following the trade. After the conclusion of the 1980 Olympics, the Flames signed 1977 draft pick Jim Craig. The "Miracle on Ice" goaltender's debut on March 1st drew the first sellout crowd of the season to the Omni. Craig made 24 saves to defeat the Colorado Rockies by a 4-1 count. He would go 0-2-1 in his final three starts for the Flames and be traded to the Bruins after the season. Atlanta won three straight following the victory over the Rockies but would stumble the rest of the way, finishing with a 35-32-13 record, good for fourth place in the Patrick Division. The Flames would draw division rival, the New York Rangers, in the first round of the playoffs. The revised playoff format did away with first round byes for the division winners and the opening series was now a best of five instead of a best of three.
The series began at Madison Square Garden and the Rangers took the pivotal first game, 2-1 in overtime. Steve Vickers scored just 33 seconds into the extra frame and John Davidson outdueled Dan Bouchard in goal. Energized by the overtime win, the Rangers hammered the Flames by a 5-1 count in game two. The series shifted south for the next two scheduled tilts and Atlanta staved off elimination with a big 4-2 win in game three at the Omni. The Rangers extinguished the Flames in Atlanta for good in game four on April 12, 1980. Anders Hedberg, former Flame Dean Talafous and Ed Hospodar scored during an early first period barrage to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead. Eric Vail scored his third goal of the series a couple minutes later to give the Flames a glimmer of hope. Rangers' defenseman Carol Vadnais would score after a scramble in front of Bouchard in the second period to give New York a 4-1 advantage. In the third period, Guy Chouinard scored the Flames final goal in Atlanta with assists going to Don Lever and Willi Plett to make the score 4-2. Barry Beck would round out the scoring as the Rangers prevailed by a 5-2 count. Kent Nilsson led the Flames in regular season scoring, posting 40 goals and 53 assists in his first NHL season but failed to score in the playoff series against the Rangers. After breaking the 100 mark the prior season, Guy Chouinard's point total dropped to 77 while Bob MacMillan's fell to 61. MacMillian was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play that season. Eric Vail, Jean Pronovost and Ken Houston all scored more than twenty goals. Dan Bouchard finished the campaign with 23 wins while posting 2 shutouts and a 3.18 GAA.
During their final season in Atlanta, it became apparent Tom Cousins would not be able to keep the franchise afloat in the Georgia capital any longer. Cousins had suffered massive financial losses during his eight years of ownership due to sagging attendance and the lack of a lucrative local television contract. Apparently Cousins' original plans for hockey in Atlanta did not account for the costly war with the rival WHA either. The franchise's hastily arranged birth in 1972, coming sooner than originally planned, put the club on shaky financial footing due to rising player costs and once attendance started to drop, after peaking at just over 14,000 in the Flames second season, the team found itself struggling to survive. Houston and Dallas were mentioned as possible US destinations but with two rival bidders emerging, Calgary became the clear relocation frontrunner. Daryl and Byron Seaman bid $14 million for the club but were trumped by former WHA owner Nelson Skalbania's record $16 million offer. Actor Glenn Ford made a late attempt to keep the club in Atlanta but his $8 million bid was too little, too late. Skalbania acquired the franchise and moved it to its current home of Calgary, keeping the Flames name intact.
Run from the beginning by the shrewd Cliff Fletcher, the Flames were a far superior team on the ice than their eventual successors, the Atlanta Thrashers, but faced many of the same challenges off the ice. They were also much better than fellow 1970's expansion teams Vancouver, Washington and Kansas City, qualifying for the playoffs in six of eight seasons. Unfortunately, the Flames never got past the first round and made the kind of playoff run that could have possibly sparked the interest of the casual sports fan in Atlanta. The team did have a small hardcore following but were never really able to go beyond that with average attendance falling to around the 10,000 mark over the final few seasons. The NHL would return to Atlanta two decades later with the birth of Thrashers in 1999, but like the Flames before them, the Thrashers were also forced to relocate to Canada, becoming the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011. A third NHL attempt in Atlanta seems highly unlikely at this point in time.
Which of Atlanta's two NHL clubs had the superior uniforms?
Flames (1972-80) (17 votes)
Thrashers (1999-2011) (3 votes)
Didn't like the look of either team (1 vote)
21 total votes