Listening to Theoren Fleury talk about a potential comeback, you can’t help but get the feeling he’s expecting the worst.
Lacking fire — the competitiveness and passion he played with as a sparkplug for the Calgary Flames at the peak of his career — in his wording and delivery, he says he’ll move on to something else if it doesn’t work out.
Skeptics who suggest there’s no chance at him every playing another game in the NHL might also claim this is all just a publicity stunt to promote his autobiography set to be released this fall.
But the comeback bid is for real.
Or, at the very least, an elaborate marketing move with a potential bonus of a comeback that would allow the 5-foot-6 recovering alcoholic a chance to leave the game the way he wanted to.
Suspended indefinitely six years ago when he refused to comply with the league’s substance-abuse program, steps are being taken to have Fleury reinstated.
Unable to comment until the first of those have been accomplished, the league is awaiting word from the program’s counsellors, who are currently evaluating Fleury’s progress.
“We’re working through a process,” Fleury said after practising with a dozen or so pro hockey players at the Westside Recreation Centre.
“I also understand there were some consequences for my actions. This is all part of the consequences. I didn’t expect an answer right away. I know they have to think about it and see if it’s good, a fit for them. If it’s not, I’ll move on to something else.
“They haven’t made a decision either way. All I can do is continue to prepare for that moment.”
That moment may never come.
Healthy as he’s every been, both physically and mentally, his suspension being lifted appears to be a formality.
An invitation to a team’s training camp is a good bet, too, with so many franchises eager to earn some attention.
But how seriously his comeback bid is being taken by league general managers and executives is in question.
There were more than a few “no comments” thrown out there this week on the issue as they wait to see what happens with Fleury’s suspension.
There were also some “no thanks” responses to the idea of adding a 41-year old who has been out of the NHL for six years.
Darryl Sutter told the Sun as much this week. Others are saying the same.
“It may make sense for certain teams to look at adding a veteran with his skill-set, but over the last few seasons we’ve been transitioning so that our young players grow as the core of our team, and it doesn’t make sense for us at this time to look at a player like that,” said one league exec under the condition of anonymity.
“Hopefully he’s got his life in order and things work out for him.”
Even if the NHL doesn’t pan out a second time around, Fleury’s life these days is much more settled.
Almost four years of sobriety have made sure of that.
“I have a father who has 25 years of sobriety, a brother who has 15, another brother who has 10. They were always saying to me they were saving me a seat,” said Fleury. “I’ve finally taken that seat.
“I’ve been able to put the past in the past, and finally leave it there.”
Everything but hockey, apparently.
Whether or not the NHL will leave Fleury in its past remains to be seen.