Fleury wins big any way you slice it

Flames' Theo Fleury celebrates after his goal in the shootout vs the Islanders during NHL...

Flames' Theo Fleury celebrates after his goal in the shootout vs the Islanders during NHL pre-season hockey action in Calgary, Sept. 17, 2009. (AL CHAREST/SUN MEDIA)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET

Theo Fleury didn't sound like a man who'd just had his dreams shattered or was left wondering what the future held.

Quite the contrary.

Despite being released by the Flames hours earlier, Fleury told the Sun yesterday things have never been clearer.

"It was fun, eh?" said the 41-year-old after hijacking headlines the last fortnight. "You know me -- I'm like an Indian rubber ball. I always bounce back twice as hard."

While it appears on the surface the Flames are missing out on a terrific opportunity by opting not to send him to Abbotsford, where he'd fill the building for their first-year AHL affiliate, the reality is the club likely has much larger plans for the Little Big Man.

"You guys will all find out Monday -- big announcement ... Huge announcement," chuckled Fleury.

"Today, there were some mixed emotions, but it's all going to work out. You'll see."

As classy as it was for the Flames to offer Fleury the tryout after his six-year suspension for substance abuse was lifted, the club has taken the association with Fleury one step further and will likely host his retirement announcement Monday.

They'll also likely announce he's been hired as an ambassador of sorts, followed soon thereafter by his No. 14 being retired.

While many fans were bent out of shape the man who had a point a game in the pre-season was let go, the Flames did the right thing by giving Theo the tryout and the right thing by cutting him loose.

At the end of the day, this franchise is dedicated to one thing -- winning the Cup.

Because Fleury was unable to fill one of the two top-six forward spots up for grabs, prolonging his inevitable release served no purpose.

Keeping him would have been easy had the Flames needed to bolster ticket sales, sell rinkboards, attract publicity or simply appease the legions of fans intoxicated by Fleury's attempt to turn back time.

However, with the Flames' embarrassment of riches on and off the ice, Fleury would've been an unnecessary passenger with the parent club or as a farmhand.

As much as the controversial-yet-beloved veteran would have done for the AHL, he would've eaten up ice time the Flames' top youngsters desperately need now as the club sits on the cusp of a Stanley Cup challenge.

It didn't take long for news of Fleury's release to spread to even to the most casual of fans. A sad day for those who believed more in Fleury's fairy- tale comeback with every pre-season point, others reacted angrily, suggesting GM Darryl Sutter initiated the exercise as a publicity stunt.

The last thing the Flames need is publicity as it's pretty obvious to everyone in town this team was tweaked deliciously over the summer. Fleury's reinstatement and gallant camp adventures gave the city and the league a wonderful feel-good story that transcended the sport. Sutter is the man to thank for that.

While a free-agent tryout typically means nothing, this one meant everything to Flames fans and the recovering alcoholic who made them all stand up and take notice he'd turned his life around. It may be the first time an release from camp is deemed an unmitigated success.

Asked before camp why he didn't sign with a team he'd have a better chance at making, Fleury scoffed.

"I want to go where I can win," he said.

You did Theo, in so many ways.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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