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18 Chicago
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster | 2001-2002 Player Stats | Arrivals and departures

A need for goals overrides the concerns about signing the volatile Theo Fleury

By Mark Beech

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Jocelyn Thibault.  Kellie Landis/Getty Images
SI Fast Fact
Last season the Blackhawks had only seven home losses, the fewest by the club since the NHL expanded the schedule to 80 games in 1974-75.
SI Insider Rankings
Offense: 14
Fleury, Berezin should thrive under Sutter
Defense: 17
Dempsey helps skill, mobility; Odelein must be physical
Goaltending: 26
Thibault gives up soft goals when overworked
Special Teams: 14
Strong PP, but PK needs upgrade from last year (27th)
Management: 14
G.M. Smith has cleaned up mess he inherited in 2000

Sports Illustrated The Blackhawks don't care that Theo Fleury brings a lot of baggage with him. They're willing to look past his stint in the NHL's substance-abuse program and the fiery temper that often leads to ill-advised penalties (and even a reported punch-out of San Jose's mascot, Sharkie, near the dressing room last season), because they need the 32 goals he's averaged in his 14-year NHL career. "His problems don't bother me if I know he's going to play his heart out every night," says coach Brian Sutter, who was behind the bench in Calgary during Fleury's final two seasons with the Flames, 1997-98 and '98-99.

Signed as a free agent after scoring 24 goals with the Rangers in 2001-02, Fleury will be counted on to add grit and gusto to an offense that faded badly after the Olympics last February. Chicago's record at the break was 33-18-9-0, second best in the Western Conference, but the Blackhawks won only eight games the rest of the way and fell meekly to the Blues in the first round of the playoffs, scoring a total of five goals in five games.

With the loss of captain Tony Amonte (27 goals, 39 assists) to free agency, Sutter turns to Fleury and former 30-goal left wing Sergei Berezin, who was acquired from the Canadiens in a trade over the summer. They join a veteran -- if not deep -- group of forwards that includes center Alexei Zhamnov (22, 45), right wing Steve Sullivan (21, 39) and left wing Eric Daze, who scored a career-high 38 goals last year but will miss at least the first six weeks of the season after sustaining a herniated disk late last month.

For Chicago to get back on the winning track, the offense must produce from the get-go and sustain itself all season, because the defense is average and goalie Jocelyn Thibault is a question mark. In late January, Thibault led the NHL in wins and minutes played, but he tired badly during Chicago's post-Olympic swoon and often gave way to backup Steve Passmore. Sutter promises to rest the 27-year-old Thibault more this season and insists that goal scoring, not goaltending, was the reason for last year's collapse. To that end, Sutter is placing his trust in Fleury.

Issue date: October 14, 2002