Through the 5 Hole

September 11, 2009 5:32 PM

Fleury on the comeback trail

You have to feel good for Theo Fleury, who has been cleared by the NHL to return to league play, even if his chances of actually sticking with a club at this point in his life would seem to be pretty remote.

He's 41 years old and hasn't played in the NHL since 2002-03 with the Chicago Blackhawks.

A terrific player in his prime -- he scored 30 or more goals eight times -- hockey's little big man at 5-feet-6 and 180 pounds was troubled by substance abuse, a problem that wrecked an otherwise tremendous career.

I was covering the Colorado Avalanche for the Rocky Mountain News when then-general manager Pierre Lacroix made another of his blockbuster trades by acquiring Fleury from the Calgary Flames in February 1999 for the playoff stretch.

The Flames wound up with a couple of role players in Wade Belak and Rene Corbet, along with junior prospect Robyn Regehr, who eventually developed into one of Calgary's top defensemen and continues to play at a high level.

Anyway, Fleury was a breath of fresh air in a very professional but rather boring Avalanche locker room, a veritable quote machine and one of the most friendly people you'd ever want to meet.

Fleury could still play, too, and he finished with 10 goals and 14 assists in just 15 regular-season games. He had a nice playoff run as well, collecting five goals and 12 assists in 18 games, but Avalanche fans likely still remember his missing a game against the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals for what the team said was the "flu."

Well, no one really believed that was the reason, but the Avalanche won 7-5 without him to grab a 3-2 series lead before losing Games 6 and 7.

The Avalanche didn't make much of an attempt to re-sign Fleury, who became an unrestricted free agent after the season, and he wound up with the New York Rangers.

Fleury hasn't played competitive hockey since 2005-06, when he looked like Wayne Gretzky while skating for the Belfast Giants in Europe, amassing 22 goals and 52 assists in 34 games.

Fleury was placed in Stage 4 of the NHL/NHLPA substance abuse and behavorial health program in June 2006 and will continue to participate in the program's after care phase.

Good for Theo. He's been sober for several years and has gotten his life back together.

Seems to me his comeback is pretty complete as it stands, whether or not he ever plays another game in the NHL.

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