When the Flames belonged to Atlanta, they spent more time playing golf than hockey—with predictable results: The Atlanta Flames never won a playoff series. But last season the franchise moved to
, where the golf courses usually are under snow for most of the hockey season, and the Flames had nothing else to do except play hockey—with predictable results: the Calgary Flames won not one but two playoff series. In fact, they probably would have beaten Minnesota in the semifinals if their most indispensable player, Center Kent Nilsson, hadn't been suddenly rendered useless because of shoulder and knee injuries. Nilsson, the Swedish "Magic Man" whom none other than Wayne Gretzky calls "the most talented player in the league," finished third in scoring with 49 goals and 82 assists, but had only one assist in the Flames' six-game series against the North Stars.
Nilsson is healthy again, and except for Finnish Defenseman Kari Eloranta, Calgary starts the season with almost the same team that last year finished seventh overall and had the third-best power play. Whether the Flames end the season with that team is another question. G.M. Cliff Fletcher wants more speed, and the only Calgary untouchables probably are Nilsson and Defenseman Paul Reinhart.
discovered one more time, last spring, one-line teams don't survive long in the playoffs. To be fair, the Kings' high-flying Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne (58 goals), Dave Taylor (47) and Charlie Simmer (56 in 65 games) went kaput when Simmer broke his right leg on March 2, but the club was custom-built around that line and couldn't cope with adversity. So, L.A.'s joy at finishing fourth in the regular season was gone in the sorrow of its first-round playoff wipe-out by the Rangers.
Simmer may not be ready to play until Thanksgiving, and the physical status of Rick Martin, who joined the Kings last March but played only two games because of an injured right knee, is still clouded. New Coach Parker MacDonald prays that second-year Defenseman Larry Murphy has a season as productive as last year's (16 goals, 60 assists). It also would help if rookie Doug Smith takes over a center spot, and if youngsters Steve Bozek, Jim Fox and Greg Terrion develop scoring consistency. In addition, the Kings could use a capable backup for overworked Goaltender Mario Lessard, who wilted in the playoffs.
If Minnesota is the NHL's best young team, the best up-and-coming club is
. Obscured by the excitement over Wayne Gretzky, whose 164 points last year were 89 more than any other Oiler had, is the fact that G.M. and Coach Glen Sather is building a strong supporting cast around his child star. Right Wing Glenn Anderson (30 goals, 23 assists in 1980-81) has star quality himself, as does 20-year-old Defenseman Paul Coffey, an excellent puck handler. Goalie Andy Moog, 21, was a hero in the Oilers' playoff sweep of Les Canadiens, and with No. 1 pick Grant Fuhr in reserve, Edmonton's goaltending seems solid.
In keeping with the tradition of a team that in its first five seasons had four owners, six coaches and 101 players.
once again will offer the most new faces in the NHL, starting with Coach Bert Marshall, who succeeds Billy MacMillan, now the general manager. Both learned the ropes in the Islanders' organization. A new defenseman is Bob Lorimer, a former teammate of Marshall's and a regular on two Islander championship teams. He's vastly underrated, mainly because he sticks to defense and rarely rushes the puck. New forwards include Brent Ashton, who had 18 goals for Vancouver last season, and Dwight Foster, who had 24 for Boston. New imports include Veli-Pekka Ketola, Jukka Porvari and Tapio Levo, all of Finland, and Peter Gustavsson and Christer Kellgren, both of Sweden. Semi-new faces include Goalie Chico Resch and Center Steve Tambellini, who came from the Islanders last March. Holdovers Lanny McDonald (35 goals) and Rob Ramage probably spent the training season introducing themselves around.
also went the European import route, securing Jiri Bubla and Ivan Hlinka from Czechoslovakia and Defenseman Anders Eldebrink from Sweden. Unfortunately, the one Canuck who was going to protect the Europeans, Defenseman Harold Snepsts, sprained a knee in training camp and may not play until November. The best news for the Canucks is that Goaltender Glen Hanlon, who appeared in only 105 games the last three seasons, seems healthy for a change. Hanlon has had major surgery on both shoulders and both knees. No dummy, he married a nurse.