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.
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.
- 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)
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.