Calgary Flames

Breaking down the Calgary Flames’ history of acquiring star players

Over the past two weeks, I’ve examined the Calgary Flames’ unfortunate history of nearly acquiring star players, as well as trading star players away far too soon or too late. To mix things up and add a positive spin to this series, let’s now take a look at the Flames’ history of actually acquiring star players, and winning trades.

With current General Manager Brad Treliving seemingly unwilling to make any big moves anymore, Flames fans may not remember that the franchise does actually have some instances where they were on the receiving end of a star player and not the opposite. In fact Treliving has two of his very own trades on this list, even if they’re over three years ago.

The Flames may not have the most successful history in terms of winning trades involving star players, but they have had their instances when they come out on top in the past. Let’s take a look at the major examples over the franchise’s 40 plus years in Calgary.

Lanny McDonald – 1981

Before he became a Flames legend and one of the most iconic players to ever wear the Flaming C, Lanny McDonald was part of a mid-season trade to the Calgary Flames during the 1981–82 season.

At the time the Flames were in the midst of just their second season in Calgary after relocating from Atlanta in 1980. After advancing to the third round of the playoffs the year prior in their first season in Calgary, the Flames were off to a rough 6–12–5 start and looked set to miss the playoffs in just their second season in their new city.

Looking to add some much needed veteran leadership to his young roster, Flames General Manager Cliff Fletcher set out to acquire McDonald from the league-worst Colorado Rockies. It wasn’t the first time Fletcher had attempted to get McDonald either. During the 1974–75 season, McDonald’s second in the NHL, Fletcher had a trade agreed upon with the Toronto Maple Leafs to send McDonald to the Atlanta Flames for Curt Bennett. McDonald would score three goals in his next two games, causing the Leafs to back out of the deal.

This time however Fletcher wasn’t to be denied. He would ship out forwards Don Lever and Bob MacMillan to Colorado for McDonald and a draft pick in November of 1981. Lever would put up 153 points in 275 games across four seasons for the franchise before leaving as a free agent in 1985. MacMillan would produce 138 points in 198 games in Colorado/New Jersey across three seasons until being traded in 1984. McDonald meanwhile would spend the final eight seasons of his career in Calgary before retiring in 1989.

The trade would help the Flames turn their season around, as they finished the year third in the Smythe division before being swept in the first round. In particular McDonald would provide immediate value for the Flames, posting 67 points across the final 55 games of the season, ranking fourth on the team.

The next year in 1982–83 McDonald would have the most successful season of his career, posting career highs of 66 goals and 98 points. His 66 goals led the Flames and were second in the NHL behind only Wayne Gretzky’s 71. His 66 goals that season is still the Flames single-season record. The Flames would advance past the first round this time, but get knocked out by Gretzky’s Oilers in the second round. McDonald would take home the Bill Masterson trophy that season.

McDonald would be named the team’s captain the following year in 1983–84, and would hold the title for six seasons, the third longest tenure in franchise history. He would lead the franchise to their first ever finals appearance in 1986, before being eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in six games.

The culmination of McDonalds a career in Calgary would come in 1989. Near the end of his career at 36 and playing more of a depth role on a stacked Flames roster, McDonald would become the first and still the only Flames captain to ever lift the Stanley Cup.

After being scratched for three consecutive games, McDonald re-entered the lineup in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final and scored one of the most iconic goals in franchise history to give the team a 2–1 lead in the second period. The Flames would never give the lead up en route to winning the game and the Stanley Cup.

McDonald would retire on top following that season, finishing his Flames career with 406 points in 492 games which currently ranks 14th all time in franchise history. He would also add on 47 points in 92 playoffs games which ranks ninth in franchise history. There’s no question that McDonald is one of the most iconic Flames in history, and the trade to get him to Calgary was exceptional work by the team and a huge win. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

Joe Mullen – 1986

In yet another trade in the 1980s that had a big impact on the Flames’ first and only Stanley Cup in 1989, the team would acquire Joe Mullen in a deal with the St. Louis Blues during the 1985–86 season. Despite not being mentioned as much as some other members of the dominate Flames teams of the 1980s, Mullen was an integral part of the team as one of its best forwards.

Sitting right around .500 and approaching the trade deadline of the 1985–86 season, the Flames were looking to bolster their young forward group that already featured Joel Otto, Hakan Loob, Dan Quinn, Jim Peplinksi and McDonald. The rich would get richer on February 1st that season as the Flames acquired 28-year-old Mullen from the Blues along with Terry Johnson and Rik Wilson for Ed Beers, Charlie Bourgeois and Gino Cavallini.

Right from the get go this deal seemed like a potential steal for the Flames. Mullen was coming off back to back 40 goal seasons including 85 and 92 points the two years prior, and had put up 52 points in 48 games so far for the Blues in 1985–86.

The only other player of note in the deal was a 26-year-old Beers who had put up 75 and 68 points seasons the previous two years for the Flames but had just 21 points in 33 games before being dealt. Beers would play only one season for the Blues, putting up 18 points in 24 games before retiring from the NHL.

Mullen would provide an immediate boost for the Flames, finishing the regular season with 38 points in 29 games for his second straight 90 point season as the Flames would finish the season second in the Smythe Division. His impact would continue in the playoffs as he would help the Flames advance to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history in 1986. Mullen would finish the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games, tied for first on the Flames. His 12 goals would lead the entire NHL in the playoffs that year.

The following season in 1986–87 Mullen led the Flames in scoring with 87 points in 79 games. The peak of his career with the Flames and in the NHL came during the team’s Cup-winning 1988–89 season though. Mullen would put up a career-high 51 goals and 110 points to lead the team in both categories. His 51 goals ranked fifth in the NHL while his 110 points ranked seventh as he would finish fourth in Hart Trophy voting.

In the playoffs, Mullen was a crucial part of the Flames first ever Stanley Cup win, putting up 16 goals and 24 points. His 16 playoff goals led the entire NHL and is still the Flames’ single-season record. His 24 points were third in the playoffs and second on the Flames behind only Al MacInnis and is the Flames’ single-season record among forwards.

Mullen would play one more year in Calgary, putting up 69 points in 78 games before being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990.

Mullen would finish his Flames career with 388 points in 345 games as well as 55 points in 61 playoff games. On top of holding the Flames’ single-season record for goals in the playoffs and points by a forward in the playoffs, his 35 total playoff goals are also the most in franchise history.

His time in Calgary may have been short, but considering the contributions Mullen made to the Flames during the 80s and their only Stanley cup as well as the minimal assets it cost to get him, his trade to Calgary was one of the best moves in franchise history.

Doug Gilmour – 1988

Is it any surprise the most successful decade in Flames history was the 1980s? The Flames made three key trades during the decade, bringing in three bona fide star players with very little going out the other way. In their final key move before claiming their first Stanley Cup in 1989, the Flames acquired Doug Gilmour from the St. Louis Blues prior to the 1988–89 season. Gilmour has the special distinction of being part of one of the best trades in Flames history, as well as one of the worst.

Going into their eventual Stanley Cup winning season, the Flames were coming off their most successful regular season in franchise history in 1987–88, with a record of 48–23–9 for 105 points to finish first in the NHL. They would however fall to Gretzky’s Oilers in the second round of the playoffs.

One of the reasons for their disappointing end to the season was the Flames lack of top-end talent at centre. The team currently had a budding superstar in Joe Nieuwendyk, but had lost John Tonelli in free agency following the season leaving the team’s depth at centre thin. To replace Tonelli, the Flames went out and got Gilmour in September of 1988.

The Flames would acquire Gilmour, Mike Dark, Mark Hunter and Steve Bozek (who they had just traded along with Brett Hull to St. Louis six months prior) for Mike Bullard, Craig Coxe, and Tim Corkery. In essence the deal was a swap of Bullard for Gilmour, with some extra pieces thrown in. Gilmour was coming off 86 and 105 point seasons the two years prior and was still just 25 years old, while Bullard was coming off an 103 point season for the Flames in 1987–88 and was 27.

Bullard would never live up to that season again however, as he would play just four more seasons in the NHL, putting up 157 points in 209 games. He would only spend 20 games in St. Louis before being dealt to Philadelphia two months after being acquired by the Flames.

Gilmour meanwhile would continue producing at an elite level once joining the Flames and would develop into arguably their best all-around player. He would also play a key role in the team’s 1988–89 cup run, producing 85 points in 72 regular season games, and then 22 points in 22 playoff games. He point totals would rank third on the Flames in both the regular season and playoffs.

Gilmour’s time with the Flames would come to an ugly and unfortunate end in 1992, just four seasons into his time with the team as he would request a trade and eventually be dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in one of the worst deals in Flames history. That said, it can’t be understated the contributions Gilmour made to the franchise.

He would end his Flames career with 295 points in 266 regular season games, as well as 28 points in 35 playoff games. Gilmour didn’t spend a long time in Calgary, but his impact will forever be felt for the franchise. He was an integral part in delivering the city its first Stanley Cup and the deal to acquire him ended up being a steal for the Flames.

Jarome Iginla – 1995

Without a doubt the most influential and important trade in franchise history was the Flames’ move to send out franchise legend Nieuwendyk for an 18-year-old Jarome Iginla. The deal would forever alter the course of Flames history, and bring in the eventual greatest player in franchise history.

Entering the 1995–96 season, the Flames had either missed the playoffs or been eliminated in the first round the six seasons prior since winning the Stanley Cup and had no clear direction. On top of that, their star centre in Nieuwendyk was in the midst of a contract dispute with the team. With Nieuwendyk wanting a big contract extension and unhappy with the Flames offer, he would sit out the entire start to the Flames season, missing all 32 games.

With the relationship clearly broken beyond repair the Flames would ship out Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Stars on December 19th, 1995 for the 11th overall pick in the 1995 draft, Iginla. At the time it was a huge gamble for the Flames. Nieuwendyk was still in the prime of his career and among the best two-way centres in the NHL, while Iginla was drafted just a few months prior and had never played in the NHL.

Needless to say it worked out well for both teams. Iginla would finish the 1995–96 season—his first in the organization—with an astounding 63 goals and 136 points in the WHL, smashing the 71 points from his draft year. He would take home the league’s MVP award as well. Iginla would also represent Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship that season where he would lead the tournament in scoring with 12 points, helping Canada win gold.

He would make his NHL debut with the Flames during the 1996 playoffs, getting two points in two games. In his rookie season the following year in 1996–97, Iginla would have an immediate impact in the NHL, putting up 50 points in 82 games. He would post point totals of 32, 51, 63 and 71 the next four seasons, before breaking out into a true superstar in 2001–02.

In 2001–02, Iginla would explode for 52 goals and 96 points. His 52 goals and 96 points both led the entire NHL, however the Flames would still miss the playoffs. He would take home the Rocket Richard, Art Ross, and Lester B. Pearson trophies that season but would unfortunately be robbed of the Hart trophy, with a French reporter leaving Iginla completely off his ballot so that Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore could win the trophy.

Iginla would be named the Flames captain for the 2003–04 season and would hold the title for a franchise record nine seasons before being traded in 2013. That same season the team would make the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and advance to its third ever Stanley Cup final, and the first in 14 years in large part due to Iginla.

He would produce 41 goals and 73 points in 81 games during the regular season, taking home his second Rocket Richard trophy. In the playoffs, he put up 13 goals and 22 points in 26 games to lead the team in goals and points and got them within one win of their second Stanley Cup. His 13 goals and 22 points that season both rank second all-time among Flames forwards in one playoff year.

He would continue to produce superstar numbers for the Flames before being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2013 trade deadline, in what was one of the worst trades in franchise history.

Due to the Flames complete inability to surround their superstar player, the team would never make it out of the first round again with Iginla on the roster. Regardless he would finish his Flames career as the undisputed best player in franchise history.

Iginla posted 525 goals and 1095 points in 1219 games for the franchise, and currently sits first in franchise history for points, goals, games played, power play goals, and game-winning goals. He is also still the only Flame to ever win the Rocket Richard, Art Ross, and Lester B. Pearson (now the Ted Lindsay) trophies.

Sure, Nieuwendyk went on to have great success in Dallas, even winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 1999, but Iginla’s contributions in Calgary still vastly outweigh Nieuwendyk’s in Dallas making the deal a huge win for the Flames. Iginla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020.

Miikka Kiprusoff – 2003

The second pillar to the Flames’ miracle 2003–04 cup run alongside Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff was also acquired via trade. With the Flames needing a number one goalie the team would trade for a disgruntled Kiprusoff in 2003 and the rest is history.

Entering the 2003–04 season, the Flames had missed the playoffs for a franchise record seventh straight season, in large part due to the teams complete lack of goaltending. Roman Turek was the team’s starter in 2001–02 and 2002–03 but would fail to put up a save percentage over .906 both seasons.

When Turek went down with an injury to start the 2003–04 season, the Flames were desperate for goaltending help. With Kiprusoff unhappy with his lack of playing time for the San Jose Sharks, the Flames took advantage and acquired the then 26-year-old in November of 2003 for a second-round pick.

That second-round pick would turn into Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who currently still plays for the Sharks and has played 1093 games and counting in the NHL, all in San Jose. In the end the trade would work out great for both teams.

The move would pay immediate dividends for the Flames as Kiprusoff would start 38 games for the Flames in the regular season that year, posting a 24–10–4 record along with a .933 save percentage and 1.7 GAA. His .933 save percentage and 1.71 GAA are both Flames single-season records.

Come playoff time he had fully earned the starting role in Calgary, and would play in all 26 games in the playoffs helping lead the Flames to game seven of the Stanley Cup final with a .928 save percentage and 1.85 GAA. His save percentage and GAA are both Flames single-season playoff records among goalies with at least 10 games played, as his 2004 run is still the unquestioned greatest goaltending run in Flames history in the playoffs.

Following that season, Kiprusoff would establish himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies and go on one of the most insane stretches in modern NHL history. He would start at least 70 games for seven straight seasons, playing an absurd 514 regular season games for the Flames over the seven seasons posting a 273–168–62 record along with a .914 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.

There’s no question that Kiprusoff carried some dreadful Flames rosters to the playoffs during his time in Calgary as the team would make the playoffs for five straight years with Kiprusoff as the starter, after missing them for seven straight seasons prior. The peak of his career would come in 2005–06 as he would take home the Vezina and William M. Jennings Trophy behind a 42–20–11 record and .923 save percentage becoming the first and still the only Flames goalie to win either award.

Kiprusoff would call it a career in 2013 finishing his Flames career with 576 games played, a 305–192–41 record along with a .913 save percentage and 2.46 GAA. He currently holds the Flames all-time records for games played (by a goalie), wins, saves, save percentage, GAA, shutouts, and minutes played in the regular season.

His 52 playoff games and 24 wins are both second in franchise history behind only Mike Vernon. His career playoff save percentage of .920 and GAA of 2.34 are both first in franchise history among goalies with over 10 playoff games.

He also holds seven of the 10 winningest seasons in Flames history by a goaltender, including a franchise record 45 win season in 2008–09. He also holds the top seven spots in Flames history for most games played by a goaltender in a single season, with a franchise record 76 games in 2008–09.

The Flames failed to find an adequate replacement for Kiprusoff after he retired for seven years until Jacob Markstrom arrived in 2020, showing just how valuable he was to the franchise. Now retire Kiprusoff’s number already.

Honorable mention: Dougie Hamilton – 2015

Dougie Hamilton may have only spent three seasons in Calgary, but his acquisition was certainly one of the best moves of the 2010s by the Flames, and specifically under current general manager Brad Treliving.

Going into the 2014–15 offseason, the Flames were coming off their first playoff appearance in six years, and their first playoff series win in a decade. The team was thought to be in the midst of a long rebuild, but with a surprise playoff appearance now under their belt it appeared as though the rebuild may be over sooner than expected.

Looking to help to speed up the teams rebuild even further, Treliving was on the hunt for a top-four defencemen. Enter Hamilton. The old former ninth overall pick was in a contract dispute with the Boston Bruins and put on the trade market as a result, presenting a perfect opportunity for the Flames to take advantage of a team with cap constraints in the Boston Bruins.

On the day of the 2015 draft, the Flames traded their 15th, 45th, and 52nd overall picks to the Bruins for the rights to Hamilton, an upcoming restricted free agent. They would then sign him to a six-year, $34.5 million deal four days later. Trading three picks in the first two rounds was a risk for a rebuilding team, but Hamilton was an immense talent and seemed to be on his way to stardom. As well at just 22 years old, he fit the age group of the Flames core.

What made the trade an even bigger win for the Flames was the Bruins complete mishandling of the picks the Flames sent them. The Bruins would select Zachary Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon with the three picks. To date the three have combined for just 127 games and 25 points in the NHL.

Coming off the best season of his career in 2014–15 with 42 points in 72 games, Hamilton would continue his success in Calgary during his first season with the team in 2015–16. He would produce 43 points in 82 games, good for third on the team among defencemen. The following year he would put up a career high 50 points in 81 games, tops on the team among defencemen, and ninth league-wide. In 2017–18, his final season in Calgary, he would once again lead Flames defencemen in scoring with 44 points.

Hamilton would be dealt during the 2018 offseason, after just three years in Calgary. That said during his time with the team he put together three great seasons playing alongside Mark Giordano to form arguably the best pairing in the entire NHL. It’s a shame things ended the way they did for Hamilton in Calgary, but there’s no doubt the deal for him worked out great for the team.

Honorable mention: Elias Lindholm – 2018

Elias Lindholm’s story with the Flames is still being written, but with the way his career is trending he’s set to be one of the best and most impactful acquisitions in team history. Brought on board in 2018 in the trade that sent Hamilton out, Lindholm has developed into a true star in Calgary.

During the 2018 offseason, the Flames were coming off a disastrous 2017–18 season in which the team finished 20th in the league after supposedly ending their rebuild. Looking to shake things up and add some forward depth down the middle, the Flames sent out Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes for Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.

At the time this seemed like a potential disaster move from the Flames. Lindholm had a career-high of just 45 points, and Hanifin was yet to establish himself as a top-four defenceman, while Hamilton was a bona fide star, Ferland was coming off a career-best 41 point year, and Fox was a blue chip prospect.

That said, both Ferland and Fox would leave Carolina a year later while Lindholm would immediately become a true top line star for the Flames in just his first season with the team. Playing alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on one of the best lines in the NHL, Lindholm would smash his career-best 45 points, putting up 78 points in 81 games in 2018–19. That season Lindholm was a key reason the Flames put up their best regular season since record since 1988–89.

Since then Lindholm has continued his impressive production, putting up 54 points in 70 games in 2019–20, and 47 points in 56 games in 2020–21. He’s also started the 2021–22 season with seven goals and ten points in eight games and has established himself as the team’s number one centre.

With no one from the original trade still in Carolina and Lindholm and Hanifin both playing key roles for the Flames, the deal looks better for the Flames with each passing season.

The sky is the limit for Lindholm in Calgary right now and it’ll be interesting to see where his Flames career ends up all-time when it’s all said and done. He already ranks 33rd in franchise history for points among forwards, and will most likely rank inside the top-25 by the end of the season at the age of just 26.

Some good mixed into the Flames’ trade front

The Flames are certainly more notorious for being on the losing end of trades involving star players, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had their fair share of wins as well. In particular their work in the 80s and early 2000s led to the teams only three trips to the Stanley Cup final in franchise history.

Even Brad Treliving has made a couple solid moves to acquire star players, here’s hoping he can keep it up going forward before it’s too late for the 2010s Flames core.

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