A Look at the 1988-89 Calgary Flames
A look at the Calgary Flames' road to their only Stanley Cup in 1989
The Calgary Flames' road to the Stanley Cup in 1989 was quite a rocky one. The team began play in Atlanta in 1972, playing there for eight seasons with very little success. It was in 1980 that they moved from Atlanta, Georgia to Calgary, Alberta, Canada; remaining in the Patrick Division (when it was part of the Campbell Conference) before being permanently placed in the Smythe Division beginning in the 1981-82 season. That was the year that the began their contentious rivalry with their provincial foes, the Edmonton Oilers.
After failing to win a series in Atlanta, the Flames had a bit more success in Calgary, but it wouldn't amount to much. The sudden rise of the Oilers in the 1982-83 season placed the Flames in the secondary role in the province of Alberta, but they finally had their chance to shine three seasons later, as they reached the Stanley Cup Final for the very first time. They were defeated in five games by the Montréal Canadiens, but all that did was drive them to get back to that same point, and they would do so just three years later.
The 1988-89 season was a dream year for the Flames. They won 54 games and accumulated 117 points, both franchise records, and their total was enough to repeat as holders of the Presidents' Trophy. The leaders during the regular season were Joe Mullen and Joe Nieuwendyk, who tied for the team lead in goals with 51, though Mullen's 59 assists gave him 110 for the season, which led the team. Nieuwendyk finished with 82 points in 77 games, while defenseman Al MacInnis had 74 points (16 G/58 A). This season marked the NHL debut of Theoren Fleury, who racked up 34 points (14 G/20 A) in his rookie season.
The Flames' playoff run began with facing the Vancouver Canucks in the Smythe Division Semifinals, though despite the fact that the Flames finished 43 points ahead of fourth place Vancouver in the Smythe Division, it was a difficult series for the Flames. Vancouver took Game One in OT, 4-3, and after four games, the series was even. The teams split Games Five and Six of the series, and Game Seven went to overtime, with Joel Otto scoring the series clinching goal when it went off his skate. Even now, 33 years later, Otto stood accused of kicking the puck in, but the skate was stationary. The Flames faced the Los Angeles Kings (during their first year with Wayne Gretzky) in the Smythe Division Final, and managed to sweep the league's top scoring team--while also holding the Kings to 11 goals total.
The Flames defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in a five game Campbell Conference Final to reach the Cup Final for the second time in franchise history. Their opponents? The same team who defeated them three years prior: the Montréal Canadiens. After taking Game One at home, the Flames ended up losing back-to-back games to fall behind two games to one, but they would win the next three games to complete their championship run, with the Cup being won by the Flames on May 25, 1989 with a 4-2 victory in Game Six.
Al MacInnis won the Conn Smythe Trophy, as he had 31 points (9 G/22 A) in 22 playoff games. However, the main story of the Flames' 1989 championship was their captain, Lanny McDonald. Born on February 16, 1953 in Hanna, Alberta, Lanny King McDonald was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1973, and was one of the Leafs' best players for many seasons. During his time with the Leafs, McDonald formed a friendship with the team's captain, Darryl Sittler, but at that same time, Sittler butted heads with the team's notorious owner, Harold Ballard. Actually, that's an understatement; Sittler and Ballard hated each other! Sittler had a no-trade clause, so he couldn't be moved even if Ballard wanted to. However, the spiteful owner did the next worst thing: he shipped off anyone who was friendly to Sittler.
This, unfortunately, included McDonald, who was traded (along with Joel Quenneville) to the Colorado Rockies, the absolute worst team in the league at that time. You know how bad the Rockies were? They made the 2021-22 Arizona Coyotes look like the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche; that's how bad they were! McDonald played parts of three seasons with the Rockies before he was traded to his third and last team, the aforementioned Flames, in November of 1981. His first full season with Calgary (1982-83) saw him score a career high 66 goals, but his last years saw his numbers start to decline. The 1988-89 season saw McDonald only rack up 18 points, though 11 of them were goals. McDonald's only goal in the 1989 playoffs came in the Cup-clinching Game Six, and after hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head, the longtime captain retired.
Since moving to Calgary from Atlanta, the Flames first 16 seasons in Calgary only saw the team miss the playoffs once (1991-92). However, after winning the Cup in 1989, the Flames lost five straight playoff series, and after being swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1996, they went seven straight seasons without reaching the playoffs. Their drought ended in the 2003-04 season, which saw the Flames reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since their championship season, only to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames have yet to return to the Final in the 18 years that have passed, but their 1989 Cup was quite a special one.
A trivial note: the Flames handed Patrick Roy his only Stanley Cup Final loss in five appearances, and 1989 remains the NHL's last all-Canadian Cup Final (at this point). The Flames' run to the Stanley Cup was an impressive one; 16-6, winning a thriller over Vancouver, dominating Los Angeles and Chicago, and going toe-to-toe with the Habs. The evening of May 25, 1989 was an emotional one for the city of Calgary, as the team finally reached the top, while their captain ended his 16-year career as champion.
About the author
Born on March 18, 1985. I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also love movies--especially comedy and horror--and among my favorite TV shows are The Simpsons and Family Guy