A look at the Calgary Flames’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Calgary Flames (1980-81 to 1989-90)
405-279-116, .578 PCT, 3,429 GF vs. 2,976 GA, +453 Diff, 10/10 Playoff Appearances, 1 Stanley Cup
Calgary had the great misfortune of sharing the same division as the Edmonton Oilers. Had that not been the case, I have absolutely no doubt the Flames would have had a lot more playoff success during the 1980s. As it was, Calgary made the playoffs in every year, won a Stanley Cup in 1989 and lost in the finals to Montreal in 1986. They also made it to the Conference Finals in 1981. They were an absolute powerhouse during the 1980s: their 57.9% win percentage ranked fifth-best in the NHL during the decade. They were CLERALY driven by their offense, with 4.29 goals per game (ranking second behind, of course, Edmonton). Only five teams averaged 4+ goals per game during the 1980s. They were also still quite strong on defense, allowing 3.72 goals per game (ranked seventh). Their differential was fifth (+453). One of the best and most entertaining teams of the decade for sure.
Left Wing: Jim Peplinski (705GP, 161-262-423, +53, 1,456 PIM, 22 GWG)
Peplinski wasn’t the most offensively talented forward on Calgary’s powerful roster in the 1980s. But he was a leader who was defensively responsible, and who provided some toughness. He also chipped in decent amounts of offensive. Peplinski was with Calgary for the entire decade, helping them emerge from the post-Atlanta era to their Stanley Cup championship in 1989. He hit double-digit goals in every season, including a high of 30 in ’81-82 and in had two other 20+ goal seasons. He cleared 50 points four times, including a high of 67 points in ’81-82. He was also physical, as attested by the fact that he cleared 100 PIM every season from ’80-81 to ’88-89 (three times eclipsing 200 PIM). Aside from a -21 blemish in ’83-84, he was defensively solid, posting a +/- rating from -5 to +31, including +81 from ’84-85 to his final game in ’89-80. He was a much-needed counterpoint to some of the Flames’ more skilled players during the run-and-gun 1980s.
Centre: Kent Nilsson (345 GP, 189-280-469, -28, 80 PIM, 22 GWG)
Honourable Mention: Joe Nieuwendyk
I struggled with whether or not to pick Nienwendyk or Nilsson. Nieuwendyk had three full seasons in the decade; twice he scored 51 goals, and twice he eclipsed 90 points. He was also an impressive +78 in just 240 games. But Nilsson was the engine driving the Flames’ offensive during their climb to respectability. Even though Nilsson’s +/- was up-and-down (twice dipping into the -20 to -24 range), there was no denying his skill in the offensive zone. In the Flames’ first year in Calgary, Nilsson scored 49 goals and 131 points. The following year (‘81-82) was a shortened season for him, but over the next three 46, 31 and 37 goals. He also hit 104 points in ’82-83 and 99 points in ’84-85. He also scored an impressive 65 powerplay goals, including 20 in ’80-81. Considering he was playing for less talented squads than Nieuwendyk, I gave Nilsson the nod for helping the Flames reach their glory years.
Right Wing: Joe Mullen (345 GP, 190-198-388, +105, 95 PIM, 33 GWG)
One of the best American-born forwards in NHL history, Mullen was a fantastic acquisition for Calgary. After helping get Calgary oh-so-close to the Cup in 1986, Mullen was a force to be reckoned with over the next four seasons. He scored 51 goals in ’88-89, and in the other three scored 36, 40 and 47. He hit a high of 110 points in ’88-89 as well, and in two others cleared 80 points. He also scored an impressive 33 game-winning goals, or 17% of his total goals in Calgary. Not overly physical, but had solid +/- ratings. Never negative, and he had a high of +51 in ’88-89.
Defense: Al MacInnis (528 GP, 126-380-506, +136, 631 PIM, 12 GWG)
The greatest defenseman in Flames history, and arguably their great ever player, period. He was a regular on the Calgary blueline for most of the decade, making the team as a regular in ’83-84. Three times he scored 20+ goals. He had six consecutive seasons if 60+ points, and four consecutive 70+ point seasons (including a high of 90 in 1989-90). He was always a threat on the power play; that booming slapshot scored 55 PPG for Calgary in the decade. He was also never negative for +/-, twice hitting +38 and posting a +136 rating overall. He also managed 240+ shots on goal six years in a row, including a high of 304 in ’89-90.
Defense: Gary Suter (362 GP, 77-268-345, +70, 510 PIM, 9 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Paul Reinhart and Jamie Macoun
The Flames were spoiled with a wealth of talent on the blueline in the 1980s. Paul Reinhart had five 60+ point seasons, while Jamie Macoun was +171 in just over six seasons. But in the end, Gary Suter gets the nod. After winning the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie in ’85-86, Suter was a mainstay on the blueline for the Flames. He cleared 60 points in four of his five seasons, including an impressive 91 points in ’87-88. He also scored 13+ goals in four times. He struggled somewhat with a -10 rating in ’86-87, but was positive in every other season. He also chipped in nine game-winning goals from the point.
Goalie: Mike Vernon (238 GP, 138-63-25, 3 SO, 3.30 GAA, 0.881 PCT*)
*Save Percentage is only from ’87-88 to ’89-90
Honourable Mention to Rejean (Reggie) Lemelin
Lemelin guided the Flames to respectability, but Vernon got them to the Stanley Cup. After a few appearance and a year as back-up, he took over the #1 spot in the ’86-87 season and never looked back. Over the next four seasons he went 129-57-22 . While he didn’t get a ton of shut-outs, the Flames weren’t exactly playing shut-down hockey: Vernon’s job was to keep them in the game while their team took chances offensively, and he did that job superbly. One of the better goaltenders of the 1980s.