Darryl Sutter believes Theo Fleury will get a tryout if cleared by the NHL.
However, the odds of it coming courtesy of the Calgary Flames are longer than Fleury's comeback attempt.
"You and I could get a tryout -- as long as we pay for our hotel room," deadpanned the Flames GM yesterday, suggesting a no-strings attached camp invite means little.
That said, while trying his best to remain non-judgmental, Sutter isn't optimistic the ex-Flames star will be capable of fitting into a league that has changed dramatically since Fleury's last season in 2003.
"You pull for him because you think a lot of him, but six years is awhile," said Sutter, revealing Fleury approached him during the playoffs to inform him of his intent to return to the game.
"The big thing is the calibre of training is significantly different these days. It's one thing to lose weight, but we've got kids setting records with their fitness test results, let alone what phenomenal athletes like Iggy (Jarome Iginla) and Reggie (Robyn Regehr) are capable of. I think it would be very difficult for an older guy to get to those levels."
Especially someone like Fleury, who detested weight rooms and was never known for having stellar fitness levels throughout his 15-year NHL career. The fact he has lost more than 30 lb. with the help of trainers the last half-year says plenty about where he was at previously.
"It's one thing for him to say he can still shoot and pass, but it's a new world in terms of fitness levels and the game itself," said Sutter, alluding to Claude Lemieux's uneventful 18-game stint with the San Jose Sharks at age 43 last season. "Based on the past, I don't know if he can meet the criteria. I don't know where he's at."
And, quite frankly, it doesn't make much sense for Sutter to spend too much energy trying to find out.
While a successful return by Fleury would be one of the best hockey stories in recent history, he's still a long shot to be cleared by the league given he never completed the NHL's mandated substance abuse program as outlined when he was suspended indefinitely as a second-time offender.
"It's not a player issue or a hometown issue -- it's a league issue," said Sutter, whose brother Brian was burned by Fleury in 2003 when, as coach, he stuck his neck out to have the Chicago Blackhawks take a chance on the embattled sniper, only to have him caught carousing at a Columbus, Ohio, strip club that ended his career. "I'm trying to stay neutral. I couldn't begin to pass judgment on it."
After years trying to re-stock the franchise's coffers with solid young prospects, it would appear Sutter's days of signing aged free agents are over given how retreads such as Tony Amonte, Darren McCarty, Jeff Friesen, Wayne Primeau and, arguably, Todd Bertuzzi failed to pan out here.
Recently on record saying, "it's a young man's game," Sutter is expecting prospects will prove they belong.
Although Fleury has a knack for proving doubters wrong throughout his career, signing him here makes little sense.
A team in need of publicity, or with a few more holes to fill, could -- and may very well -- take a chance on him.
"It's not what you've done, it's what you're capable of doing," said Sutter of a mantra many GMs fail to live by.
The sky is no longer the limit for the Little Big Man, who averaged a remarkable 30 goals a season.
Fleury said for years his hometown Flames are the only team he would consider trying to make a comeback with. Now, he's willing to go wherever someone will give him a chance.
Sadly, it may turn out he's the one who didn't give himself a chance by originally thumbing his nose at the league's rehab program.
Doctors and the league are now evaluating him.
Darryl Sutter isn't.