I loved watching Theoren Fleury play in the NHL in his prime, but that prime was a long time ago and that’s why I’m hoping he regains his senses and forgets about trying to make a comeback.
And, before fans of the Edmonton Oilers get into a lather about what it might be like to see Fleury in Oilers silks — the same people who dream about Jaromir Jagr caning his way to the front of the net or Mat Sundin gumming the water bottle on the bench — simply this: just say no.
Having known Fleury since he played in Moose Jaw of the WHL, there’s not much doubt in my mind he’s one of the most talented and toughest little men to ever play the game.
At five-foot-six and 180 pounds, Fleury was a stubborn little cuss who beat ridiculous odds to play 1,084 games in the NHL, amassing 455 goals and 633 assists for 1,088 points. He seldom, if ever, took a backwards step in a game where he was outsized by every opponent.
He played the same way in The Jaw, where he was closer to 165 pounds soaking wet. Theo had 235 penalty minutes in his final season with Moose Jaw. And, oh yes, 160 points.
But those days. like his last NHL game — during 2002-03 with the Chicago Blackhawks — was a long time ago. Theo’s 41 years old now and skating in Calgary in the hope somebody is willing to take a chance on him.
Like the Oilers.
THAT WAS THEN . . .
I can hear fans now . . . “Wouldn’t Theo look good with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky” . . . “I bet he can still play.” . . . “If Pat Quinn moved him from right wing to the left side, think of it.” . . . “What’s to lose?”
I get the sentiment, but sentiment has nothing to do with making smart hockey decisions and the thought of the Oilers inviting Fleury to training camp doesn’t strike me as smart.
Even if there’s somebody out there willing to give Fleury a chance, he’ll have to be reinstated by the NHL, which has suspended him indefinitely for substance abuse, and the NHLPA. According to TSN, Fleury has already written a letter to commissioner Gary Bettman informing him of his comeback plans.
I haven’t talked to Theo since he was here with the New York Rangers in 2001-02, but word is he’s been clean and sober for four years now. Given his past battles with the bottle, that’s very good news indeed. After the last time we talked, I wasn’t so sure he could get straight and stay straight. I’m happy to be wrong. Good for him.
I’m not exactly sure why Theo wants to come back, aside from the obvious — Fleury has spent almost his entire life being identified as a hockey player and he misses the game and the built-in family that comes with it.
Barring horrendous investment problems like Sergei Fedorov is dealing with, Fleury has made all the money he’ll ever need. He started a concrete business in Calgary and, up until now, has been getting his puck fix in the senior circuit. So, why a comeback now?
I’m sure somebody will ask soon enough now that word of his comeback plans is out there. I know I will when I get the chance. One thing I know, it’s not my place to tell him it’s a silly tangent to be considering a comeback at this point in his life after six years out of The Show. I trust, though, NHL teams, like the Oilers, feel the same way.
And that Theo will get the message.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.