Happy anniversary, Flames fans.
50 years ago today – Nov. 9, 1971 – the franchise that became the Flames was awarded to Atlanta by the National Hockey League.
In Calgary, the move was announced with a Canadian Press story the following day:
The National Hockey League decided Tuesday to expand to 16 teams for the 1972-73 season with franchises to be awarded to Atlanta, Ga. and and Long Island, New York.
The NHL did not decide who will get the franchises in those two cities, saying only that the choice will be from applications acceptable to the league and to the owners in the new arenas being built in Nassau County and Atlanta.
The piece further noted: “The Atlanta franchise is being sought by a group organized by Tom Cousins, a realtor whose brother Bob is president of the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association.” Cousins was, coincidentally, the developer of The Omni arena project. The Atlanta franchise was officially awarded to Cousins’ group a few weeks later and officially became known as the Flames in the spring of 1972 in reference to the Burning of Atlanta during the American Civil War. The Omni broke ground in downtown Atlanta in May 1971 and opened on Oct. 14, 1972 with a Flames game.
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The additions of the NHL’s 15th and 16th teams in Atlanta and Long Island were a response to the formation of the World Hockey Association – the WHA had been announced eight days prior to the NHL’s expansion – with the idea of keeping that league out of two major markets with brand-new arenas.
The WHA began play in 1972-73 with 12 teams that you’ve definitely heard of. (Okay, you probably heard of maybe five of them):
  • Alberta Oilers
  • Chicago Cougars
  • Cleveland Crusaders
  • Houston Aeros
  • Los Angeles Sharks
  • Minnesota Fighting Saints
  • New England Whalers
  • New York Raiders
  • Ottawa Nationals
  • Philadelphia Blazers
  • Quebec Nordiques
  • Winnipeg Jets
The Cleveland Crusaders franchise was meant to be the Calgary Broncos, but the original team owner passed away and the club was moved to Cleveland instead. The Calgary market joined the WHA in 1975 when the Vancouver Blazers became the Calgary Cowboys, but that team folded after two seasons. (Teams constantly moving and/or folding was a big issue for the WHA during its run.)
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The WHA folded after seven seasons of operation, with four teams – the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and Jets – merging into the NHL for the 1979-80 season. The Flames franchise relocated to Calgary following the 1979-80 season, while that campaign began a run for the Islanders franchise where they won four Stanley Cups in four years.
History sure is weird sometimes. Happy anniversary, Flames fans.