Fleury of Goals
Counseling, among other things, helped Theo Fleury regain his touch
There are no simple explanations for the rise and fall and rise of right wing Theoren Fleury. That Fleury, a 5'6", 180-pound munchkin, bulled through bigger men to average 38 goals per full season from 1988-89 through '98-99 is confounding in itself. Then try to explain why in his first season with the Rangers he scored only 15 goals, yet through Sunday he had 17 this year, second-best in the NHL behind the Kings' Zigmund Palffy (18). "Things have gone right this year," says Fleury, 32. "Last season nothing I tried worked. I kind of got lost."
So lost that he sought counseling. SI has learned that after last season Fleury entered an NHL program that treats players for problems ranging from substance abuse to emotional trauma. While acknowledging that he took part in the program, Fleury won't explain why he entered it. "That's personal," he says. "It didn't have any effect on my performance."
In addition to the counseling, Fleury holed up last summer with his wife, Veronica, and the kids in the quiet lakeside town of Sicamous, B.C., where he went through a strenuous and solitary training regimen to get into even better shape than usual. "I met with him at the end of June and told him to get into razor-sharp shape, which he did," says Rangers general manager Glen Sather, who was hired on June 1. "We talked for a long time. After the season he'd been through, I wanted him to know we were monitoring his situation and cared about him."
By signing a three-year, $21 million free-agent contract with New York in July 1999, Fleury, who spent nearly his entire pro career in Calgary, changed his image from that of a lovable little man to one of a big-time savior. He buckled last season under the weight of trying to carry the lifeless Rangers, who had missed the playoffs two years running. He began pressing and lost his scoring touch, and his spirits sank further when fans booed him during home games. Away from the ice Fleury, who grew up in Russell, Manitoba (pop. 1,600), felt disoriented by the size and energy of New York Not even the dressing room was a haven. "He would say he didn't know how he fit into the room," says John Muckler, the Rangers' coach last season. "He didn't know if he should lead or follow guys like [captain Brian] Leetch."
Sather's off-season signing of �berleader Mark Messier eliminated any doubt as to who would be in charge in New York. Fleury, who clashed with Muckler, also benefited from the hiring of coach Ron Low, who instituted a more up-tempo style. While last season Fleury would, in his words, "skate around the perimeter doing my own thing," he now charges into the teeth of the defense and makes smart, confident gambles with and without the puck.
"Our first game [against the Thrashers] I didn't know what to expect," Low says of Fleury. "Then he went out and took the body six times on his first two shifts. I was relieved more than anything—Theo was back."
Marty McSorley Update
Don't Call Them Pen Pals
Last month's 20-game suspension of Coyotes forward Brad May has sparked a behind-the-scenes controversy over commissioner Gary Bettman's landmark decision to suspend former Bruins defenseman Marty McSorley until Feb. 21, 2001 (SI, Nov. 20). McSorley's ban for his infamous clubbing of Canucks forward Donald Brashear on Feb. 21, 1999, will encompass 82 games. While May's offense was clearly as dangerous as McSorley's—May used a baseball-style swing to crack Blue jackets forward Steve Heinze across the nose; Heinze was bloodied but not seriously hurt—Bettman understandably factored in that May, a 10-year vet, had only been suspended once, whereas McSorley had been banned seven times in his 17-year career.
McSorley's lawyer, Paul Kelly, recently sent a letter to Bettman requesting that he reinstate McSorley "immediately." Kelly believes that McSorley's punishment is disproportionately harsh when compared with May's. Kelly also points out that Bettman's eight-page ruling on McSorley, issued on Nov. 7, "contains material factual errors" and "misquotes my client." McSorley would not comment on the matter while Bettman said "the decision speaks for itself."