A look at the Calgary Flames’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
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.
Team: Calgary Flames (1990-91 to 1999-00)
339-339-108, .500 WIN PCT, 2,521 GF vs. 2,462 GA, +59 Diff, 5/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Calgary Flames were one of the dominant teams of the 1980s, culminating in a Stanley Cup victory in 1989. But poor asset management and increasing player costs, combined with the Flames playing in a small market, combined to undermine the team’s core and eventually push the team to a less-than-competitive position. The Flames were still a powerhouse in the early half of the 1990s, although they waned in ’91-92 after the Doug Gilmour trade. From ’90-91 to ’94-95, the Flames had a .563 win percentage, including three seasons in the 97-100 points range. They scored 3.80 goals per game, and allowed 3.30 goals against per game. But in the back half of the decade, they stumbled badly:’95-96 and ’99-00 they had a win percentage of .449, including missing the playoffs four years in a row (97-00). They failed to record more than 79 points in a season, their offense fell to 2.67 goals for per game, and their defense allowed 2.98 goals against per game. Overall during the 1990s, they netted out to exactly a 50.0% win percentage, ranking 15th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. Overall their offense performed well, scoring an average of 3.21 goals per game (ranking 7th). But their defense was fairly weak, allowing 3.13 goals against per game (ranked 16th). Ultimately their differential of +59 ranked 14th, right in line with their win percentage ranking. Unfortunately as the 90s came to a close, the team was going to be destined to wander the desert. The fanbase would not see a playoff series win again until that magical run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004.
Left Wing: Gary Roberts (330 GP, 178-174-352, +132, 897 PIM, 19 GWG)
It’s a shame that injuries derailed Roberts’ career in Calgary, because he was a force to be reckoned with. He opened the decade with a decent 22-goal, 53-point campaign, and then exploded for 53 goals (and 90 points) in ’91-92. He was limited to 58 games in ’92-93, but still managed 38 goals and 79 points in 58 games. He followed that up with a 41-goal, 84 point effort the following season. Unfortunately, injuries began to wear him down; he suited up for just 8 games in ’94-95, and was held to 35 games in ’95-96 (scoring 22 goals and 42 points). He sat out the ’96-97 season before returning with the Carolina Hurricanes. Although he never scored 30 goals or 60 points again, he did play in parts of the next 11 seasons before retiring. Roberts has tough (897 PIM in 330 games with Calgary during the 90s), and talented (averaging 0.54 goals per game, and 1.07 points per game). He never had a negative +/-, and was in the +32 to +37 range three seasons in a row. He also scored 46 powerplay goals, as well as 19 game-winners (11% of his total). A skilled, physical player who could also lead; not much more you could ask for!
Centre: Joe Nieuwendyk (337 GP, 162-179-341, +57, 227 PIM, 20 GWG)
Nieuwendyk was a class act and a key cog in Calgary’s offense. He was always a point-per-game threat, posting a high of 85 points in ’90-91 and two other 75-point seasons. He also scored a high of 45 goals in ’90-91, and had two others in the 36-38 range. He also managed 21 goals and 50 points in the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season (projects out to 38 goals and 91 points in an 84-game season). He was +9 or better four times in five years, and always a threat on the powerplay: he scored 22 PPG in ’90-91, and scored 14 in two other seasons. He also 20 game-winners, good for 12% of his total. One of the best centres in the history of the Calgary Flames. And he also contributed to the Flames on the way out as well: he was traded to the Dallas Stars for in exchange for Corey Millen and Jarome Iginla. Iginla went on to play 1,201 games for the Flames, scoring 525 goals and 1,095 points.
Right Wing: Theo Fleury (675 GP, 319-411-730, +121, 1,136 PIM, 44 GWG)
The Flames’ collapse in the back half of the decade is evidenced by the fact that Fleury was the only one to play in Calgary after the ’95-96 season. Fleury played in Calgary until the 1999 trade deadline. During their declining years, he was still the face of the franchise, and always an offensive threat (even without quality linemates). In his nine seasons with the Flames during the 1990s Fleury scored 51 goals once, 40+ goals twice more, and had six others in the 27-34 range. He had two seasons in the 100-104 points range, as well as one other 96-point season. He only once scored fewer than 67 points, and had an even or better +/0 rating eight times in nine years. He scored 9+ powerplay goals sevens straight seasons, and was also a threat on the penalty kill: he scored a total of 25 shorthanded goals, getting at least one in each of his nine seasons. He was also feisty (if undisciplined): he had 100+ PIM seven times in nine seasons. He was always a threat in the offensive zone, registering 225+ shots on goal eight times. He was arguably the greatest Flames’ player of the 1990s.
Defense: Al MacInnis (275 GP, 87-229-316, +105, 329 PIM, 10 GWG)
Al MacInnis was the Flames best defenseman of the 1980s AND 1990s. He is the greatest defenseman in the history of the franchise (both Calgary and Atlanta), full stop. He picked up in the 90s right where he left off in the 80s: one of the premier offensive defenseman in the league. He opened with a 28-goal, 103-point season in ’90-91, and then held a point-per-game pace for the next three years. He had two more seasons of 20+ goals, finishing in the 77-82 points range. His only “off” year was ’92-93, when he was limited to 54 games (but he still managed 11 goals and 54 points). His +/- was always strong, including a +43 rating in ’90-91 and a +35 in ’93-94. He had double-digit powerplay goals three times, and likely would have done so a fourth time had he played more games in ’92-93. He also chipped in 10 game-winning goals, nine of which came between ’92-93 and ’93-94. He also cleared 300 shots on goal in a season three times, which is frightening considering the speed and power behind his famous slap shot. MacInnis left for greener pastures in St. Louis, citing the desire for new challenges, prior to the start of the ’94-95 season. Though the deal worked out much better for St. Louis, the Flames did receive Phil Housley, who spent four seasons with Calgary. MacInnis is now in the Hall of Fame.
Defense: Frantisek (Frank) Musil (335 GP, 18-45-63, +96, 505 PIM, 2 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Gary Suter, Phil Housley
I put Gary Suter on the All-80s Flames blueline, but he fell just shy of the All-90s team. He had seasons of 70, 51 and 81 points, and was then dealt to Chicago (after a one-day stint in Hartford) during the ’93-94 season. But Suter was -3 to +1 three of his four seasons, and not as effective on the powerplay as MacInnis was. Phil Housley was acquired in the Al MacInnis trade. He had an immediate impact with 43 points in 43 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, and then had three consecutive seasons in the 52-55 points range. But his +/- rating was negative twice, and he lacked a physical game. So Frank Musil gets the nod over the both of them. Musil didn’t have the offensive flair of Suter, MacInnis and Housley: but he didn’t need to, because he was a defensive rock for Calgary. He was +12 or better during four years in a row, including a high of +38 in ’93-94. His “off” year saw him post a +6 rating in ’94-95, his fifth and final season with the Flames during the 1990s. He didn’t score much, but he had three seasons in the 12-21 points range to open the decade. He was a reliable, physical defenseman who held down the fort while his teammates played a run-and-gun style. And he was quite good at it.
Goalie: Mike Vernon (229 GP, 110-92-26, 6 SO, 3.26 GAA, 0.885 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Trevor Kidd
Trevor Kidd took over as the Flames #1 goalie after Mike Vernon was traded in the summer of 1994, and he had three seasons as their top netminder. His stats were decent (and slightly better than Vernon’s), but his won-loss record was barely above .500, and he benefitted from playing in the Dead Puck Era. Mike Vernon on the other hand had the first four years of the 1990s, where Firewagon Hockey was still in force (although winding down). Vernon’s goals-against average was only under 3.00 once (2.81 in ’93-94), and his save percentage was below .885 twice. But he was a clutch goaltender who helped make his team better, and he had a winning record three times in four seasons (including a 31-19-3 record in ’90-91). He was also a workhorse, playing 63-64 games in each of ’91-92 and ’92-93.