The Atlanta Flames

Posted: June 20, 2015

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The Atlanta Flames were an ice hockey franchise that played in the NHL from 1972 to 1980. The team’s home games were played at the Omni Coliseum.

How did the Atlanta Flames Start up?

In 1972, the NHL was in the midst of a frenzied expansion drive aimed at curtailing the rise of rival league the WHA. Atlanta and New York were both handed expansion franchises. The New York franchise became the New York Islanders while the Georgia capital got the Flames. The new franchise would be owned by Atlanta Hawks owner Tom Cousins who raised a winning bid of $6 million. The name Flames was selected as a tribute to the 1864 fire which burned down the city of Atlanta and was one of the factors that contributed to the end of the American Civil War. The team’s first general manager was Cliff Fletcher while legendary coach Bernie Geoffrion was named the first head coach.

The Atlanta Flames in Competition

The Flames were a modestly successful team, making it to the playoffs in six out of eight seasons. They were however unable to make it out of the first round in any of those times. The Flames started their life in competition with a bang beating fellow expansion franchise New York Islanders 3-2 on the road. At the end of the 1972/73 season, they had a 25-38-15 record which placed them seventh in the western Division, a relatively impressive return for a new franchise.

Inspired by Rookie Tom Lysiak, the Flames would make their first playoff appearance the following season. They closed the regular season with a 30-34-14 record, fourth in the division. In the playoffs, they were whitewashed in four games by a combined score of 16-6. During the 1974/75 season, the Flames were last in the Patrick Division of the newly created Campbell Conference. The next season, they would return to the playoffs, thanks to a 35-33-12 record for third place. They however went out at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs.

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The 1976/77 season saw the Flames finish with their third consecutive winning season courtesy of a 34-34-12 record. In the playoffs they were again extinguished by the Los Angeles Kings by two games to one. The following season, they had a 33-27-19 record but were battered in the playoffs in two straight games by the Detroit Red Wings.

In 1978/79, they recorded their best record 41-31-8 but still finished last in a highly competitive Patrick Division and yet made the playoffs. They lost the playoffs by two straight games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another winning season 35-32-13 in 1979/80 saw them advance to the playoffs for a sixth straight season but their customary woes haunted them again as they were eliminated by the Rangers in four games.

Atlanta Flames most memorable Moments

After the first few games of the 1978/1979 season, Tom Lysiak, arguably the Flames’ best player over the previous five years was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. The trade came as a shock to many fans and even Lysiak himself. Coach Fred Creighton defended his decision arguing that he was trying to build a new core for the team to enable them progress further in the playoffs, an eventuality that never materialized.

Atlanta Flames most Notable Players

Tom Lysiak signed as rookie in 1973 and immediately topped the franchise in scoring with 64 points to help them make the playoffs for the first time. He won the franchise top scorer five seasons in a row, with his career high 82 points coming in 1975/76.

Curt Bennet played for the Flames from 1972 to 1978 and was impressive in scoring alongside Lysiak. His most prolific season was 1975/76 when he scored 34 goals.

Willi Plett played for the Flames from 1975 to 1980. His goal tally each season was consistently in the twenties or higher and peaked with a 33 goal return in 1976/77, winning the Calder Trophy.

Other notable players include Bob Leiter, Keith McCreary, and Dan Bouchard.

What Happened to the Atlanta Flames?

Various versions exist as to the exact reasons the Hawks exited Atlanta. The more generally accepted story is that Cousins had incurred huge losses due to poor attendance at the Omni Coliseum and that financial troubles in his other ventures disabled him from supporting the franchise any longer. Rising player costs mainly attributed to the hasty nature in which the club was put up and the desire by the NHL to siphon talent from the WHL also contributed further to the team’s decline.

The lack of a lucrative television contract for the Atlanta area only complicated matters further. Nelson Skalbania placed a $16 million dollar bid for the Flames which Simons accepted and the club was moved to its current home in Calgary, Canada. In some quarters, it is said that the main reason for the move was Simons’ falling out with other league owners over a threat to expose pilferage of NHL player pensions. After the move the team retained the Flames moniker which it still uses today.

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