SUN Hockey Pool

Comeback story hogs headlines

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Brilliance often backfires.

Overshadowed by the tryout signing of Theoren Fleury are so many legitimate training camp questions still stuck in the minds of Calgary Flames fans.

Can this team can get over the hump after being stuck for the last four springs as first-round playoff fodder?

Were those post-season failures the fault of the old coaching staff -- all but one of them fired, demoted or denied contract extensions during the off-season -- or the core GM Darryl Sutter has spent the past few years locking up long-term?

Was Sutter himself is the right man to lead this team back to the Stanley Cup final?

And has the old cowboy acquired -- with a fresh batch of reinforcements brought in this summer -- the right mix of speed, scoring and defensive responsibility to answer all those questions on the ice?

Getting anyone to talk about anything other than the 41-year-old former Flames superstar and his attempted comeback from alcohol abuse and a six-year absence from the league is now the biggest problem.

Wanting to move past what is already a great story of redemption in Fleury's case, the Flames would probably prefer the 5-foot-6 phenom avoid the media and let camp progress in the usual fashion -- with the focus on the games and players taking part in them.

Fleury won't suit up tonight at the Saddledome, when the Flames host the Oilers in their first pre-season action, but he'll be on the minds of many of the 19,289 that fill the building.

Sutter should have known he was in for a sideshow that would last well into camp -- and maybe even beyond if Fleury somehow finds a way to earn a contract and a ticket to AHL Abbotsford.

It might have been part of the reason he decided to give the pint-sized scoring sensation another kick at things in Calgary, where he netted 364 of his 455 regular-season NHL goals and 830 of his 1,088 points.

What better way to allow the veterans a relaxing entry into yet another season stacked with expectations?

But they need a little pressure to perform. They need a little attention.

Their new coach will certainly hold them accountable, but so should the city.

Still stuck on every word uttered by Fleury, every step or mis-step in practice, every puck batted in or near the net, it will be tough for those who follow the Flames to tear themselves away from the reality show: Does Fleury Make the Cut?

The irony of this being suggested by a newspaper that thrives on bringing you every moment of it is not lost.

Even former Flames can't get enough of the story.

Joel Otto, an assistant with the Calgary Hitmen, has watched some of the action.

Catching the early skate yesterday was ex-teammate Jim Peplinski -- who offered flattering words from the stands while parked beside a sour-looking Sutter.

The boss is no doubt wondering whether or not it was all worth it and wishing some of the Saddledome's security staff would start ushering lookie-loos away from the scene, shouting, 'Nothing to see here.'

Today could mark the first afternoon free of a Fleury scrum.

It will be the easiest time to hide him. People may even understand that with a game to be played this evening between heated provincial rivals with so many jobs on the line.

Fleury will likely be at home by then.

Nothing to see here.

Until he suits up for his first game, anyway.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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