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Atlanta Flames a brief history

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03-24-2013, 06:25 AM
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yave1964
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Atlanta Flames a brief history

ATLANTA FLAMES

Wow what a poorly named team. The Atlanta Flames were named after the burning of Atlanta by General Sherman on the way to the sea. So the Hockey Gods deemed it appropriate to remind the fine folks of Georgia of their greatest failure, the burning of the city they were moving in to.

The Flames were opened for business with the start of the 1972-73 season, young Cliff Fletcher who went on to a long successful career as a General manager in the league was put in charge and icon Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion was named the first coach.

The draft that followed began with the goalies, Phil Myre was plucked from Montreal and Dan Bouchard who was toiling behind Cheevers and Johnston in Boston was the second pick. A solid goaltending tandem began.

As far as position players in the expansion draft, the flames began with Kerry Ketter, a plodding d-man who played 41 games without scoring a goal that first season before disappearing into the minor leagues forever. The expansion draft however did bring in players like Billy McMillan Pat Quinn, Lew Morrison, Randy Manery and Larry Romanchych among others who went on to have successful careers. Jacques Richard a crafty little center who never became the star he was predicted to be but still went on to have a very nice ten year career punctuated by a 51 goal season late in his career with the Nordiques was their first ever draft pick. Bill Plager of the notorious Plager brothers also was taken in the expansion draft to add grit.

The Flames in short followed the example of the St. Louis Blues draft from a few years previous, get solid goaltending and veteran d-men and hope that the occasional trips into the other team’s zones would produce enough goals to win games. The first season they missed the playoffs, then made the playoffs six of the following seven seasons, an expansion record which has been tied but not broken to this day.

Bouchard and Myre were both capable starting goaltenders who were both uncomfortable sharing the workload, both felt they were deserving to be starters which caused a bit of friction over the years but the head to head battle made every start critical for both of them, both played to win and also start the next game, a bad game sent you back to the bench. They anchored the team.

The following year the draft yielded Tom Lysiak a big old Alberta farm boy who went on to a very nice thirteen year career. The next season they added Eric Vail and Guy Chouinard who were two of the best Flame players through their history. Ken Houston who was spectacular at times came along to anchor the maturing defense, Bob Macmillan came in a trade to provide scoring punch to team up with the developing sniper Vail, willi Plett and bill Flett were solid forwards and confused announcers everywhere.

This team did everything right, they followed a proven pattern, they generally drafted well, Fletcher made smart trades and in a chaotic age with the WHA raiding organizations and talent thin they managed to hang in year after year as a playoff team, but there were two problems. First; attendance which was surprisingly high early on began to slip as the economy turned for the worse and the newness wore off. Second and really the reason for the attendance slipping, in six years of making the playoffs the Flames won exactly two games. The Flames one a game in1977 against the Kings and a game against the Rangers in their last playoff appearance which gave them a combined record in the playoffs of 2-15. Ouch. The fans were used to a mediocre to good team that was bounced in the first round without a fight year after year after year. Eventually apathy set in as the NBA Hawks captivated the city as well as college football and the Flames were forced to relocate to Calgary where the next decade produced one of the NHLs greatest all time rivalries with the Flames against the great Edmonton Oiler teams. Many of the Atlanta Flames went on to nice careers in Calgary.

One nice playoff run, winning a couple of rounds with style would have captured the fan base; it would have sparked the imagination and given the team something to build around. Instead they were doomed by mediocrity and quick exits, and instead of a 1980s decade of excellence which would have solidified Hockey forever in one of the United States larger cities it died. The Thrashers were added in a future expansion and were even more inept and ended up in Winnipeg, the chance of Atlanta ever getting another shot are about the same chance of me being set up on a blind date with Angelina Jolie.

Anyway, here are the all-time best Atlanta Flames

RIGHT WING ERIC VAIL
Vail won the Calder as the league’s best rookie in 1974-75 when he began his career with a career high of 39 goals. The sucker could just plain shoot the puck. He had two other thirty plus goal seasons with Atlanta and a couple of others where he scored 28, he is the Atlanta all-time leader in goals scored with 174 in 469 games, he is second on the team for his career with 383 points.
The problem with Vail was twofold, his nightlife, he had a reputation as a party animal while playing, and the fact that he was a ‘coaster’ a guy who did not take his defensive responsibility serious. Coach after coach were well aware of his thirty goal a year production but felt he was a slacker and could easily have dialed it up to forty with a little effort and grit, but he was happy being who he was. Finally during th second year in Calgary after fight after fight with coach Al MacNeil General Manager Cliff Fletcher sadly gave up on his pupil saying that the flames and Vail were no longer compatible and he dealt Vail to Detroit where his career quickly derailed, his lack of enthusiasm helped poison an already bad team and after a couple of years in the minors he soon retired at the age of 30, a career wasted. But man, when this guy wanted could this guy shoot.

CENTER TOM LYSIAK
The all-time point’s leader for the Flames, he scored 435 points in an Atlanta uniform over 445 games, for his career he scored 843 points in 919 games. A solid, near point a game center that made three consecutive all-star games with Atlanta, he finished up his career with the Black Hawks where he performed equally as well. The gritty Lysiak who had a well-deserved reputation as a rugged but clean player had one bad incident during his career, in 1983 he blatantly tripped the referee with his stick, earning him a twenty game suspension. Really though, a near star player who deserves to be remembered.

LEFT WING GUY CHOUINARD
The little winger was the youngest player ever drafted in the NHL at the age of 17 when the NHL decided to take the WHA on head to head as the WHA was poaching under age players left and right. The Quebec native played bits of seasons in the NHL over his first couple of years before breaking on the scene in 1977 playing all 80 games, and scoring 17 goals and 50 points. He followed that up in Atlanta with 28 goals, then in 1978-79 becoming the only Atlanta Flame to score 50 and followed that with 31. He followed the team to Calgary and gave three solid seasons before being dealt to the Blues.
He developed quite a reputation in junior hockey as a coach and developer of talent, mostly with the Quebec Ramparts. He is in the QMJHL hockey hall of fame; he is the league’s all-time leader in wins and championships. A true class act, Chouinard is one of the good guys in the game.

DEFENSE: KEN HOUSTON
Houston was a rugged tough scoring blue liner who had 20 plus goals a year for four consecutive years for the Flames in Atlanta. A hard shot and over 100 PIMS twice, Houston was a Shea Weber type until his career got derailed and ended early.
In 1980-81 the first season that the Flames played in Calgary Houston led the Flames along with Chouinard as they won their first ever playoff series by sweeping Chicago, then they knocked off the Flyers in seven games in a classic slugfest, before falling in six to the North Stars in the conference finals. Houston in 16 games had 7 goals and 8 assists from the blue line to go with 30 penalty minutes. He had one of the all-time great playoff runs of any blue liner. He had a couple of more Weber like seasons before injuries derailed him and he retired at the age of 31.

DEFENSE: RANDY MANERY
With apologies to Pat Quinn. Manery played five seasons with the Flames after being taken in the expansion draft, the lanky blond blue liner was okay on the point; he could run a power play and was responsible in his own end. He had a ten year career and also played for Detroit and the Kings. He led all flames blue liners with 372 games with 30 goals and 172 points. He was the first Flame to appear in an all-star game.

GOALIE DAN BOUCHARD
If everything had broken right for Bouchard he would have been a hall of famer. Instead today he is largely forgotten, a good goalie on a mediocre team that no longer exists.
Bouchard started out as property of the Bruins and was stuck behind Cheevers and Gil gilbert, your basic brick wall in the way. At first when the Flames snapped him up in the expansion draft it looked like a blessing but shortly after Cheevers took his stitched up mask and went to Cleveland in the new league. If Bouchard had a chance in Boston he might have won a cup or two, he was that good. A hot headed Quebec man, Patrick Roy says Bouchard was his idol. Ken Dryden praised Bouchard in his book the game for having the perfect build for a goalie.
Bouchard split time in net with Phil Myre. The two of them reportedly did not like each other much, and Bouchard would ***** openly whenever he was not in net. Myre, a good goalie in his own right finally after five seasons was dealt away to the Blues. Bouchard lead all goaltenders in wins in 1978-79 with 32.
For his career with Atlanta Bouchard appeared in 384 games with a record of 164-134-64, included in there were 20 shutouts, all of these are club records. Keep in mind he did this with an expansion team. After leaving the Flames he went to Quebec where he had a couple of nice playoff runs, before finishing his career in Winnipeg for one year. His final career record was 655 games, 286-232-113 with 27 shutouts. Hockeyreference.com has his similarities scores listed and the three most similar goalies in history are Tom Barrasso, Chico Resch and Mike Richter. In my mind, this largely forgotten goalie may be the most underrated goalie of all time.

Other Flames worth mentioning include Ray Comeau and Curt Bennett a couple of expansion picks who provided offense for five years, Billy Kea who provided toughness and was a talented blue liner, Bill Clement who came over from the Flyers and provided leadership for five years, Bob Macmillan who scored 90 goals in his three seasons in Atlanta. Jimmy Craig got a taste of the NHL here after the Olympic heroics. Kent Nillson who put up some monster numbers in the WHA and then in Calgary got his first taste of the NHL in Atlanta. Garry Unger would set the all-time record for consecutive games played while with Atlanta.
Overall, Atlanta’s loss was Calgary’s gain This was a well ran organization with a plan who always seemed to fall short in the playoffs and thanks to that the battle of Alberta became the hottest rivalry in hockey during the eighties.

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03-24-2013, 07:36 AM
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Brilliant summary, loved it!

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03-24-2013, 07:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yave1964 View Post

Other Flames worth mentioning include Ray Comeau and Curt Bennett a couple of expansion picks who provided offense for five years, Billy Kea who provided toughness and was a talented blue liner
Curt Bennett was acquired via trade; not expansion draft.

Ed Kea; not Billy.

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03-24-2013, 08:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by STLBlueshistory View Post
Curt Bennett was acquired via trade; not expansion draft.

Ed Kea; not Billy.
Thanks!!

I wrote this mostly from memory with a little bit of using the web to check myself but I appreciate anything I missed being fixed.

I love the history of the teams that did not make it, the 70's were by far my favorite decade. Thanks for reading.

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03-24-2013, 08:40 AM
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Garry Unger would set the all-time record for consecutive games played while with Atlanta.
One other correction.

Unger actually set the record while he was with the St Louis Blues. His streak ironically started the game after being a scratch for Toronto against St Louis and ended while he was with the Flames against St Louis. He dressed for the game but MacNeil didn't put him out for a shift.

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03-24-2013, 08:45 AM
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They didn't do all that badly for a first-year team in 72-73 (25-38-15). They then settled into a pattern of mostly mediocrity for the next seven seasons, finishing around .500 in five of them with two good seasons. Their fans never had to endure the hardships of the first few years of an expansion team like other franchises (Islanders, Capitals, Scouts, Sabres, Canucks). They also lost in the preliminary round of the playoffs in their last 5 seasons.

Despite the mediocrity in the standings, they were still a fun team to watch. They had remarkable goaltending consistency for an expansion team, as Dan Bouchard and Phil Myre were the only goalies to suit up in their first five seasons! Bouchard lasted the duration of their time in Atlanta.

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03-24-2013, 09:20 AM
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Bouchard was stuck in the minors behind Cheevers (and Johnston) but never Gilbert. In a move that made no sense whatsoever, Boston left him unprotected for the expansion draft and he never got a chance to move up from the Braves to the Bruins. Boston traded for Gilbert after the 1972-73 season. One of the many mistakes Bostonís management made with young players in the late 60ís and early 70ís (drafts, trades, expansion picks). I always liked Bouchardís game and he might have made a difference in the 1974 finals, as well as the 1978 and 1979 series against the Canadiens.

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03-24-2013, 09:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by STLBlueshistory View Post
Curt Bennett was acquired via trade; not expansion draft.

Ed Kea; not Billy.
Quote:
Originally Posted by vadnais1972 View Post
Bouchard was stuck in the minors behind Cheevers (and Johnston) but never Gilbert. In a move that made no sense whatsoever, Boston left him unprotected for the expansion draft and he never got a chance to move up from the Braves to the Bruins. Boston traded for Gilbert after the 1972-73 season. One of the many mistakes Bostonís management made with young players in the late 60ís and early 70ís (drafts, trades, expansion picks). I always liked Bouchardís game and he might have made a difference in the 1974 finals, as well as the 1978 and 1979 series against the Canadiens.
I meant Cheevers and Johnston. After losing Cheevers to the WHA and Bouchard to the Flames in the draft, trading for Gilbert became the best option available. Your right, with Bouchard I truly believe the Bruins would have won at least one of the cups you mentioned.

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03-24-2013, 10:08 AM
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i've been wondering about bob macmillan for a while. i was too young to have seen it, but the guy had one spike career year where he and chouinard put up 100 point years. who was this guy?

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03-24-2013, 10:21 AM
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Another great write up, only one thing I noticed.

Dan Bouchard wasn't behind Gilles Glibert, he was behind Cheevers and Johnston. Gilbert didn't come over to Boston until 73/74 and was with Minnesota in 1972.

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03-24-2013, 10:33 AM
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vadim sharifijanov
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Nice job Vadim. The Flames are probably the most enigmatic and interesting of the relocated franchises....

His early career with the Rangers was a little before my time, but his Atlanta spike year was not. He was a very smooth, crafty player who had good speed. His stickhandling was exceptional. His defense was ...lacking A comparable might be a better Alex Tanguay.
A playmaker who could score some....Choiunard was the same type but a better scorer a bit more of a sniper. They worked well together. Atlanta had very interesting teams...As the summary said they did a lot right but they never had much for d men until Paul Reinhart came along a year before they move.....
thanks cn6. yeah, there seems to have been some decent offensive talent on those teams. lysiak, plett, vail, chouinard, and as you relate macmillan was legit to a degree. but there was such a small overlap between those guys (without lysiak) and nilsson and reinhart. i guess calgary got their juggernaut in the mid-to-late 80s anyway though. but still, you never like to see a franchise move to another city and then all of a sudden finally be competitive in the playoffs like calgary the year after the flames moved.

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03-24-2013, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by yave1964 View Post
I meant Cheevers and Johnston. After losing Cheevers to the WHA and Bouchard to the Flames in the draft, trading for Gilbert became the best option available. Your right, with Bouchard I truly believe the Bruins would have won at least one of the cups you mentioned.
Whoops, sorry didn't see this, my bad. I can't edit at the moment, or I would edit that post. I've been a bad boy.

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03-24-2013, 01:43 PM
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but there were two problems. First; attendance which was surprisingly high early on began to slip as the economy turned for the worse and the newness wore off. Second and really the reason for the attendance slipping, in six years of making the playoffs the Flames won exactly two games. The Flames one a game in1977 against the Kings and a game against the Rangers in their last playoff appearance which gave them a combined record in the playoffs of 2-15. Ouch. The fans were used to a mediocre to good team that was bounced in the first round without a fight year after year after year. Eventually apathy set in as the NBA Hawks captivated the city as well as college football and the Flames were forced to relocate to Calgary
This narrative has been so often repeated that it makes me wonder where it came from -- it's not consistent with the recorded history of the team.

Atlanta never exactly had strong attendance, but they were consistently ahead of Pittsburgh, Washington and LA -- franchises that managed to survive. The year before they moved, they were 10th in a 17-team league. Through the middle of their tenure, they drew above league average in 4 of their 8 seasons, and never fell to bottom-3 status until their final season. And they were doing that in one of the league's smaller arenas, the 15,000 seat Omni. The stands weren't packed, but to be essentially an average team in a building that size was not terrible or unsustainable.

There are 2 major explanations for the Flames' relocation:

1) Owner Tom Cousins was a real estate magnate and at the time, was caught up in the economic downturn. He needed to unload the team for a cash infusion, and expected to get about $8m from an Atlanta-based buyer. Enter Nelson Skalabania with a $16m offer to move the team to Calgary -- for Cousins, that was a no-brainer. Money talked, and the Flames were nothing more than an asset being traded.

2) Dan Bouchard, who still lives in Atlanta, claims that Cousins stumbled across early evidence of the pension fraud that eventually sent Alan Eagleson to prison. Cousins wanted nothing to do with it, and the other owners wanted nothing to do with a whistle-blower. He ditched the team as a way of disentangling himself from what he perceived to be a major scandal in the making.

Either way, it was not as simple as "low attendance, time to move". The Flames were on track to be another Washington or LA, a respectable middle-class citizen, had they stuck around.

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03-24-2013, 02:04 PM
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Uh-huh. Right.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...4541%2C3859161

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...4069%2C4804184

Facts are they lost money every year in Atlanta, Cousins wasn't going to cover losses anymore and wanted out, and he got big offers from Skalbania ($16 million) and the Seaman group ($14 million). The only serious inquiries from anyone intending to keep the team in Atlanta were made by actor Glenn Ford, who walked away after his agent did the math and said "anyone who buys this team and keeps it in Atlanta will lose a substantial amount of money".

EDIT: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...1378%2C4315321


Last edited by Hoser: 03-24-2013 at 02:50 PM.
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03-24-2013, 02:13 PM
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Saw them at the Buffalo Aud. 1979-80 season. Still have the game program... should go dig it up.

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03-24-2013, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by tarheelhockey View Post
...Enter Skalabania with $16m offer... move team to Calgary -- for Cousins no-brainer. Money talked... Dan Bouchard claims that Cousins stumbled across early evidence of the pension fraud... Cousins wanted nothing to do with...other owners wanted nothing to do with a whistle-blower....
Yes, and I believed then as I do to this day that that was a big mistake, as a group lead by legendary actor actor Glenn Ford had in fact tabled an offer in the $8M range, keeping the Flames in Atlanta that the league if it had had any vision at all would have insisted upon. However, rather difficult to insist Cousins take an $8M haircut and not unlike the more recent Thrashers move, mightve been very difficult to enforce... the latter, pension scheme, only exacerbating matters further.

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03-24-2013, 03:30 PM
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Glenn Ford walked away: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...6610%2C2641441

"Actor Glenn Ford has decided to withdraw from negotiations to purchase the financially ailing Atlanta Flames, apparently insuring that the National Hockey League club will move to Calgary, Alberta.

Ford's agent Lloyd Zelderman, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles Thursday, said, 'Mr. Ford is very disappointed that the economics of the situation make this otherwise desirable venture impractical.'

Zelderman said his own study concluded that anyone buying the Flames and keeping the franchise in Atlanta 'could expect to lose a substantial amount of money for the next two to three years because of contracts entered into by the current management.'

...

The Flames have lost money each year since coming into the league in 1972-73 and lost $5-million over the last two seasons.




Money, money, money, money, money. The Flames didn't make enough to keep them in Atlanta. NO ONE tabled an offer to keep them in Atlanta.

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03-24-2013, 04:02 PM
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Bouchard was indeed a great goalie. Had the best hair in hockey too! Perfect blonde hollywood hair.

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03-24-2013, 04:41 PM
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Money, money, money, money, money. The Flames didn't make enough to keep them in Atlanta. NO ONE tabled an offer to keep them in Atlanta.
Thanks Hoser. Just had ta come along & burst my balloon, put an end to that Urban Legend huh?... cant ya leave me somethin, like, "maybe if the economic conditions had been better".... or whatever? Is it necessary to throw cold water on my sometimes hyperbolic language then CAP it... in caps? Geesh. Just leave me to live in my lil' fantasy world will ya. Not hurtin anyone.

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03-24-2013, 05:43 PM
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Uh-huh. Right.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...4541%2C3859161

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...4069%2C4804184

Facts are they lost money every year in Atlanta, Cousins wasn't going to cover losses anymore and wanted out, and he got big offers from Skalbania ($16 million) and the Seaman group ($14 million). The only serious inquiries from anyone intending to keep the team in Atlanta were made by actor Glenn Ford, who walked away after his agent did the math and said "anyone who buys this team and keeps it in Atlanta will lose a substantial amount of money".

EDIT: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...1378%2C4315321
Nothing I said was counter-factual.

- Atlanta didn't have relocation-worthy attendance. That's a fact.

- Cousins dumped the team (Bouchard's explanation notwithstanding) because he was over-leveraged. That's a fact. Look at the first article you cited: even consistent sellouts at higher ticket prices couldn't have saved the team from the debt Cousins had accumulated. A later article you cited makes a passing reference to Cousins not being able to take any more loans, undoubtedly because of his debt load. Ford's reason for walking away, as stated, was not because the hockey operations couldn't be profitable but because Cousins had entered into contracts that sandbagged the franchise. He wasn't just fed up with a money-losing team; he was facing total financial collapse if he didn't drop debt and liquidate his assets. It wasn't a "hockey problem" that ailed him.

- Bouchard said what he said. I don't know how much credence to give it. No idea where he got his info, or whether his info is based in hard fact or inference. But he did make the claim, and it's not like he's some random blogger slinging dirt.


The bottom line is that the team didn't move due to attendance issues. That is a myth. The team moved because Cousins was in over his head with debt (real estate tycoon goes belly-up during a recession, desperately puts hockey team on the market and receives big offer from Canadian high-rollers... sound familiar?) and at that moment, Skalbania was on the scene with a check for DOUBLE the Atlanta-based value of the franchise. Of course Cousins sold them out. Who wouldn't?

It's noteworthy that Skalbania also bought the Omni, the Flames' arena, and re-sold it for a 200% profit a few years later.

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03-25-2013, 07:29 AM
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I'm not gonna take on the mythology that has grown around my hometown and it's hockey history. I will say this however. The Flames are the reason I love hockey. The Thrashers are the reason I now hate the NHL.

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03-25-2013, 08:22 AM
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When was Ken Houston ever a defenseman? I only remember him as a big (for the era) right wing.

http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8447990


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03-25-2013, 11:08 AM
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you are welcome and I dont know that Macmillian was legit" as he was not very useful when the rubber met the road, but he was one of the more purely skilled players in the league.....The Flames had a consistent style..............A couple of scoring lines a checking but for a team with Flett, Plett and Vail they were very much a finesse team. Combine the softness with a lack of defensemen and I think that explains the lack of success in the playoffs....
i guess by "legitimate," i meant that he didn't have a fluke season where he was carried by a star linemate, which is what i got from what you said. like the way tanguay isn't an exceptional all-round player but legitimately is an offensive talent. maybe he scores more when he's playing with sakic or forsberg, but he's still legitimately a good offensive producer, as opposed to, say, chris simon's 29 goal year with oates.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tarheelhockey View Post
This narrative has been so often repeated that it makes me wonder where it came from -- it's not consistent with the recorded history of the team.

Atlanta never exactly had strong attendance, but they were consistently ahead of Pittsburgh, Washington and LA -- franchises that managed to survive. The year before they moved, they were 10th in a 17-team league. Through the middle of their tenure, they drew above league average in 4 of their 8 seasons, and never fell to bottom-3 status until their final season. And they were doing that in one of the league's smaller arenas, the 15,000 seat Omni. The stands weren't packed, but to be essentially an average team in a building that size was not terrible or unsustainable.

There are 2 major explanations for the Flames' relocation:

1) Owner Tom Cousins was a real estate magnate and at the time, was caught up in the economic downturn. He needed to unload the team for a cash infusion, and expected to get about $8m from an Atlanta-based buyer. Enter Nelson Skalabania with a $16m offer to move the team to Calgary -- for Cousins, that was a no-brainer. Money talked, and the Flames were nothing more than an asset being traded.

2) Dan Bouchard, who still lives in Atlanta, claims that Cousins stumbled across early evidence of the pension fraud that eventually sent Alan Eagleson to prison. Cousins wanted nothing to do with it, and the other owners wanted nothing to do with a whistle-blower. He ditched the team as a way of disentangling himself from what he perceived to be a major scandal in the making.

Either way, it was not as simple as "low attendance, time to move". The Flames were on track to be another Washington or LA, a respectable middle-class citizen, had they stuck around.
this is super interesting. i'd like to read more about this. do you have a link?

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