With three goals in four games, Theo Fleury is making the Blackhawks feel good about their two-year, $8.6 million gamble. In his own way, Fleury thanked the team for supporting him even after he checked back into rehab just before the season. It would have been easy for the Hawks to cut the cord, but they didn't.
And now Theo's back doing what he does best, doing the one thing that appears to be easy in his life.
Will it last? Will he help the Blackhawks get into the playoffs? Maybe beyond the first round for the first time since 1996? Maybe. Maybe not. Addicts don't think that way. For addicts, it's all about today. Not drinking, not smoking, not snorting, not doing today whatever it is that will jeopardize tomorrow.
Four games is not nearly enough to guage what Fleury has left, although we have already seen glimpses of the traits that made him one of the most enjoyable and entertaining players in the NHL.
When SI's Jay Greenberg first introduced the world to Fleury in 1990, he did it as such: "The smallest player in the NHL, 5 ft. 6 in., 160-pound right wing Theoren Fleury of the Calgary Flames, might be the most obnoxious one too. Unable to find anyone his own size, Fleury picks on players 30 to 50 pounds heavier and half a foot taller. He slashes at their calves, digs his elbows into their ribs and snarls insults, both generic and personal, at their psyches. And as agitated opponents exhaust themselves chasing him, Fleury adds the ultimate insult: He streaks off to score or set up a goal. When you spend your life defying attitudes, you develop one yourself."
A decade later, nothing had changed. SI's Austin Murphy wrote in 1999: "No one in the league puts on a better show, and we aren't just talking about Fleury's often baroque scoring celebrations who can forget his sliding half the length of the ice on his knees while pumping his fists after a playoff goal in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers in 1991? Flames coach Brian Sutter reckons that fewer than half a dozen players in the league can match Fleury's 'pure intensity and passion for the game.' "
He was the Little Engine that Could, and for his first 10 seasons he was the face of the perennialy overmatched Calgary Flames. That is, a face with 13 shades of purple around the eyes, a toothless grin and tiny white scarlines that look like a faded map of the Sasketchewan dogsled trails.
But somewhere along the line, something changed in Fleury. His reckless abandon became simply reckless, his toothless grin became a snarl, and the twinkle in his eye faded. The anticipation that used to accompany every shift was replaced by apprehension.
Some suggest that when Fleury was traded from Calgary, he lost part of his identity. Others say signing with the Rangers led him to the perils of big-city life. All bunk. Fleury's troubles were there the whole time waiting to explode.
His antics wore out his welcome in New York. (In New York! Where Darryl Strawberry was embraced for 10 years.) During last season -- en route to an absurd 216 penalty minutes -- Fleury decked the San Jose mascot, made chicken gestures at Eric Cairns of the Islanders and quit in the middle of a game at Pittsburgh. That was it for the Rangers, who declined a $7 million option year.
Now Theo's back getting a second -- or is it third? -- chance with Chicago. He appears to have a grip on himself for the time being. And as long as he does that, whatever he does on the ice is gravy.