SUN Hockey Pool

Talk of Theo signing Heats up

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Where there's smoke, there's usually Heat.

In this case, that's the Abbotsford Heat, which is where Theo Fleury may very well be destined.

On a day in which the former NHL star met with league commissioner Gary Bettman in Phoenix to get the final word on whether he'll have clearance to play, rumours swirled, suggesting the Calgary Flames will give Fleury a tryout.

Yes, starting Saturday when the club's veterans check in for physicals, a 5-foot-6, 41-year-old former concrete worker who hasn't played for six years may be in their midst.

However, given the Flames' youth movement and Fleury's obvious deficiencies, he won't be there long, as the ultimate goal would be to send Fleury to Abbotsford, where the controversial mighty-mite will help sell a ton of tickets for the club's new AHL partner.

While it may sound like something the Flames would've tried out of desperation in 1999 -- when Fleury last played for Calgary -- to attract attention, the reality is there's no risk whatsoever to the Flames this time around.

In fact, it's a no-brainer.

Shortly after hiring a personal trainer to turn his health around last spring, Fleury made his comeback desires known to Flames GM Darryl Sutter. When asked last month about Fleury's intentions, Sutter said he had little doubt Fleury would get a tryout and joked, "You and I could get a tryout -- as long as we pay for our hotel room."

Fleury won't even have to do that as he has called southwest Calgary home for several years now.

Assuming Bettman decides Fleury did enough time in rehab and gets clearance to play, Fleury's next step would be to sign a tryout contract with the Flames that wouldn't bind the team to paying him NHL money unless they decide to call him up. Otherwise, he could be sent to Abbotsford, where he would draw a minor-league salary while giving the Heat arguably the biggest name in Flames history with which to sell tickets. The Flames would desperately like to find a permanent home for their AHL club, and the curiosity factor of seeing one of the game's most controversial figures would bolster those efforts.

With an eye on always trying to maximize revenue, the Flames would also virtually guarantee a few pre-season sellouts with Fleury in the lineup. It would be a circus the whole league would be watching.

Several Flames players who skated with Fleury over the last month report the former 50-goal scorer still has great hands, a wicked shot and good hockey sense around the net. However, all quietly figured there was no way he'd be able to keep up in today's speedy game. One player went further, suggesting he'd worry about Fleury's safety amongst today's giant fitness freaks.

Fleury's agent, Don Baizley, refused comment yesterday, and the commish has yet to dish on the suspension.

Sutter, who said last month he was pulling for Fleury but doubted he could keep pace with today's players, denied the signing was imminent.

"He's a suspended player, so no comment," said Sutter, who was then asked if his stance would change if Fleury was reinstated following four years of sobriety. "Then, we'll address it when he's reinstated. It's a long process."

On the heals of having to close his failed concrete coating business, Fleury has said he'd go anywhere to resume a career cut short in 2003, when he was suspended indefinitely and sent to the NHL's substance abuse program for the second time.

A return to the minors would bring the 455-goal scorer full circle, as he was drafted by the Flames 166th overall in 1987 with an eye on him being an entertaining minor-league star for the club's Salt Lake City affiliate.

However, as the Little Big Man has done his whole life, he proved everyone wrong by scoring 37 goals in 40 games and forcing a call-up to the Flames just in time for their 1989 Stanley Cup run.

Two decades later, the stage may soon be set for a similar story.

Only this time, the odds are even longer it will end in fairy-tale fashion.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos