FN’s All-Time Greatest Flames Team: Kent Nilsson

There have been many talented hockey players to suit up for the Calgary Flames franchise since it was established in Atlanta in 1972. By my count, it’s well over 500 in franchise history. Considering that several Hall of Fame players have had great years in Calgary (and Atlanta), let me lay down something that may be a controversial statement.

Kent Nilsson is the most talented player to ever wear a Flames jersey.

The Magic Man is the latest member of FlamesNation’s All-Time Flames Team.

CAREER STATISTICS

A fourth round pick of the old Atlanta Flames way back in 1976, Kent Nilsson came to North America from Sweden and joined the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets for a couple seasons. When the WHA was swallowed up by the NHL following the 1978-79 season, Nilsson’s rights were reclaimed by the Flames as the Jets joined the NHL.

And thank goodness for that, because he was <expletive> good. He put up 40 goals and 93 points in Atlanta, then topped that with a 85-assist, 131 point season that still a Flames record. In fact, for context, he was third in league scoring (behind Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), was in on nearly 40% of Calgary’s goals, and his record points total is TWENTY-ONE POINTS more than anybody else in franchise history has ever gotten. There were years during the Young Guns era when entire lines couldn’t get 131 points.

Nilsson spent six seasons in Calgary, and scored more than a point-per-game in every single one of them. Near the end of his tenure, the wear and tear of his bat-out-of-hell offensive style started to catch up with him. Rather than wait until the bloom was off the rose, Flames GM “Trader” Cliff Fletcher flipped him to Minnesota for a pair of draft picks. One became perfectly serviceable NHLer Stephane Matteau. The other was Joe Nieuwendyk.

GREATEST MOMENT(S)

FLAMES MILESTONES

  • Single-season record-holder for most points by a Flames player (131; 1980-81)
  • Single-season record-holder for most assists by a Flames player (82; 1980-81)
  • 6th in All-Time Flames Points (562)
  • 5th in All-Time Flames Goals (229)
  • 7th in All-Time Flames Assists (333)
  • Tied for franchise record for most hat-tricks by a Flame (13)

LEGACY

Kent Nilsson was a super-skilled Swede with a sweet mustache and some of the sickest hands in hockey. He hasn’t been a Flame for 30 years, and he still holds a bunch of records that not even Jarome Iginla could touch. In addition to being super awesome at the ice hockey, Nilsson began a chain of trades that turned him into Joe Nieuwendyk, then Nieuwendyk into Jarome Iginla, then Iginla into what’s presently Kenny Agostino and Morgan Klimchuk.

So not only was he a supremely talented hockey player, Kent Nilsson is also the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s almost enough to make up for him playing 23 games for the dastardly Edmonton Oilers. Almost.

  • northernstamp

    How good was Kent Nillson? He used the “Forsberg” breakaway move before Forsberg even thought of trying it. When Hakan Loob arrived in Calgary his first interview included the line, “I like to play hockey. I like to play hockey with Kent.” If that’s not enough, he turned Mel Bridgeman into a scorer… Mel Bridgeman!

  • KACaribou

    Calgary Flames team record for shorthanded goals in a single season (9 in 1983–84)

    6th fastest player in NHL history to score 300 points

    8th fastest player in NHL history to score 400 points

    9th fastest player in NHL history to score 500 points

    19.21% 12th best shooting percentage in NHL history

    Flames totals 425 GP, 562 Pts, 1.32 PPG.

    Most at least remember his challenge by a reporter to hit the crossbar from centre ice, and he did it in one shot

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7bVtBr2v8s

    In the early 80s, at the height of his powers, he was hacked and slashed and held and hooked in an effort to slow him down. Those were the days in the NHL where you could do this without a penalty. I guess the Flames can be faulted for not properly protecting their superstar like the Oilers protected Wayne Gretzky. In any case, Kent did not have the disposition to fight back and eventually said goodbye to the NHL.

    The Great One called him perhaps the most naturally talented player he ever saw.

    I wish Kent Nilsson could have played in today’s game, with proper refereeing and the emphasis on skill. He would have been amazing. Imagine the Magic Man with Johnny Hockey!

    I also wish he was more well thought of by Flames fans and the team itself. He was, after all, the first European player to score 100 points in a season and was the Flames very first superstar!

    Before there was a Fleury, there was another Number 14 – The Magic Man.

  • Gord W

    As someone who 1) remembers seeing him play and 2) knows there is a difference between “most talented player” and “best player” I don’t think calling Nilsson the most talented player to ever play for the Flames is controversial. The identity of the second most talented player in Flames history might make for an interesting debate, but I agree with you that Nilsson is 1st, and by a wide margin.

    I can’t remember the date or even the opponent (best guess: Minnesota North Stars) but Nilsson turned in the most dominant performance I have ever seen from anyone in hockey at one game I attended in the early ’80s. He made the Stars (if it was them) players look like pilons all night long. They showed zero ability to stop him, or even limit him, from doing anything he wanted with the puck when he was on the ice. He had, I think, six points, and as I left for home I was shaking my head that it wasn’t sixteen.

    He did have downsides, one of them being a suspect work ethic. I seem to recall him when going off the ice at the end of his shifts, coasting from 40-50 feet away with one foot and his stick in the air. Every shift, every game. It drove me nuts, especially that very few others seemed to bothered by this habit of his.

    Something else I remember about Nilsson: Every Flames coach who came along saw he was a tremendous passer with a terrific (if probably underutilized) shot and decided to try using him on the point as a power play quarterback. Every one of them discovered why his predecessors abandoned the idea: Nilsson was, quite possibly, the worst 1-on-1 defender in NHL history.

    Nilsson was not just average NHL forward trying to defend a 1-on-1 bad, or even a little bit worse than that; he was his own level of putrid in that situation. Having a 1-on-1 against Kent Nilsson was like having a breakaway with the goalie screened.

    Don’t get me wrong – Nilsson was an incredibly talented player, and he definitely belongs on any all time Flames team. And the fact he was a liability as a PP point man wasn’t a big problem once you stopped trying to use him as one.

    Just wanted to share some of my memories about Nilsson, both good and bad, with the rest of the fans here.