For a guy whose 5'6", 160-pound frame makes him the NHL's smallest skater, Theo Fleury had a lot of fight in him last year: He ripped Flames coach Pierre Pag� and two teammates. Fleury, the Calgary captain, felt the dictatorial Pag� was too enamored with game strategy and breaking down videotape and didn't spend enough time relating to players. Fleury feuded with power forward Gary Roberts, who questioned Fleury's work habits. And in a reference to netminder Trevor Kidd, Fleury said, "Eventually we're going to need to get some goaltending."
Fleury won't have those three to kick around this season. Pag� resigned after the Flames (32-41-9 in 1996-97) missed the playoffs for only the second time in 17 seasons. Then in August, Calgary traded Roberts and Kidd to the Hurricanes for playmaking center Andrew Cassels and netminding prospect Jean-S�bastien Giguere.
Unfortunately for Calgary, Fleury did more damage to teammates than to opponents last season, scoring only 67 points (down from 96 in 1995-96). This season the Flames need their Napol�on to play bigger. Of the 74 players in camp, Fleury was the only one who had scored 30 or more goals in an NHL season. "It's time for me to put up or shut up," says Fleury, 29. "Everybody expects a good year from me."
That includes new coach Brian Sutter, who replaced Pag� on July 3, the day after Fleury resigned the captaincy he now says he never wanted. Sutter says he wants "a f—-you attitude" from the Flames. "Everyone together," he says. "No excuses."
Some of his players have no problem with togetherness. James Patrick and Zarley Zalapski, Calgary's only defensemen with offensive punch, are former Canadian Olympians who joined the Flames in the same 1994 trade and underwent season-ending knee surgery on the same day at the same hospital by the same doctor last December. In May the two players opened a health-food store.
Last season the Flames set an NHL record by using five first-year defensemen in a game, but Calgary's best rookie talent was up front. Right wing Jarome Iginla's 50 points and left wing Jonas Hoglund's six game-winning goals were tops among NHL rookies. Still, this year's squad will be short on talent, if not intensity. Says Sutter, "I want my players' heart and soul."
There will be peace and harmony in Calgary. Or there will be hell to pay.