The Calgary Flames developed a reputation for really mediocre drafting and player development decisions, and the majority of that reputation was cemented in the early part of the 2000s under general manager Darryl Sutter. The Craig Button era ended with Eric Nystrom’s selection, then the Sutter era began with Dion Phaneuf. And then the bottom completely fell out, in the sense the team drafted a series of guys that never really made a mark at the NHL level, and who washed out of the organization for various reasons.
I mean, heck, the 2004-06 first rounders combined for 20 games in a Flames uniform. When Eric Nystrom, hardly a world-beater, has played ten times as many games as three of your first round picks combined, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. Some of that was bad luck, for sure, but some of that was also just terrible, terrible drafting.
Welcome to the worst stretch of drafting and asset management in franchise history.
2002: Eric Nystrom (10th Overall)
- This was originally the Rangers’ pick. They traded it to Florida, who traded up with Calgary: Calgary’s 9th overall to Florida for 10th and 99th. This was the final draft for Craig Button.
- Nystrom never reached the vaunted heights that his dad, Islanders legend Bob Nystrom, did. But he did turn out to be a pretty useful player, quietly becoming a key component of Calgary’s bottom six and penalty kill. He eventually left the organization via free agency.
- The Stat Line: 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points
- Flames Games By Pick: 204
- Flames Games Related To Pick: 204
2003: Dion Phaneuf (9th Overall)
- This was Calgary’s original pick, and Darryl Sutter’s first selection as general manager.
- Phaneuf was a slam-dunk pick, and even now you can’t argue that he wasn’t one of the team’s better picks – especially in the recent era. He was a nominee for the Calder and the Norris in his first few seasons, and then the Flames cashed out before his decline. Granted, the return probably could have been better. Phaneuf was sent to Toronto alongside Frederik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie for Matt Stajan, Ian White, Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman. Stajan’s still here. White was sent to Carolina with Brett Sutter for Tom Kostopoulos and Anton Babchuk, who both left via free agency. Hagman was claimed off re-entry waivers by Anaheim. Mayers left via free agency.
- The Stat Line: 75 goals, 153 assists, 228 points
- Flames Games By Pick: 378
- Flames Games Related To Pick: 1127
2004: Kris Chucko (24th Overall)
- This was originally Toronto’s pick, which they traded to the Rangers. Once again, the Flames traded down. They sent the 19th and 247th overall picks to the Rangers for 24th and 46th.
- And here’s where injuries kick in. Chucko was a pretty decent pro at first, but concussions slowed him down and ultimately led to his retirement in 2011.
- The Stat Line: 0 points
- Flames Games By Pick: 2
- Flames Games Related To Pick: 2
2005: Matt Pelech (25th Overall)
- This was Calgary’s original pick
- Pelech was everything Darryl Sutter wanted: big and mean. If he was western Canadian, he might have been adopted by Sutter. He also had bad luck with injuries, including blocking a shot with his face in junior and getting sidelined for half a season in the AHL due to a blood clot. He had a cup of coffee in the NHL and looked decent, but he just couldn’t make the Flames roster full-time. Eventually, the Flames cut bait after four seasons and he walked as a free agent.
- The Stat Line: 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points
- Flames Games By Pick: 5
- Flames Games Related To Pick: 5
2006: Leland Irving (26th Overall)
- This was Calgary’s original pick.
- Irving is yet another example of Please Don’t Draft Goalies Too Damn Early. Irving had strong junior numbers and a great personal background as a childhood cancer survivor. He had flashes of brilliance as a pro, but also had stretches of inconsistency that saw him relegated to third-string goaltender in Abbotsford behind Barry Brust and Danny Taylor. He eventually beat out Henrik Karlsson in training camp in his “do or die” season, then his play soon saw him back in the AHL. Irving wasn’t offered another contract and left as a free agent for Europe.
- The Stat Line: 3-4-0, 3.25 goals against average
- Flames Games By Pick: 13
- Flames Games Related To Pick: 13
Flames Draft History
- The Atlanta Years (1972-79)
- The Rise of Trader Cliff (1980-85)
- The Dry Spell (1986-91)
- Transitions (1992-96)
- Ups and Downs (1997-2001)