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Relocated NHL Teams: The Atlanta Flames

The Atlanta Flames were an American ice hockey team which played in the NHL from 1972 to 1980. Their home games were played at the Omni Coliseum in Georgia. The Flames franchise was created in 1971 alongside the New York Islanders as the NHL expanded rapidly to usurp rival league WHA. Cliff Fletcher was the team’s first general manager while Bernie Geoffion was appointed their first head coach.

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The Flames were not a bad team but they had very poor luck when it came to the playoffs. Despite making the playoffs six out of eight attempts, they did not win a single playoff series. The Flames’ first ever competitive game was a 3-2 win over fellow expansion team New York Islanders on October 7, 1972. They then drew 1-1 with the Buffalo Sabres in their first game at the Omni Coliseum a week later. They were then humiliated 6-0 by the Minnesota North Stars in their second home game but they picked themselves up and went on a 4-2 run. The Flames surprising went toe to toe with many of the league’s older teams and by the end of the regular season it was clear that the league had admitted a real competitor. They posted an impressive 25-38-15 record which was 35 points higher than the New York Islanders.

In their second season, the Flames posted a 30-34-14 record which put them in the playoffs. They were however run over by the Philadelphia Flyers in four straight games with a combined score of 13-3. The recorded a record of 34-31-15 time in 1974/75, their first winning season but they surprisingly finished in last place and missed the playoffs. During the next five seasons, the Flames would always make it out of their division and into the playoffs but their playoff jinx prevented them from ever advancing past the first round. In fact they only won one playoff game, the first round playoff game against the New York Rangers in 1979/1980.

Tom Lysiak was arguably the best player to play for the Flames, leading the team in scoring five seasons in a row between 1973 and 1978. With Lysiak Seemingly an indispensible part of the team, the fans were stunned in the middle of the 1978/79 season when the team decided to trade him. Then leading the team in scoring and on course for a sixth straight season on top of the scoring charts, Lysiak was sold to the Chicago Black Hawks as part of an eight player mass trade. In the mind of Coach Fred Creighton, the team was in need of extensive restructuring if they were to shake off their long holding playoff jinx. His replacement, Kent Nillson carried on from where Lysiak had left off, scoring 40 goals and 53 assists in 1979/80. That season, they won their first ever playoff game but since the team relocated after the season, it was unclear whether the restructuring would have had the desired effect.

Why were the Atlanta Flames Relocated?

With the Atlanta Flames unable to come by any solid success, fans grew impatient and attendance at the Omni Arena waned after having peaked at over 14,000 during their second season. The Flames formation had been hastily arranged and had been brought forward by two years due to the intense competition with the WHA and this had put the team on shaky financial ground. By their final season, it was clear to owner Tom Cousins that it would not be viable to keep the team in Atlanta much longer. He had suffered substantial financial losses not only by supporting the franchise but also because his real estate empire was tanking. Dallas and Houston were mooted as potential relocation destinations for the Flames. The club ownership initiated a bidding war for the team with a $14 million bid coming from Daryl and Byron Seaman and a $16 million bid coming from Nelson Skalbania. The only worthy bid from Atlanta was a lowly $8 million from actor Glenn Ford. Skalbania acquired the team and moved it to Calgary where it was renamed the Calgary Flames. The NHL never quite caught on in Atlanta as the Atlanta Thrashers, who would replace the Flames 20 years down the line were also forced to relocate in almost similar fashion to the Flames.

Atlanta Flames’ Notable Players

Keith McCreary LW 1972-1975

Tom Lysiak C 1973-1979

Tim Ecclestone LW 1974-1978

Guy Chouinard C 1974-1980

Eric Vail RW 1973-1980

Randy Manery D 1972-1977

Bobby Leiter C 1972-1976

Phil Myre G 1972-1978

Dan Bouchard G 1972-1980

Willi Plett RW 1975-1980

Ken Houston RW 1975-1980

Rey Comeau C 1972-1978

Phil Myre G 1972-1978

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