Inside The NHL

December 11, 2000

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 uberleader 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."

Bettman's ruling does misquote McSorley--by falsely alleging that
McSorley had said he "sacrificed himself for the good of the
game"--and includes at least one certain error in fact. Bettman
charged that McSorley attempted to slash Brashear's midsection,
while McSorley's sworn testimony was that he tried to hit
Brashear's shoulder. (Video replays refuted Bettman's claim.)
Also, Bettman waited for nearly three days before hearing May's
case, while McSorley's hearing came only 33 hours after the
incident with Brashear. That timing made it nearly impossible for
McSorley, who was being investigated by the Vancouver police, to
attend the NHL proceeding in New York.

Bettman denied Kelly's request for McSorley's immediate
reinstatement and wrote back that he found Kelly's points "to be
inaccurate and/or irrelevant." The commissioner need not
apologize for his decision on McSorley. As he writes in his
letter to Kelly, "Mr. McSorley is not, and never was, the victim
here." Yet Bettman has done himself a disservice. By
misrepresenting important details of the McSorley case, he has
weakened the strength of his verdict.

Coaches' Poll
Talking a Good Game

SI recently asked head coaches, Whom among their peers would they
most like to hear at a seminar? Not surprisingly, the Red Wings'
Scotty Bowman received 11 of the 26 votes cast. "The only issue
would be getting Scotty to open up," one respondent said of the
NHL's winningest coach and also one of its most reserved. The
Stars' Ken Hitchcock and the Maple Leafs' Pat Quinn each got five
votes, and while they don't have Bowman's reputation as a hockey
mastermind, both were cited for their hockey knowledge and for
vital qualities in public speaking. Two coaches called Hitchcock,
"entertaining," while Quinn earned even higher praise: "He's
funny," said a voter.

For the latest scores and stats, plus more news and analysis from
Michael Farber and Kostya Kennedy, go to cnnsi.com/hockey.

COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISAAC/B. BENNETT STUDIOS After scoring only 15 goals last season, a fit, happier Fleury has already topped that total this year. COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO

WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?

ROD BRIND'AMOUR
HURRICANES C
After a disappointing 22 points in 45 games last season, the
6'1", 202-pounder had only 11 points in 25 games through Sunday,
despite averaging more than 22 minutes of ice time per game.

OR

ROB NIEDERMAYER
PANTHERS C
After a disappointing 33 points in 81 games last season, the
6'2", 204-pounder had only eight points in 24 games through
Sunday, despite averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game.

The Verdict: Niedermayer, 25, is younger and better defensively,
but Brind'Amour, 30, still has 70-point potential, which makes
him our choice.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)