I watched the playoff-bound Atlanta Thrashers drop a game to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
It took the Thrashers a long seven years to finally make the cut. But Atlanta fans have been suffering much longer. They haven't seen NHL playoff hockey since 1980, the last year the Flames played in "The Omni" before bolting for Calgary. The New York Rangers easily discarded the Flames that spring.
It was actually an in-between periods interview with Thrashers coach Bob Hartley that got me reminiscing about the Flames of old. The heavy French accent of Hartley reminded me of Boom Boom Geoffrion, the first coach of the old Atlanta Flames. He was another heavy-French accented guy who was popular in Georgia. It only took the Flames two years to make the NHL playoffs back then.
The Flames were pleasantly competitive early, although certainly never great. They were backed by great goaltending, most notably Phil Myre and Dan Bouchard, pictured above with Geoffrion. Bouchard was Patrick Roy's boyhood idol. On defence they had a veteran Pat Quinn and a newcomer named Randy Mannery. Up front they featured nobodies like Bob Leiter, Rey Comeau and Larry Romanchych, who for some reason could always score against Montreal's Ken Dryden.
Over the 1970s the team got more and more solid. Curt Bennett arrived from the Rangers and quietly turned into a 30 goal scorer. The Flames drafted well, landing the likes of Tom Lysiak, Guy Chouinard, Willi Plett, Eric Vail, and Ken Houston.
By the turn of the decade the Atlanta ownership group sold the team for a record $16 million and allowed it to move, citing rising expenses and poor attendance and no television revenue. Atlanta's pain was Calgary's gain, as the Flames were beginning to stockpile some great young talent that would be nice pieces of Calgary's powerhouse puzzle out west. Players like Kent "Magic Man" Nilsson, Pekka Rautakallio, Paul Reinhart, Brad Marsh, Reggie Lemelin, and Phil Russell all had been recently acquired by the Flames scouting staff.
The Atlanta Thrashers have some real nice pieces to their playoff puzzle, featuring young guns like Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk (when he's not in Hartley's dog house) and Kari Lehtonen, and cagey veterans like Slava Kozlov, Keith Tkachuk and Scott Mellanby. I will wait to see their first round playoff match-up before making any predictions, but I don't think they have the blue line or the depth to get too far in the playoffs, leaving Georgian hockey fans as feeling less than peachy about their return to the NHL playoffs.
All of this reminiscing has made me realize I need to upgrade my Atlanta Flames coverage and that of other defunct teams. Please feel free to visit my Other Notable Teams section, where you can select from my small collection of players from teams like the Montreal Maroons, Quebec Nordiques, Vancouver Millionaires, the old school Ottawa Senators, the California Golden Seals and the Hartford Whalers. You can also see players from much more modern franchises, such as the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils.