Calgary Flames

Breaking down the Calgary Flames’ history of giving away star players

Last week, I explored the Calgary Flame’s history of just missing out on star players on the trade market. This week it’s time to look at the star players the Flames did have, but gave away far too early or for far too little of a return. As is typically the case in Calgary, the Flames are infamous for the very worst outcomes.

It’s no secret the team has had a long past of giving up on young talent too early, only for the players to then thrive and have long, successful careers elsewhere. They’ve also had some instances of trading away current star players for far too little, and watching them achieve huge success on their new teams. In other words, Flames fans can’t have nice things.

From giving away players too soon or too late in trades, to letting players walk away for free, the Flames have found about every way in the book possible to give away elite talent one way or another. It’s one of the reasons the franchise has made it out of the first round of the playoffs just seven times in 40 years since moving to Calgary in 1980.

Let’s take a look at some of the star players the Flames have given up over the last 40 years. Prepare for pain.

Brett Hull – 1988

The complete mishandling of Brett Hull by the Calgary Flames will go down as one of the worst moves not only in Flames history, but in NHL history. The story did had a positive start however, with the Flames snagging Hull in the sixth round of the 1984 draft—one of the very best drafts in Flames history.

Going into the draft, Hull was a prolific scorer in the BCJHL (now known as the BCHL), putting up a ridiculous 105 goals and 188 points in 57 games in his draft year in 1983–84 before the Flames selected him. He would then follow that up with a couple successful years playing college hockey in the WCHA in his D+1 and D+2 years. Hull posted 84 goals and 144 points across 90 games and two seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth between 1984 and 1986.

Even this early into his career, it was crystal clear Hull had a special knack for scoring goals. He had scored at a rate of 1.43 goals per game over two years in BCJHL, as well as scoring at 0.93 goals per game in the WCHA. His 105 goals and 188 points in his draft year in 1983–84 both remain single season records in the BCHL. The BCHL has since named their trophy awarded to the league’s highest scorer the Brett Hull Trophy.

The goal scoring success wouldn’t end at the college level though. In 1986–87, Hull would suit up in his first full professional season with the Flames’ then AHL affiliate, the Moncton Golden Flames. Hull would lead the team in scoring by a wide margin as a 22-year-old, posting 50 goals and 92 points in just 67 games as a rookie as he claimed the league’s Rookie of the Year honours. He would finish the season third league-wide for goals and points—his goals per game of 0.75 ranked first in the AHL.

In 1987–88, Hull would make his long anticipated Flames debut. The NHL rookie would put up 26 goals and 50 points across 52 games for the Flames, a 42 goal pace in a full season. However he wouldn’t make it out of the season as a member of the team.

With the Flames a cup favourite and on the cusp of claiming their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the team was going all-in before the playoffs started. Wanting to add some veteran reinforcements to their talented lineup, the Flames sent out rookie Hull and depth forward Steve Bozek to the St. Louis Blues for veteran defenceman Rob Ramage and backup goaltender Rick Wamsley.

The Flames would end up losing in the second round that season. However as we all know, they would go on to win their first and only Stanley Cup the next year in 1989 with both Ramage and Wamsley on the team. I’m typically of the mindset that winning a championship rules over anything in sports, regardless of the cost to get one.

That said, both Ramage and Wamsley played limited roles in the Flames’ Cup run. Ramage would finish the 1988–89 season with 16 points in 68 games, sixth among Flames defencemen. He did score 12 points in the playoffs though, , second behind only Al MacInnis. Ramage was traded for a second-round pick following the teams’ Cup win.

Wamsley meanwhile, suited up for 35 regular season games during the 1988–89 season and just one single period in the playoffs— where he allowed two goals on 10 shots. He would play parts of three more seasons in Calgary as the team’s backup goalie before being traded to Toronto in the infamous Doug Gilmour trade. More on that later.

Hull continued his path to stardom in St. Louis, posting 41 goals and 84 points during his first full season in St. Louis in 1988–89. He then followed that up by experiencing one of the most successful three year stretches in NHL history. From 1989–90 to 1991–92, Hull scored 228 goals and 353 points in 231 games, as he led the league in goals for three straight years.

In particular, his 1990–91 season was the stuff of legend. Hull’s 86 goals are still the third most all-time in a single season in NHL history, behind only Wayne Gretzky’s 87 and 92 goal seasons. He would lead the goal scoring race by an absurd 35 goals, the biggest gap in NHL history as he took home the Hart trophy.

Hull is currently the Blues’ all time leader in goals, powerplay goals, game-winning goals, shots, and hat tricks.

He would end his career as one of the most prolific offensive talents in NHL history. Hull posted 741 goals and 1391 points across 1269 NHL games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. His 741 goals are fourth all-time in NHL history.

It’s fair to say the Flames likely would’ve still won the Stanley Cup in 1989 without Ramage and Wamsley. Not only that but had they retained Hull, the Flames could’ve potentially put together a dynasty in the 1990’s, and won many more Stanley Cups with Hull on their already stacked roster. Instead the Flames would fail to win another playoff round until 2004.

Doug Gilmour – 1992

In yet another move that wouldn’t just go down as one of the worst in Flames history but in NHL history, the Flames shipped out the disgruntled Doug Gilmour to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1991–92 season, just four years after the Hull trade.

Gilmour was an integral part of the Flames’ 1989 cup run; however, since that season things had taken a turn for the worst for the franchise. Going into the 1991–92 season, General Manager Cliff Fletcher had left the team for a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadian dollar was tanking, and the Flames had won just five playoff games since winning the Cup.

To make matters worse, Gilmour was unhappy and looking for a new contract. Back then the NHL allowed option years in contracts, and Gilmour was currently in the middle of it in 1991–92 after failing to get the raise he wanted during the prior offseason. In December of that season, Gilmour and the Flames went to arbitration.

After being awarded a modest raise but not the one he had wanted, Gilmour accused the league and team of tampering with the arbitration process. He was so unhappy with how things had gone that he no longer wanted to play for the Flames and requested a trade. Despite all this going on behind the scenes, Gilmour still managed to put up 38 points in 38 games for the Flames, and was arguably the team’s best forward.

With the Flames hands tied, Gilmour got his wish and was dealt to the Maple Leafs in a huge 11 player trade on January 2nd, 1992. The Flames would move Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Ric Nattress, and Wamsley to Toronto for Craig Berube, Alexander Godynyuk, Gary Leeman, Michel Petit, and Jeff Reese.

Right from the get-go this looked like a disastrous trade for the Flames. Gilmour was arguably the team’s best and most well-rounded player and was still in his prime at just 28 years old. Macoun and Nattress made up the team’s second pairing, Manderville was one of the Flames’ best prospects, and Wamsley was the team’s backup (acquired in the Hull trade). To no one’s surprise the Flames missed the playoffs in 1991–92 after the deal was made.

The only notable player coming back the Flames’ way was a 28-year-old Leeman, coming off a 17 goal season and two years removed from a 51 goal season. Outside of Leeman, the other four players coming to Calgary were nothing but depth options.

Gilmour would experience the best stretch of his career in Toronto and found immediate success on his new team. In his first full season in Toronto, Gilmour posted 95 assists and a franchise record 127 points, along with 35 points in 21 playoff games as he carried the Leafs to game seven of the conference final that year. The Flames meanwhile would lose in the first round.

His 127 points placed seventh league-wide and he would also take home the Selke trophy that season. Gilmour would end up producing 131 goals and 452 points in 393 games for the Maple Leafs across six seasons, including 77 points in 52 playoff games.

The Flames return for him meanwhile fell well short of expectations. The key piece coming back to Calgary in Leeman played just 59 games in Calgary before being traded—putting up just 23 points. Berube would play 113 games for the Flames; Godynyuk, 33; Petit, 134; and Reese, 39. None of the players acquired would still be on the Flames roster by the 1994 offseason just two years later.

The Flames were in a tough spot given the economy and Gilmour’s contract status, but the way they handled it will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history and one that signaled the beginning of the end of the Flames as a Cup contender.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere – 2000

The summer of 2000 can be described as the summer of Craig Button, and not in a good way. The Flames would make two franchise altering mistakes that offseason, the first of which was trading Jean-Sebastien Giguere to the Anaheim Ducks.

Entering the 2000 offseason, the Flames were in the midst of the longest playoff drought in franchise history as they had missed the playoffs for four straight seasons. One of the main reasons for that was the team being completely devoid at the goaltending position. From 1996–2000—a span of four seasons—the Flames used 10 different goalies, none of which had great results.

The youngest and most promising of the group was Giguere. Giguere, still just 23 during the 2000 offseason, was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997 after being picked 13th overall just two years prior. In the acquisition, the Flames sent club legend Gary Roberts the other way.

Giguere spent the entirety of his first season with the franchise playing in the AHL, posting a .926 save percentage, 2.46 GAA and 16-10-3 record in professional rookie season. Despite being with the franchise for four seasons, and the Flames having no real answer in net at the NHL level, Giguere only played 22 games for the team across four seasons. In those games, Giguere posted a .902 save percentage and 3.08 GAA along with a 7–10–2 record. He also logged 111 AHL games for the Flames, posting a .908 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

Giguere certainly did have a super impressive resume at this point in his young career, but what he did have was youth and potential. There was a reason he was the 13th overall pick in the draft. Despite this the Flames didn’t feel comfortable handing the reigns over to Giguere and shipped him to Anaheim for a second-round pick in the 2000 draft.

The second-round pick was eventually moved to the Washington Capitals for Miika Elomo and a fourth-round pick. Both Elomo and Levente Szuper (selected by the Flames with the fourth-round pick) would never play for the Flames.

In Giguere’s place, the Flames went out and traded for 37-year-old Mike Vernon, hoping to recapture some magic from his 1989 Cup run with the team. They didn’t. Vernon would post an .883 save percentage along with an even uglier 12–23–5 record in 2000–01. He would play just 18 games the next season before retiring from the NHL. The Flames would miss the playoffs both seasons.

Giguere meanwhile would flourish in Anaheim almost immediately. Finally given the chance to play at the NHL level, Giguere would suit up for 34 games for the Ducks in his first year with the team, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.57 GAA. He would only get better from there on in for the Ducks.

During the 2002–03 season, just three years after the Flames traded him, Giguere would start 65 games for the Ducks in the regular season, putting up a .920 save percentage and 2.30 GAA along with a 34–22–6 record. In the playoffs he would lead the Ducks to the Stanley Cup, with an 15–6 record along with a then NHL record .945 save percentage. He would also take home the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.

Giguere would finish his career in 2014, with a 262–216–25 overall record, .913 save percentage and 2.53 GAA. After being traded from the Flames in 2000, Giguere would play 13 seasons in the NHL and didn’t post a save percentage below .900 once.

The Giguere move wasn’t as egregious as some of the other moves on this list as he was nowhere near a star the time they moved him, but it outlined a key point that all teams should remember. Never give up on young talent too early.

The Flames never gave Giguere a real shot in the NHL but simply assumed he would never amount to much based on a very small sample size. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Unfortunately this became a trend with then General Manager Craig Button.

Martin St. Louis – 2000

Trading Giguere during the 2000 offseason wasn’t the only big blunder by Button that offseason. He would double down on bad moves by letting Martin St. Louis walk into free agency without a contract offer from the Flames. St. Louis—an undrafted free agent signing by the Flames in 1998—was let go from the team after just two years in Calgary.

As mentioned, entering the 2000 offseason the Flames had missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, a franchise worst at the time. The team was lacking at just about every position, with their depth on the wing being one of the bigger issues. After a then 22-year-old Jarome Iginla and 25-year-old Valeri Bure, the team lacked any sort of skill or talent on the wing.

One of their younger and more intriguing options was St. Louis. St. Louis had produced at every level he had played at up to then, but due to his diminutive size of 5’8″ and 176 pounds, he was an afterthought during his draft year despite putting up big numbers in college.

St. Louis had a very productive college career in which he put up 156 assists and 267 points in just 139 games for the University of Vermont. He was also a two-time finalist for the Hobey Baker award, given yearly to college hockey’s best player. After failing to earn an NHL contract, St. Louis signed with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the IHL where he would put up 50 points in 56 games, earning him a contract with the Flames in February 1998.

St. Louis would experience immediate success during his first pro season, putting up 26 points in 25 games for the Saint John Flames of the AHL. The next year in 1998–99, St. Louis would once again light up the AHL as he would score 62 points in 53 games, leading the Flames affiliate in scoring. He would also get into 13 games for the Flames, scoring his first two NHL points.

The next season in 1999–2000 St. Louis would finally get a long look with the Flames as he would play 56 games with the team, producing 18 points. Despite the low total, his 18 points ranked fifth among Flames wingers that season. He would also spend 17 games in the AHL, getting 26 points.

Despite lighting up the AHL for three straight years and only being given one long look in the NHL, the Flames decided to let St. Louis walk into free agency without a contract that offseason. He would go on to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning in a move that would forever change Flames history.

St. Louis would provide solid value right away for the Lightning. During the 2000–01 season—his first in Tampa Bay—he would put up 40 points in 78 games, good for fourth on the team. The next year he would continue to improve, this time putting up 35 points in 53 games.

2002–03 was when St. Louis would really breakout for good and never look back. The undersized winger would put up 70 points in 82 games as he would help the Lightning win their first ever playoff series in franchise history. As we all know, things would go from bad to worse for the Flames when it came to St. Louis in 2003–04.

St. Louis led the Lightning and the entire NHL in points that year with 94, as the Lightning would finish second in the NHL. The season earned him the Hart, Art Ross, and Lester B. Pearson trophies. He would follow that up by producing 24 points in 23 playoff games, second most in the playoffs.

In typical Flames fashion, St. Louis would end up playing an integral part in defeating the Flames in the Stanley Cup Final to win the Lightning’s first ever Stanley Cup. Not only did he put up six points in the seven game series, which ranked second among all players, he would also score the Game Six double overtime winner after the infamous disallowed Flames goal to force a Game Seven.

St. Louis would go on to have the best career in NHL history by an undrafted player. He would retire in 2015 with 1033 points in 1134 games, as well as 90 points in 107 playoff games, along with two Harts, two Art Ross’, three Lady Byng’s and one Lester B. Pearson. He is the Lightning franchise record holder for points, assists, and game-winning goals. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.

Like Giguere, St. Louis is a prime example of not giving up on young talent too early. He had produced solid numbers at every level he played at in his young career, yet the Flames only gave him a small 56 game sample in the NHL before deciding he wasn’t cut out for the league. Add St. Louis to that 2003–04 team and the Flames throughout the early 2000’s and the team almost certainly would’ve won another Stanley Cup.

Marc Savard – 2002

Just when you think Craig Button couldn’t have possibly ruined the Flames even more, 2002–03 happened. With the Flames off to a slow start and at risk of missing the playoffs for a franchise worst seventh straight season, Button decided to shake up the roster by shipping out centre Marc Savard in November of 2002.

Savard was first acquired from the New York Rangers in 1999, four years after being drafted 91st overall. He had an illustrious junior career, putting up multiple 130 plus point seasons for the Oshawa Generals in the OHL and would finish his junior career with 413 points including 281 assists in 238 games.

In his first two years playing professional hockey, Savard would produce 51 points in 98 games for the Rangers, as well as 87 points in 67 games for their AHL affiliate the Hartford Wolf Pack. Following the 1998–99 season in which Savard put up 45 points for the Rangers, they shipped him to Calgary, a team desperate for centres, in order to move up from 11th to ninth in the 1999 draft.

Savard would experience instant success in Calgary, putting up a career best 53 points in 78 games for the Flames in his first season with the team in 1999–2000. He would best that the following year in 2000–01, putting 65 points, second on the team behind only Iginla. The next year however, Savard would see a steep decline in his production.

Due to a knee injury for Savard early in the season, Craig Conroy would step into Savard’s role alongside Iginla on the team’s top line, and develop instant chemistry with the Flames superstar. That would be the beginning of the end for Savard in Calgary.

Stuck playing with the Flames pitiful winger group in the middle-six upon his return from injury, and regularly scratched or pushed down the lineup due to a public feud with Head Coach Greg Gilbert over his role on the team, Savard would muster up just 33 points in 56 games that year. He would request a trade during the 2002 offseason, one that was refused by the Flames.

He would then have a slow start to the following 2002–03 season getting just three points in 10 games, along with being a healthy scratch six times. With Savard and the team struggling, Conroy firmly established as the team’s number one centre, and Savard still butting heads with Gilbert, Button had a decision to make. In the end, he chose his coach over his player and Savard was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for relatively unknown 21-year-old prospect Ruslan Zaynullin just 17 games into the 2002–03 season.

The move seemed like a big mistake right away, and one made out of pure desperation. Zaynullin was a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2000 but had already been traded twice before being traded a third time to the Flames. He was also currently playing in Russia with no guarantee he would ever come over to North America and had a career-high of just four points.

Zaynullin would never play for the Flames as he would never make his away over to North America. Throughout his 15-year career in Russia, he never produced at over 0.5 points per game in a season. He retired in 2014.

To make matters even worse, the Flames would go 1–7 over their next eight games after trading Savard and Button would end up firing Gilbert anyways, less than a month after trading Savard.

Savard meanwhile, would experience tremendous success right away in Atlanta, playing between two of the league’s best goal scorers in Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk, Savard would close out the 2002–03 season with 47 points in 57 games. The next year in 2003–04 he would be even better, getting 52 points in 45 games.

Following the lockout, Savard would firmly establish himself as one of the NHL’s premier playmaking centres. He would post 97 points including 69 assists in 82 games. His 69 assists ranked third in the NHL. Meanwhile Calgary’s top-two centres in Daymond Langkow and Matthew Lombardi would manage just 54 assists combined. The Flames would lose in the first round that year.

Savard didn’t stop there though as he would go on to sign with the Boston Bruins that offseason and put up three consecutive point per game seasons in Boston, before having his career tragically ended in 2011 due to a concussion sustained during the 2009–10 season. Savard would end his career with 706 points in 807 games and left the game as one of the league’s best centres.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before (say, a few times in this article alone), but Button once again gave up too early on a young player with talent and it cost the Flames in a huge way. Given the organization’s complete lack of centre depth throughout Iginla’s time in Calgary, it’s hard not to imagine what one of the best playmaking centres in the NHL in Savard could’ve done alongside the era’s best goal scorer in Iginla.

I’ll take it one step further, imagine trotting out a top line of St.Louis-Savard-Iginla for a decade. With a little patience and solid asset management from Button, it would’ve been a reality.

Dishonorable mention: Jarome Iginla – 2013

I just couldn’t leave the Flames complete mishandling and trade of the franchise’s greatest player off the list. This situation was quite different compared to the other examples listed as unlike the other players, Iginla had already established himself as a superstar player. He was also past his prime and nearing the end of his career when the Flames traded him, unlike the other players listed who were just beginning their careers or entering their prime years.

That said, this move was still an all-time blunder and embarrassment for the franchise. As mentioned, Iginla was the face of the franchise then and is still its most famous and recognizable player today even after retiring. The fact that the club got so little in return for him was a complete disaster.

Entering the 2013 trade deadline, the Flames were once again staring down another lost season with their aging core. The team was facing a tough path to the playoffs and was set to miss the postseason for the fourth straight time—the second longest stretch in franchise history. With Iginla’s contract coming to an end in the offseason and wanting to chase down his illusive first Stanley Cup, the Flames put him on the market.

Despite being 35 years old, Iginla was still a top-six impact player. He had put up 22 points in 31 games (the season was shortened due to a lockout) on a lacklustre Flames team that season. There was no doubt that there would be teams lining up to acquire Iginla’s services. The issue was he possessed a full no-movement clause, vastly limiting the trade options for the Flames.

It was first reported the Flames had a deal in place to send Iginla to the Boston Bruins for depth defenceman Matt Barkowski, prospect Alexander Khokhlachev and a first-round pick. However when Jay Feaster came up to the podium, he announced that Iginla had instead been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reports stated that Iginla had blocked the move to Boston as he preferred his chances to win a cup with 2010 Canadian Olympic teammate Sidney Crosby instead.

In return, the Flames receive prospect Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and a first-round pick. Look, I get that Iginla had a full no-move clause that complicated things, but there is zero excuse for Feaster and the Flames for the dreadful offers they accepted for one of the era’s greatest players. Bartkowski was a fringe NHLer at best at the time, and Khokhlachev had only played a few AHL games and had a high of just 76 points during his OHL career.

Agostino was a fifth-round pick in 2010 and had a career-high of just 41 points in 37 games in the NCAA as a 20-year-old achieved in 2012–13. Hanowski meanwhile was a third-round pick in 2019 and had a similarly underwhelming career-high of 43 points in 39 games in the NCAA as a 20-year-old in 2011–12. The season he was traded to the Flames, his production actually decreased to just 31 points in 37 games in his final year of eligibility in college. Just dreadful production from a 21-year-old prospect in the NCAA.

With the Penguins advancing to the Eastern Conference final, the first-round pick sent to the Flames ended up being 28th overall. With the pick the Flames selected Morgan Klimchuk. Klimchuk would play just one game for the Flames, getting no points. He was traded in 2018 and is currently a free agent. He was one of only two players selected in the first round that year to play under 10 career NHL games. The other was Emile Poirier, also selected by Flames.

Agostino would play two seasons in Calgary, getting into 10 games and putting up two points. He was released in 2016 and is currently playing in the KHL. Hanowski would also play two seasons in Calgary, playing in 16 games and producing three points. He left the organization without a contract in 2015 and currently plays in Germany.

The Flames trade of Iginla will go down in history as one of the worst ever made by the franchise. Despite Iginla’s NMC limiting the options for the team, the return was still pitiful. Iginla was far from a finished player either. He would close out his career playing for four teams across five seasons, putting up 205 points and 100 goals across 335 games.

Had the Flames traded him years earlier when they should’ve the return would’ve been considerably higher. Instead they held out hope a mediocre and aging core could get them past the first round. Sound familiar?

In return for the best player in franchise history the Flames got 27 games and five points. Enough said.

A history of mistakes

The Flames have had a rough history when it comes to giving up star players. Whether they showed too little patience, or too much patience, the team keeps finding ways to give away elite talent for far less than their worth. We can lay out a clear example from every decade of the franchises existence of gross mismanagement of an elite player. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but 20/20 is also a pain scale for Flames fans.

Given the team’s troubled past when it comes to giving away star players, it’s not a surprise the franchise had made it out of the first round just two times since winning their only Stanley cup over 30 years ago.

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