Had a reader drop a thoughtful note in my in-box this past week that I figured might make a good question for the on-line world at large to discuss. In the context of the Calgary Flames' massive flop this season, would they have been better off to give Theo Fleury a chance to play for the team in the regular season, even at the age of 42 and even after all those years away from the game?
Fleury, if you'll recall, attended Flames' training camp on a tryout basis last September. It was mostly framed as a courtesy by general manager Darryl Sutter, a chance for Fleury to get reinstated by the NHL (he had been under infinite suspension for failing to complete the mandatory substance abuse program).
Fleury did get the all-clear from the program's doctors and while he showed considerable rust during camp, he also demonstrated that the hands that allowed him to score 1,088 regular-season points in 1,084 regular-season games, 56th on the all-time list, hadn't deserted him either.
One night, he and Daymond Langkow memorably lit it up offensively; another time, he scored the winner in a shootout.
Calgary missed the playoffs this past season by finishing five points behind the eighth-place Colorado Avalanche. The Flames went 3-7 in the shootout this year; Colorado 7-5.
Might Fleury's presence have tilted the scales enough in the other direction to make up that ground? Hard to say, but given how there was a generally lifeless quality to the Flames for so much of the season, it may well be that Fleury's larger-than-life persona might have injected some of the missing ingredients into the mix. For someone who is only 5-foot-6, Fleury sure can fill up a room, and a dressing room.
Of course, it could have gone the other way too. Exhibition play is not the regular season and the regular season is not the playoffs. If Fleury hadn't found his stride after the rust wore off and the pace of the season quickened, it had the potential to be a disaster too. Salary-cap considerations were an issue too - Calgary couldn't really squeeze in another contract, after its off-season free-agent spending binge on Jay Bouwmeester. And the problem with signing a player over the age of 35 is if it doesn't work out, the cap hit stays with you, even if he doesn't.
Either way, we'll never know if Fleury would have been a potential solution to what ailed Calgary, or just another part of the problem. But three weeks into the off-season; a week after ownership meetings ended; and no announcement at all about what direction the organization is headed in, it is an interesting topic to kick around on a quiet Sunday.