As we’ve learned in the past couple of seasons here in Calgary, defense is incredibly important and it helps to have good defensemen on your side. In four decades of Flames hockey, there have been a few really good defenders and a handful of great ones.
Here’s the first half of our rundown of the ten best Flames defensemen in history.
#10: PHIL RUSSELL
Flame from 1978-79 to 1982-83
Phil Russell was a 30-point defensemen. He came over to the Atlanta Flames mid-season from Chicago in a seven-player deal, and I have to think the idea was to bring a bit of veteran leadership to the young club. He kept chugging along, scoring 30 points and being a gritty veteran – he averaged less than half a point and more than a PIM and a half per game as a Flame. He was named Calgary’s second captain after the team relocated, but wasn’t indispensable enough to avoid being traded while holding that post in the summer of 1983. He was pretty good, but not great.
#9: DEREK MORRIS
Flame from 1997-98 to 2000-01
Remember when Flames drafting was really awful? Well, Derek Morris was one of just a few Flames first rounders from the 1990s to turn into solid NHL players and tradeable assets. Morris was considered a bit of a reach when he was drafted, but he turned into a pretty good 200-foot defender with some nice offensive touch. He was eventually flipped to the Colorado Avalanche in a deal that made Stephane Yelle a Flame.
#8: PHIL HOUSLEY
Flame from 1994-95 to 1995-96 and 1998-99 to 2000-01
Soon to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Housley’s one of the rare class of players – players they acquired twice and cast off twice. Originally brought to town as part of the Al MacInnis trade, Housley was what everyone expected: a supremely-talented offensive player with some minor defensive holes. Were the holes big? Oh, heck no. In fact, Housley was 30 when he arrived in Calgary and as he aged, he lost a bit of his foot-speed: but his vision and shooting was good enough that teams still wanted him deep into his 30s. The Flames flipped him to the Devils in the Tommy Albelin deal after a couple seasons, then brought him back off of waivers prior to the 1998-99 season. Fittingly, he was grabbed by the Blackhawks at the waiver draft after a few offensively productive seasons as a Flame.
#7: DION PHANEUF
Flame from 2005-06 to 2009-10
The Darryl Sutterest player there ever was, Phaneuf was a crazy-good junior player who just physically punished opposition players and seemed to enjoy his work. He had a few really good seasons in Calgary – he finished 8th, 6th and 2nd in Norris balloting in his first three seasons in Calgary – but at his worst, fell into Denis Gauthier Syndrome, the pursuit of a sweet hit (or goal) to the detriment of defensive play. When the wheels began to fall off for the Sutter-era Flames, he was traded to Toronto.
#6: PAUL REINHART
Flame from 1979-80 to 1987-88
One of the most offensively gifted Flames players in franchise history, Reinhart was hampered by back injuries throughout his tenure with the club, but still managed to put up gaudy numbers. An amazingly strong skater with good vision and an accurate shot, he was tailor-made for the wide-open ’80s. He was flipped to the Vancouver Canucks the summer prior to the Flames Stanley Cup season and had three sons who are all pretty decent hockey players.