The drive was there but Theoren Fleury's legs just couldn't keep up, and that's why Calgary released the popular forward on Friday during the latest round of roster cuts, ending the former captain's bid to make a comeback with the Flames.
"He hadn't played the game in six years and the legs just aren't where they need to be," coach Brent Sutter said. "It's not his fault. That just happens."
The 41-year-old made a stirring attempt to return to the NHL with the club that made him famous, but four points in four pre-season games weren't enough to earn him a roster spot.
"Our agreement with Theoren was that he had to be one of our top six wingers and there were never any intentions of assigning him to the American Hockey League," Brent's brother, general manager Darryl Sutter, said in a release.
The Flames have 14 forwards on one-way contracts. Realistically, Fleury needed to be one of the team's top-six forwards to justify keeping him over a younger prospect.
"There's some real good prospects in this organization and they need playing time," Brent Sutter said.
Fleury thanked the team for giving him a shot.
"I am very thankful to Darryl and the Flames organization for following through on the commitment to provide me with this opportunity," said Fleury in the Flames' release.
"I said in the beginning that no matter what the outcome, this would be a success story. I intend to take the next few days to review this experience and make decisions with my family regarding next steps in my life."
Battled alcohol abuse
The diminutive forward's comeback attempt was one of the big talking points of the pre-season.
Born in Oxbow, Sask., and raised in Russell, Man., Fleury has held a special place in the hearts of Flames fans since he starred at the Saddledome from 1988-99, and many were wondering if he could actually crack the Calgary lineup after the team offered him a tryout when camp began.
Fleury, who has battled alcoholism, was suspended 25 games in 2002 for violating the NHL's substance abuse policy and suspended indefinitely for a second offence in 2003, his last year in the league.
He sought redemption on the fringe of pro hockey, trying his hand in the North Peace Hockey League and then overseas. He entered an NHL and NHL Players' Association-sanctioned substance abuse program in 2006.
The league reinstated Fleury last month and he started looking for a club willing to give him a shot.
'Theoren did a great job'
The five-foot-six forward got people thinking that he could pull off the improbable after scoring the shootout winner for the Flames in front of a home crowd during his first pre-season game, against the New York Islanders.
He added a goal and three assists in his next three games, and his presence drew thousands more to Flames exhibition games.
"He thought [out] the game well and still had the heart for it and still had a knack with the puck when it came to him and he knew what to do with it, but the pace of the game . . . regular season is completely different than exhibition," Brent Sutter said. "It's going to pick up tenfold."
Fleury is expected to address the media regarding his NHL future on Monday.
Even though he was cut, GM Darryl Sutter said Fleury should be proud of his performance.
"I believe Theoren did a great job and should be proud, especially considering all the factors including age, time away from the game and lifestyle change," he said.
Fleury is second on Calgary's all-time scoring list, with 830 points 791 games. Current captain Jarome Iginla is first (851).
He won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in his rookie year, 1988-89. He also cracked Canada's Olympic men's hockey squad in 2002 and was a major contributor to the squad's gold-medal-winning run.