FN’s All-Time Greatest Flames Team: Mike Vernon

The latest addition to the FlamesNation All-Time Flames Team is one of a handful of players to have their jersey digits honoured by the Calgary Flames organization: goaltender Mike Vernon.

The fanbase seems to have a very unique love-hate relationship with Mike Vernon. On one hand, he’s a hometown boy that worked his way up from the WHL to represent the team at the NHL level. Heck, he took the team to two Stanley Cup Finals and won a Cup here. And then he was traded away and eventually returned in 2000, at which point he wasn’t nearly as good as he was in the 1980s.

For all his faults, he’s still the second-best goalie in the history of the franchise.

CAREER STATISTICS

Mike Vernon was selected by the Flames in the 1981 NHL Draft from the hometown Calgary Wranglers of the WHL. The Flames and Wranglers shared the Corral, so it was basically a Brent Krahn situation, except the Flames grabbed Vernon in the third round. (They drafted Al MacInnis before him, so they were probably okay with the risk.)

Vernon joined the Flames for cups of coffee in 1982-83 and 1983-84. He was initially the third or fourth string goalie to open 1985-86, but got recalled after an injury to the back-up in an attempt to snap the team’s record-long losing skid. It worked and the Flames went on a bit of a run, leading Bob Johnson to go with Vernon as the starter for the playoffs. That gamble worked and he ended up leading them to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Having wrested the starting job away from Reggie Lemelin, he relayed that opportunity into a string of 30+ win seasons and a Stanley Cup victory.

With the Canadian dollar struggling and the team’s core getting older and more expensive – and with Trevor Kidd waiting in the wings as the goalie of the future, Vernon was traded in the summer of 1994 to Detroit in exchange for Steve Chaisson. He returned for a two-season stint as a back-up from 2000-02, but failed to capture the magic he had before. Stylistically, the under-sized Vernon was a battler, functionally attacking pucks as they came at him. However, he lost the effectiveness as he got older, and was basically a positionally-sound goalie at the end of his career who lacked a lot of oomph.

GREATEST MOMENT(S)

FLAMES MILESTONES

  • 2nd in All-Time Flames Games Played By A Goaltender (526)
  • 2nd in All-Time Flames Minutes Played By A Goaltender (29,650 minutes, or 20.6 days)
  • 2nd in All-Time Flames Wins (262)
  • 3rd in All-Time Flames Shutouts (13)
  • Most Playoff Games By A Goaltender (81)

LEGACY

Mike Vernon was the second-best goalie in the history of the franchise. He was the hometown boy who dreamed of playing for his hometown team, and ended up leading them to the Stanley Cup Final twice and winning the franchise’s only cup. He’s got his number retired – not Forever A Flamed, but retired – and he still is top three in basically every goaltending category in the team record books.

He wasn’t quite as good as Miikka Kiprusoff relative to the rest of the league, but he was exactly what the Flames needed at the time.

  • RedMan

    Still my favourite flame of all time (although Iggy makes that tough). My Child sized vintage CCM Vernon jersey signed by Lanny McDonald (long story) is my most prized possession, man did I idolize this guy…..

  • KACaribou

    Now before some stat geek comes on to say Vernie sucked compared to goalies of today, I have a few points to make:

    • Smaller pads
    • More wide-open game

    • Oh and Gretzky and Lemieux in their prime

    Vernie and Fuhr are often called bad goalies because of the high GAA and low save percentage compared to the Goodyear Blimp goalies of today. But shots hurt in their day, and goalie equipment didn’t stuff the net like today.

    Believe me in an era of frequent break-aways, 2 on 1s, and even 3 on 1s Fuhr and Vernie were clutch when it counted.

    • Joe Flames

      Yep, different game entirely in those days. Not better, just different. Sometimes more exciting due to more scoring but on the other hand the pace was slower than now. You can’t compare stats from then and now. Especially for goaltenders.

  • KACaribou

    Vernie was my favorite Flames goaltender up until a year ago when I ran into him at a Flames game and thought I’d introduce myself to him and tell him my age long belief that I thought he had deserved the Conn Smythe in 1989. He said, “oh well”

    Small man syndrome..and long live the great Kipper

  • KACaribou

    Got to see him live only once, in his return swan song to Calgary and the Flames got lit up 7-2 with Vernie letting in a Vishnevski blast from between the blueline and center .. Lowry from behind the goal line and Cowan with the goals

  • KACaribou

    Hated the guy…called the “five-hole” the “Vernon-hole” to this day.

    He had a great run in 89 but unlike Fuhr, in all those other series with the Ollers, he seemed not to come up with the big save when his team needed it. Those teams of the mid to late 80s should have had more than one cup and yeah, I blame that on Vernon.

    • KACaribou

      Without his huge save in OT vs Van in the first round in 89 we would have ZERO cups. That’s big.

      In the 80s there was a thing called the Oilers Dynasty that stopped the Flames from winning more than one cup. We were the second best team in the league, but the truth hurts – Oilers were better.

      We don’t have to apologize for not winning more than one in the 80s. If anything we should have won more in the 90s after the Oilers Dynasty. But the Flames managed to lose something like 8 consecutive OT games.

      • wot96

        You’re right, he had a good run in 1989.

        My point is that Flames had a team that could beat the Oilers. They were built for it, specifically for it, and that plan succeeded. Yes, sure, they had the better players in the top two forward positions and maybe their number one defender, but Calgary’s team was better just about everywhere else – with the exception of net.

        The reason the Oiler’s “dynasty” lasted was because their goalie made more saves than ours when their team needed those saves.