By Kent Wilson, Flames Nation
Easily the most contentious country for the Flames, Calgary has strong contenders in Al MacInnis, Theoren Fleury, Lanny MacDonald, Gary Roberts, Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk, all whom would be justifiable choices.
That noted, the best Canadian Flame is also probably the best Flame of all time - recently departed captain Jarome Iginla.
The Edmonton native (irony!) played 16 seasons in Calgary, led the team in scoring in just about all of them and currently owns many of the franchise records, including goals, points and games played. He's one of only a handful of players in NHL history to score 30 goals in 11 consecutive seasons (all of them with Calgary) and even though the cup eluded him during his time with the organization, Iggy is one of the most decorated Flames of all time with two gold medals, an Art Ross and a Lester B. Pearson trophy.
Beyond all that, Iginla is a kind of messianic figure in Calgary. He arrived at the onset of the organization's darkest time back in the mid-90's; a period where the team had little hope of competing thanks to a mix of incompetence, bad luck and a budget compromised by soaring league-wide spending and a weak Canadian dollar.
As I noted in my farewell to Iggy when he was traded to Pittsburgh near the deadline:
Iginla grew into a towering presence in Calgary, a figurehead who led the franchise out of its dark ages, establishing the Flames organization as relevant in the eyes of its enemies and in the hearts of its fans again.
So, yeah...short answer: Iginla.
Although I'd love to vote for Ville Nieminen here, it's obviously impossible to not go with Miikka Kiprusoff. The only other Flame to win a major award aside from Jarome in recent memory (Vezina), Kipper was the the primary reason Calgary managed to Cinderella their way to the cup finals in 2003-04. Beyond Iginla, Kipper was the other reason the club was considered a contender in the wake of the first modern lock-out and put up some of the best single season and playoff performances by a Flames goaltender ever.
Kiprusoff's (probable) final season this year was a disaster and an ignominious end to what was otherwise a storied career, almost all of it spent in Calgary. He will likely retire this summer and disappear somewhere in Finland, mercifully free of dreaded press conferences, nosy beat writers and the unending burden of carrying an entire team in his back.
A few noteworthy Americans have donned the Flaming C, specifically: Gary Suter, Joel Otto, Craig Conroy and Phil Housley. Brett Hull was born in Belleville Ontario, but famously identifies as American. Unfortunately, he also only spent a single season in Calgary before being traded for Rob Ramage, so that crosses him off my list because he was never really a Flame.
In absolute terms, Housley and Mullen are natural choices. Mullen won a cup in Calgary as one of the team's significant contributors at the time. He also managed over 500 goals and 1000 points during a long and illustrious career.
Housley endured his fair share of slings and arrows during his two tours of duty in Calgary, but he is easily one of the best American hockey players of all time given his resume. The Saint Paul native scored 20-plus goals five times and 40-plus points 16 times. He finished a 21 year career with over 1200 points, an impressive total for a forward, let alone a defenseman.
That said, Calgary was more of a pit stop for both guys in each of their careers. Mullen spent just as much time in both St. Louis and Pittsburgh as he did in Calgary, while Housley saw only about five seasons a Flame, less than 1/4th of his time in the league.
Otto was a useful player in the Flames cup run and spent his best years in Calgary, but was never a high octane talent.
That brings us Conroy and Suter. Craig is the sentimental choice - a Selke candidate who paired with Jarome during some of the erstwhile captain's (and the team's) best seasons, Conroy is an executive with the team currently and still beloved by the fans, in part because of his playing days and in part because he's just a really nice guy.
However, this one probably has to go to Gary Suter. A 9th round pick in 1984 (the best draft season in franchise's history by a wide margin), Suter made the Flames as a 21 year old in 1985 and started skating with Al MacInnis to form a potent defensive pairing. He won the Calder trophy that year after scoring 18 goals and 58 in his unlikely and unexpected debut. Suter would eventually peak in 1987-88 with a 21-goal, 91-point effort, a season before he would help lead the club to their first - and only - Stanley Cup.
Suter spent his formative and prime years as a Flame and was one of the towering figures who helped the team become a dominant contender and eventual champion in the late '80s. He played for another nine seasons after he left Calgary in 1994, but was mostly shadow of the player he was in Calgary.
Kenta Nilsson was called the magic man because of his ridiculously soft hands. He was also moved for the draft pick that eventually became Joe Nieuwendyk, so you'd think he'd be the easy choice.
But he's not because, well...Hakan Loob.
Funny, gregarious and highly talented, Loob remains one of the most popular players in Calgary to this day. The one-time 9th round pick (the Flames were pretty good at getting awesome players late in the draft back in the 80s apparently) stands as the only Swedish born NHLer to ever score 50 goals in the league. After managing that feat (and topping out at 106 points) he stuck around for one more season to win the cup and then decided to pack things up at the top of his game and head back to Sweden, a hero on both sides of the pond. It was the hockey equivalent of dropping the mic.
Most star athletes have trouble knowing when to pack it in, but Loob was the opposite - he quot when he was ahead, spent another 7 years dominating the proceedings in the Swedish Elite League and is now the GM of the SEL team he played for (Farjestad). As such, everyone who meets Loob in real life should give him a high five because he's awesome.
Not even a contest. Sergei Makarov. Full stop.
A 12th round pick (!) and one of the first "defectors" from Soviet Russia, Makarov arrived as 31 year old "rookie" in the league after being one of the most celebrated players in his native country and won the Calder 24-goal and 86-point season. The league changed the rules governing the rookie of the year afterwards as a result.
A hall-of-famer for his work both in Russia and in North America, Makarov is way ahead in race where second place would probably have to go to German Titov.
Uhh...Ronald Petrovicky I guess?
Obviously the winner here is Ales Kotalik...
Hahahah, but seriously, it's a pretty short list so Robert Reichel runs away with it. Calgary hasn't made a habit of collecting players from Eastern Europe over the years, meaning Reichel and his dual 40-goal campaigns for the organization in the early '90's is the only real choice. Jiri Hrdina (chosen in that 1984 draft) was more of a support guy in his four seasons with the club. Roman Horak might populate a list like this 10 years down the road, but that remains to be seen.
The other notable Roman in Flames history - Turek - is more of punchline and cautionary tale than anything else.
Switzerland: Sven Baertschi
If Sven Baertschi becomes the player many Flames fan think (read: hope) he will, the Swiss born winger will probably be mentioned in a list like this down the road. Otherwise, no one else really warrants a mention.
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