Photo Credit: John Hefti/USA Today Sports

Whatever happened to the original Atlanta Flames?

Way, way back in the 1970s, the Flames franchise was merely a notion. The National Hockey League approved a pair of franchises – to play in Long Island and Atlanta – to counter the growth of the rival World Hockey Association. On June 6, 1972, rookie general manager Cliff Fletcher and his crew hunkered down for the NHL’s third-ever expansion draft.

The initial haul

The existing NHL clubs were allowed to protect two goalies and 15 skaters, meaning the expansion teams would be able to grab (at best) a third string goalie and a team’s 16th-best skater (or worse).

The Flames drafted 21 players:

  • Goaltenders Phil Myre (Montreal) and Dan Bouchard (Boston)
  • Defensemen Kerry Ketter (Montreal), Ron Harris (Detroit), Randy Manery (Detroit), Bill Plager (NY Rangers), Pat Quinn (Vancouver) and Larry Hale (Philadelphia)
  • Forwards Norm Gratton (NY Rangers), Larry Romanchych (Chicago), Bill MacMillan (Toronto), Keith McCreary (Pittsburgh), Ernie Hicke (California), Lew Morrison (Philadelphia), Lucien Grenier (Los Angeles), Morris Stefaniw (NY Rangers), John Stewart (Pittsburgh), Bob Leiter (Pittsburgh), Bill Heindl (Minnesota), Frank Hughes (California) and Rod Zaine (Buffalo)

As you can imagine, the Flames didn’t really land anybody that immediately jumped off the page. Of the 21 bodies they got, only a pair – Dan Bouchard and Pat friggin’ Quinn – are exciting in retrospect.

But the man that became known during his time in the Flames front office as “Trader Cliff” managed to make some moves with the 21 free pieces he was given.

The fate of the original Flames

  • Myre played 211 games for the Flames. He was traded to St. Louis in 1977 in a seven piece deal that sent him, Curt Bennett and Barry Gibbs to the Blues for Yves Belanger, Dick Redmond, Bob MacMillan and a 1978 second round pick.
    • Belanger played 22 games and left as a free agent.
    • Redmond played 42 games before being traded to Boston for Gregg Shephard, who in turn was traded to Pittsburgh for Jean Pronovost, who played 155 games before being traded to Washington for cash.
    • MacMillan played 308 games before being packaged with Don Lever and traded to the Colorado Rockies for Lanny McDonald and a 1983 fourth round pick (Bill Claviter, never played pro hockey). McDonald played 492 games with the Flames, had his number retired and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
    • The 1978 second round pick was Mike Perovich, who never played an NHL game.
  • Bouchard played 398 games. He was traded to Quebec in 1981 for Jamie Hislop.
    • Hislop played 215 games for the Flames before retiring young due to an eye injury.
  • Ketter played 41 games before being claimed by Kansas City in the 1974 expansion draft. (He went to the WHA instead.)
  • Harris played 23 games before being traded to the Rangers during the inaugural Atlanta season for Curt Bennett.
    • Bennett played 405 games before being traded to the Blues in the aforementioned trade (see Myre, above).
  • Manery played 377 games. He was traded to Los Angeles for Ab DeMarco Jr., who went to the WHA and never played a game for the Flames.
  • Plager played 76 games before being claimed by Minnesota in the 1973 intra-league draft. (The NHL used to have a mechanism prior to the waiver process where teams could grab each other’s depth players in an annual draft.)
  • Quinn played 374 games and retired as a Flame.
  • Hale went to the WHA and never played for Atlanta.
  • Gratton played 29 games for Atlanta. He was traded to Buffalo in 1973 for Butch Deadmarsh, who played all of 61 games before being claimed by Kansas City in the 1974 expansion draft.
  • Romanchych played 288 games before leaving as a free agent.
  • MacMillan (78 games) and Hicke (58 games) were packaged and sent to the Islanders in 1973 for Arnie Brown.
    • Brown played 63 games, then went to the WHA.
  • McCreary played 231 games for Atlanta, then was released.
  • Morrison played 130 games for the Flames. He was claimed by Washington in the 1974 expansion draft.
  • Grenier spent his time in the minors, never playing a shift for the Flames.
  • Stefaniw played 13 games. He was traded to Kansas City for cash in 1974.
  • Stewart played 14 games before being traded to California in 1974 for Hilliard Graves.
    • Graves played 172 games before being bundled with Larry Carriere and sent to Vancouver for John Gould and a 1977 second round pick. They drafted Brian Hill, claimed by Hartford in 1979’s expansion draft, and Gould played 194 games before he was claimed by Edmonton in 1979’s expansion draft.
  • Leiter played 234 games before leaving for the WHA.
  • Heindl was traded the day of the expansion draft to the Rangers for Bill Hogaboam.
    • Hogaboam played two games before a trade to Detroit for Leon Rochefort.
    • Rochefort lasted 110 games before being traded to Vancouver for cash.
  • Hughes went to the WHA and never played a second for Atlanta.
  • Zaine went to the WHA and never played a second for Atlanta.

Long story short…

The 21 players the Flames got in the ’72 expansion draft didn’t amount to a whole lot. Four of them never played a single game for the franchise (and weren’t flipped as assets). Two players were claimed by the Flames in the expansion draft, only to be claimed again in 1974’s edition. A lot of them were flipped in fairly bland trades, and a lot of Fletcher’s team-building work was done via the amateur draft.

That said, Myre played a lot and turned into (Bob) MacMillan, who was turned into McDonald. Bouchard was the franchise’s first star goalie and he was flipped for Hislop. Manery, Quinn, Romanchych, McCreary and Leiter were all useful pieces who performed admirably while Fletcher’s young prospects matured.

Fletcher wasn’t given a great talent pool from which to select. But he managed to get value out of the guys he got and bought himself time to develop some young talent to move Atlanta up the standings. He also managed, via a few swaps, to turn his backup goalie into a Hall of Famer.