September 22, 2009
Theo Fleury(notes) has always been a guy who's easy to root for. Despite his 5-foot-6 frame, Fleury made himself into a tremendous hockey player; one who, when he left the NHL after the 2002-03 season at age 35, was just 45 goals away from 500.
With his past demons seemingly behind him -- even with his comeback likely being financially motivated -- Fleury's goal to suit up again in the National Hockey League on a full-time basis is edging closer to coming to fruition.
While everyone focused on the fact that New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo(notes) was knocked silly by Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf(notes) last Thursday night, what's being forgotten is that Fleury scored the winning goal in the shootout.
Sure, it was a meaningless preseason tilt, but it was just another example of how Flames fans are, as the Calgary Herald's George Johnson put it, being seduced by Fleury all over again, each and every time he's on the ice.
A tireless worker throughout his career, Fleury's a lunch pail kind of player. An all-out, leave everything on the ice type of player. Fans can appreciate those qualities and quickly embrace those players. That's why it's so easy to hope Fleury succeeds in his personal goal.
On Sunday night when the Flames hosted the Florida Panthers, Fleury scored his first goal and added an assist in a 5-2 Calgary win. After the game Fleury said he believes he's almost at the level of play he expected:
"I think the rust is finally coming off, and I'm starting to play the way that I can play and the way that I knew I could play when I started this thing in February."
If the heart and soul, worker-bee performance that we've seen from Fleury through two preseason games was just a little rust being shaken off, is there any doubt that he'll find his way into the Flames lineup at some point this season?
Now 41 years old, Fleury's last shot at ending his hockey career on his own terms is no longer a PR stunt for the Calgary Flames. He's making it harder for Flames GM Darryl Sutter and new head coach Brent Sutter to find a reason to add him to a cut list.
What might hurt Fleury's chances of an immediate NHL comeback is the numbers game. Currently, Calgary is stacked with forwards on one-way contracts; so Abbotsford, the Flames' American Hockey League affiliate, may end up being where Fleury begins the season, something with which he has no problem.
There are a lot of veteran players currently on tryouts with various NHL teams this preseason, but none are more intriguing than Fleury. Hockey fans have watched his career evolved from the early success, to the squandered career, and now we're in the third and final act of Fleury's story, his one last chance for personal redemption.