Let's hoist No. 14

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Shortly after a first-period video tribute to his career as a Flame, Theo Fleury waved from the owners' box to acknowledge the hearty applause.

And while the gesture was an honourable one the club has made a conscious effort to do more of as it approaches its 30th anniversary, it fell short of the true honour awaiting the Little Big Man.

The next time he's highlighted at the 'Dome the 5-foot-6 mighty mite should be looking up -- way up -- to his jersey being hoisted to the rafters. His No. 14 should be retired.

For all intents and purposes it already has been, as no player has worn his number since the 1999 trade that wiped the franchise of its last great star from the glory years and set up a tearful farewell few fans will forget.

Those types of emotions could all come flooding back for the 40-year-old entrepreneur if the club does the right thing and sees his number join Lanny McDonald's No. 9 and Mike Vernon's No. 30.

"It would just kind of be the cherry on top of the cake for me as to how far I've come away from the game and off the ice and turned my life around," said Fleury, quick to point out he'd never lobby for the move nor is it his decision.

"Would I like it to happen? Absolutely. Anyone would like that honour bestowed on him, but nobody's called me or mentioned it."

They should. Oh sure, perhaps Al MacInnis is logically the next in line. But it's quite possible no one played with the type of heart and emotion Fleury poured onto the ice here for 11 years. Not only was the eighth-round gem a gifted and gritty fan favourite, he also left as the club's all-time point leader -- a title Jarome Iginla is still 54 points short of.

You can bet Iginla will have his jersey hung here with care, as should his very first linemate, Fleury.

"Absolutely it should be retired -- look what he did for the team," said Coyotes defenceman Derek Morris who played his first few seasons in Calgary with Fleury.

"He was always a good teammate -- never called guys out for their mistakes. Everybody has personal problems or demons but he didn't accomplish what he did because he did steroids or anything -- he got there because he worked his butt off for the team. Did the fans not love watching him play and cut into the middle and throw a wrister top shelf? That's why you lift someone's number to the rafters, not because of what they overcame."

Ah yes, the demons he promises to reveal in his upcoming book play a huge role in arguments against Fleury, whose career ended with orders to attend the league's substance-abuse program.

However, I'd suggest overcoming long odds and obstacles and being able to clean up his life to be a contributing member of the community is all the more reason to put him on such a pedestal.

As Shane Doan attested, "When you hear Theo Fleury, you think of the Flames."

You think of him sliding on his knees celebrating his overtime goal against Edmonton, you think of him battling men a foot taller, and you think of that goofy grin. Heck, his last handful of years here he was the only reason to watch the Flames.

"Playing against the guy, I hated him as much as anyone I ever played against, but I would have him on my team any time," said Gretzky, who had dinner with the 455-goal, 1,088-point scorer Monday.

"And in '02 when we were doing the Olympic team there was no way in my mind he wasn't going to be on that team."

No, Fleury didn't finish his career here but who can blame him for essentially forcing his trade to Colorado by virtue of his duty to chase his big chance at unrestricted free agency and the $28 million the Rangers threw his way.

Part of his legacy is the cornerstone the Flames got in return, Robyn Regehr.

"I know why they traded me and I'm not bitter at all -- all that stuff is in the past," said Fleury. "All I remember is all the goals I scored and great games I played in as a Flame, that's what I remember most."

And they should be commemorated the proper way.


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