Relocated Flames enjoyed balanced schedule

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:21 AM ET

CALGARY - While it may seem strange that Winnipeg could be playing about 2,500 km from its division rivals next season, it actually has happened before.

When the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary for the 1980-81 NHL season, the team stayed in the Patrick Division for one year.

Instead of battling Edmonton and Vancouver for the division crown, the Flames were fighting the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.

“It was still the NHL,” said Flames blueliner Bob Murdoch. “The fact we were in a place where it was sold out every night and people were so enthusiastic made it normal. We couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized.

“What division we were in wasn’t a factor.”

In the first couple years of a 21-team NHL, there was a balanced schedule. With an 80-game season, you just played each team four times apiece, so who exactly was in the division didn’t really matter.

It wasn’t until the 1982-83 season, after some realignment, that teams played eight times within their grouping.

“I loved it (the balanced schedule),” said Flames forward Jim Peplinski. “You got to see all the teams. From a player’s perspective, it’s not always healthy having the same brother to fight.”

If the new Winnipeg team stays in the Southeast Division for the upcoming season, they will certainly rack up the air miles facing the Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes 16 times on the road.

Nowadays, NHL teams use charter planes but in the old days, it was strictly commercial.

“It was a good draw if you got an isle seat,” Peplinski said. “That was in the days where the second three rows of business class was smoking and the first three rows of steerage was smoking. They had non-smoking steerage and they would try to tell you it was non-smoking with 36 people having two packs a flight. I would do it again in a New York minute.”

During the first season in Calgary, the Flames players didn’t have any idea who was in what division.

Peplinski said teammate Bill Clement once gathered a few Flames at a downtown bar and quizzed them about who was part of the Smythe, Norris and Adams divisions as a theme for Calgary Sun column.

“We got about 50% of them,” Peplinski said. “We were playing in the NHL and we didn’t know what division we were in. All we cared about was how we were playing the next night.”


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