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
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
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
"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
Just ask the Rangers.