Fleury Coming Home?

Marc Ciampa & Rick Charlton
July 5th, 2002

The signing of Jordan Leopold made news in Calgary, a hockey mad Canadian city.

A few weeks later the Flames firmed up top prospect Chuck Kobasew and Calgary's hockey fans breathed a sign of relief.

Earlier this week Craig Button, the Flames general manager, caught a few fans off guard by inking Martin Gelinas to a three year contract - once again news was made in the Stampede City.

Nothing however, could prepare the town for the bomb that the Flames GM dropped yesterday on national radio.

Theo Fleury back with the Calgary Flames?

Button was heard on the Team radio network stating the fact that the Calgary Flames were preparing an offer for former captain and franchise all time scoring leader Theoren Fleury.

He went on to say that Fleury stated that he missed the Western Conference and that he was interested in returning to Calgary, but that he wanted to look around.

Could this be? Could the Calgary Flames ... a team that most of the league envisions as cash strapped be thinking of adding another salary to a crowded budget? Is the Fleury talk a ploy to put the heat on Jarome Iginla? Is it a quiet way of saying Iginla won't be back?

Fleury in Calgary is bound to create excitement and emotion ... Marc Ciampa and Rick Charlton take opposite sides on the issue of Fleury's possible return.

Risky Proposition
Rick Charlton

It might be prudent for Flames brass to include Harvey the Hound in their roundtable when they get around to voting on Theo Fleury's return to Calgary.

After all, it was Fleury who busted the fake rib - and the real one inside the costume - of San Jose's Sharkie mascot last winter, one of the many bizarre and frankly unexplainable incidents marring The Mighty Mite's third season in New York.

This is the fourth summer since Theo's departure from Calgary and we're not sure which side has missed the other more.

The Flames have floundered in Fleury's absence, his departure signaling a staggering drop in season ticket sales which threatened to kill the franchise. 

Their former superstar meanwhile, has experienced a fall from grace that has been nothing short of spectacular. From words of praise and back slapping at their good fortune in acquiring him, the Avalanche found their appetite for Fleury's act lasted all of 15 regular season games and 18 of 19 games Colorado played in the 1998 post-season. Its the one game Fleury missed, announced as a flu bug but rumoured to be something more mysterious, which caused the Avs to back off from their love affair rather abruptly.

Fleury went on to the Big Apple and immediately produced the worst season of his career. All seemed better the next year before Fleury stunned the hockey world by announcing he was checking himself into a substance abuse program. Apparently on the right track, it wasn't long into this last season when the bizarre behaviour which would characterize the campaign began to surface. Those incidents high-fingering Islander fans (okay, maybe that’s explainable), walking off the ice in Pittsburgh and stranding his teammates, accusing the league office of a conspiracy to get him, and generating a career high in penalty minutes.

The only thing anyone on the outside world would know is that the cause of his frustrations was not a recurrence of his addiction issues.

And this is where it gets interesting for the Flames. The critical point in deciding whether or not to pursue Fleury, now an unrestricted free agent, isn't necessarily the risk of a relapse of his addiction but rather the severe disturbance, both in the dressing room and on the ice, created by his antics.

The low point I would pick from last season was the moment Ranger coach Ron Low, clearly exasperated, conceded in front of a boatload of reporters in the media capital of the world, that he could think of nothing else to do with Fleury but send some of his players into the dressing room to beat the crap out of him.

Fleury is an elite player. He's apparently a sober player as well. It seems incredible the Flames could snag such an athlete, a probable 30 goal, 80 point man, for a reasonable cost, without surrendering any other assets.

There is a strong argument that a return to his roots, to a closer relationship with his family and friends in this area, might be enough to settle him down.

The temptation is the signing of Fleury might be enough to push the Flames over the top, into a playoff spot after six straight years on the sidelines.

And it’s a huge temptation for the Flames.

"I think we showed progress last year on many fronts and I think we need to show more progress this year," Flames President Ken King told the Calgary SUN yesterday. "I think it's going to be a very important and very pivotal year for our future."

Oh yes, very tempting. Because Fleury could be enough to put them over the top. He’s that good.

But the downside is considerable. Just ask Ron Low. Ask the Rangers who wouldn't blink at $7 million if Fleury were still the player he once was. The Rangers, after all, have missed the playoffs for five straight years, only one less than the Flames.

The fact Fleury is having trouble scaring up half of last year’s salary speaks volumes about how far his stature has fallen around the NHL.

You see, it's not a question of talent. It’s not about the heart either. It’s the unpredictability. It’s the risk to cohesion in the ultimate team sport.

It's too much to risk, almost at any price.

Just ask the Rangers.

Bring Him Home!
Marc Ciampa

Theoren Fleury of the Calgary Flames. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Three years ago at this time, the notion of Fleury coming back to play with the Calgary Flames was an impossibility but thanks to circumstances that have occurred since then there exists the very real chance that he could be donning Flames colours again come September.

The question is, do we want him and if so at what price?

Obviously, in a small market like Calgary’s money has to be a consideration but the old adage you have to spend money to make money certainly applies here. The conclusion to be made is that if Fleury signs anywhere from $2.5 to $3.5 million it would be a sound investment for this hockey club.

Granted, his 2001-02 season with the New York Rangers was marred by turmoil and conflicts with everyone from his own teammates to league officials to S.J. Sharkie but ever since that day Theoren Fleury arrived at training camp in 1988 he’s had the odds stacked against him and almost certainly he has risen above and beyond what anyone could have expected to beat those odds.

Theoren Fleury is a proud person who is extremely competitive. Certainly his ego suffered a blow when the Rangers cut him lose this summer and anyone who knows Theo knows he will do whatever it takes to prove them wrong. In fact, any time in his career that Fleury has had a sub-par season he’s bounced back in a big way. He followed up his 15-goal campaign in 1999-2000 with 30 goals and 74 points in 62 games – a pace of 40 goals and 98 points. In 1998-99 Fleury put the Calgary Flames on his back and carried them to within two points of a playoff spot before he was dealt to the Avalanche on the 28th of February. He finished that year with 40 goals and 93 points.

Today’s Calgary Flames are a very different looking team from the one Fleury left three years ago. The likes of Tommy Albelin, Cale Hulse, Todd Simpson, Eric Charron and Steve Smith are no longer playing defence.  A more mature Derek Morris and Denis Gauthier leads the way with a strong supporting cast of Bob Boughner, Toni Lydman, Robyn Regehr and the promising Jordan Leopold. Up front this is now Jarome Iginla’s team and captain Craig Conroy provides speed and defensive stability. The rest of the forwards certainly exhibit a lot more speed than the 1998-99 edition of the Flames.

If Fleury signed with Calgary he would no longer have to carry the team on his back and take along the pressures that come with such an arduous task. Slotting him on the second line alongside Marc Savard, with Chris Clark providing grit on the other side would be a perfect fit for this hockey club. It would give the Flames not two but three legitimate scoring lines as Martin Gelinas or Dean McAmmond could play with Niedermayer and Chuck Kobasew. Let’s face it, the more focus the Flames can take off of Iginla the more successful he – and consequently the team – will be.

Clearly, Fleury would help make the Flames a better team on the ice but what about off the ice? Last season he arguably cost the Rangers a playoff spot with his ridiculous antics and constant whining. He still ended up with 24 goals but his 63 points was a career low. This is why Calgary would be such a good fit for him, as he would have a support group with family and friends to help keep him in check. And, as mentioned already, he will be on a mission to prove everyone wrong. At the Olympics Fleury showed how good he can still be when motivated

The word is that Fleury approached Button about coming back to Calgary. If that is the case, the team should do whatever they can to sign him. Properly motivated Fleury can still be a force in the league and could have what it takes to push the team over the edge into the postseason in the competitive Western Conference.

There is already a buzz in the city this summer about the team in light of Iginla’s monster season as well as a number of positive roster moves made recently. With Theoren Fleury back in the fold that buzz could turn into a roar.