OPINION: The HOF continues to snub Theo Fleury, but why?

Written By Neil McKenzie-Sutter, Posted on July 6, 2020

It’s time we start putting pressure on the Hockey Hall of Fame about why Theo Fleury hasn’t been inducted yet.

Fleury played his last game in 2009, so 2020 is the second year Fleury was eligible to be inducted in the regular process of waiting ten years after players retire.

It isn’t always the case players wait for the full ten, but Fleury’s case stands out as odd for a lot of reasons.  

And Fleury is a clear choice for the Hall. A recent story from TSN by sportswriter Frank Seravalli, also advocating for Fleury’s induction, points out that:

 ‘(Fleury) is one of just 15 players in NHL history to average more than one point per game in both the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. The other 14 are all enshrined in the Hall.’

Fleury scored 1088 points in his 1084 game NHL career. Making this accomplishment more impressive is that Fleury is a man of small stature: one of the shortest players ever to enter the league, and keep in he was drafted in 1987 when hockey was a much more physical sport. 

The crowning achievements of Fleury’s career have to be the 1989 Stanley Cup win with the Flames and his participation in Team Canada’s Olympic 2002 Gold Medal for hockey at Salt Lake City. 

I hate to do this, but we’re going to compare Fleury to some of the other 2020 inductees to the Hall of Fame. I hate having to do because all these guys and gals are great in their way, but here goes.

First off, I want to say I think Marian Hossa, who won the Stanley Cup 3 times with the Blackhawks and participated in the final round of the Playoffs 3 additional times, is a no-brainer: he can be in the Hall of Fame if you ask me. 

Then we also have Kevin Lowe, who is also a no-brainer; defence with the Oilers for their 5 cup wins and then a 6th with the Rangers. 

So here we have two titans of the game, and they’re inducted as soon as possible, fine by me. 

But then we come to Jerome Iginla, and I’m not saying this guy doesn’t deserve a spot. I’m not trying to start a war between Calgary fans because I know and understand both these guys are Flames icons, by I’m just going to say it: I think Fleury is a more impressive player and had a more remarkable career than Iginla.

I am not trying to start a war here. I recognize Iginla had a super impressive career as well. 

Of course, I’m having a bit of fun here, as the two players would have competed in a friendly way, seeing as the two played together on the Flames in 1996 – 99. As Fleury was Flames captain during this time, he must’ve been a sort of mentor figure for the greenhorn Iginla.

You can easily see this competition carrying on as Iginla was intent on beating Fleury’s records he set while the two were playing together: Fleury set the records for most Flames goals in 1997, and most overall points in 1999 just before he was traded, and Iginla would go on to break these records in 2008 and ‘09 respectively, records he still holds today.

So both Iginla and Fleury are icons with the Flames, I get it. That said, Iginla also holds the record for most games played with the Flames, so he has a leg up there let’s be real.  

Fleury and Iginla crossed paths as teammates again during the unforgettable 2002 Salt Lake Olympics win, and back in Calgary in 2009 for a short time as Fleury attempted to reenter the NHL.


All this said, and they’re both great guys yada yada, Fleury does have the higher points per game average, and he also has that Stanley Cup win. 

Iginla came close, leading the Flames as captain to the final round of the playoffs in 2004. However, they lost to Tampa in 7. 

I think I’ve made my point here, which is that even in the arena of athletic ability and career achievements, Fleury was the superior player (they’re both retired now). 

Other players/hockey figures were inducted into the Hall of Fame for 2020, but this example of Iginla vs. Fleury, I think, proves my point. 

For the cherry on top, Iginla played his last NHL season in 2017, so they were rushing to get him in, whereas Fleury has waited 11 years now. 

Why the hold-up? 

The thing too with Fleury is you can’t just look strictly at his hockey accomplishments purely as an on-ice, because the guy had so many personal struggles office, and you have to look at it this way because these issues he had were exposed so publicly.

Fleury had long suffered from alcoholism since he was 16 and also developed a drug addiction. These issues came to a head in 2002 – 03 when he was temporarily suspended from the league for violating drug and alcohol policy. 

Fleury’s problems were partially a known quantity at this point and had joined an anonymous alcoholics program the year earlier, in 2001, so the league reinstated him only a few months after the violation

Fleury was playing for the Blackhawks at this time. Although he received support from the organization and friends and family, Fleury was still in the midst of a self-destructive crisis and was taken off the Chicago roster in early 2003 after a drunken brawl at a strip joint in the city. At the end of the 2003 season, Fleury was kicked out of the NHL for drug and alcohol violations, seeming for good this time. 

In addition to the drug and alcohol problems he’d faced for his entire NHL career, Fleury was also a known quantity for over his anger management, so getting into a fight wasn’t a surprise either. 

Fleury was continually getting in fights, and he attributed this personality trait partially to the fact he was always the smallest boy in whatever group he was part of growing up, thus he had to adopt an aggressive attitude.

Also, though, Fleury sees this aggression as something developing out of the sexual abuse he suffered from known abuser Grahman James, his junior hockey coach. The latter was successfully prosecuted for sex offences later in life.

James had also sexually abused NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and was jailed for this crime in 1997. 

However, when Fleury revealed his abuse publicly in his 2009 autobiography Playing with Fire, James was again jailed for several more years.

Also, in his autobiography, Fleury revealed he had come within a hairbreadth of committing suicide in 2004 at the worst point of his depression, caused by substance abuse problems, lingering issues from childhood and confusion at what to do with his life after being kicked out of the NHL.

At the last possible moment, with the gun in his mouth, Fleury talks about a moment of revelation

I get this random thought in my head, that said: you never quit anything in your life, why are you quitting now?’ 

From that moment forward, Fleury talks about feeling a strong desire to live life again. 

He returned to Calgary soon after this near-suicide event, and in 2004 – 05 began playing hockey again in the NPHL, and then in the British EIHL in 2005 – 06.

Fleury played his final full season professionally with the Steinbech North Stars in 2008 – 09 in Manitoba’s Hockey League before getting the last shot at redemption, a chance at playing in the NHL again. 

In 2009, Fleury successfully petitioned the NHL for a tryout phase with the Calgary Flames, where he participated in 4 exhibition games before the Flames officially decided against bringing him on for the full season.

It was at this point Fleury decided to professionally hang up the skates for good, saying in an interview:

I get to retire a Calgary Flame. I HAD to retire a Calgary Flame. It’s been a long journey. It’s time to put down some roots. And there’s no better place than here.

Even if you want to term this comeback ‘unsuccessful’ seeing as he didn’t get to play a full season, Fleury kept up his former level of play, scoring 4 points in those four games.

He was also given a hero’s welcome upon his return to play with the Flames, and he delivered for the fans: an unforgettable, standout moment occurring during Fleury’s first game back where he scored the game-winning goal over the Islanders in a shootout win. 

For many, I included, the comeback attempt by Theo Fleury represents the beating heart of the best hockey should be: yeah, he got beaten down by life; he got hit pretty hard by growth, but he came back and played loud. 

In every game, and every arena in life people compete in, the only thing that matters, in the end, is if you can set your sights on the goal, and get the puck in the net. 

Theron Fleury, despite his flaws, indeed, perhaps even because of these flaws and negative experiences in life driving him forward, was able to persevere and become one of the best. 

And post-hockey, Fleury had been more than just a standup citizen, founding and raising awareness/money for numerous causes, including and especially on the issues of mental health and substance abuse problems.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1995, Fleury has run an annual charity golf tournament with the proceeds going towards the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada.

Fleury was also outspoken during the height of the #Metoo movement, given his own prior sexual abuse story, and he is involved in donating and raising awareness for ‘The Men’s Project’ charity, which is interested in helping men who suffered sexual abuse in childhood. 

Fleury is also of Metis ancestry, so in his post hockey career Fleury has become active in helping improve the lives and communities of Native and Metis Canadians, earning the Aboriginal Indspire Award in 2013 in the sports category, and he has also been given a title as an honourary Siksika Nation Chief. 

For all of these works good, Fleury was awarded the Canadian Humanitarian Award and the Queen’s Jubilee Medallion for his outstanding contributions to the country, however, Fleury still apparently hasn’t done enough to secure a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

I think at this point I should’ve you convinced that Theron Fleury is Hall of Fame material, so what are they waiting for? 

The discussion surrounding Fleury’s exclusion from the Hall has been swirling around for years

On all accounts, Fleury is a great candidate. All that negative past between him and the league should’ve been swept out the door when they agreed to give him the trial run in 2009. If it wasn’t, why even entertain the idea of letting him back? It seems likely there is some lingering resentment at play. 

It’s unclear why, but it grows more and more evident with each year that passes that the Hockey Hall of Fame is snubbing Theron Fleury.

This is just speculation, but one possible answer might be the league is embarrassed about their own decisions made during the leadup to his expulsion from the league.

 In his autobiography, Fleury started the league knew of his substance abuse issues after he failed numerous drug tests while he was playing for the Rangers in 2001, and yet the league took no action. 

The NHL has denied the allegations Fleury makes in his book. However, the claims seem at the very least plausible and, in this way, could be damaging to the league if dragged into the open again, which is likelier to happen if Fleury is nominated or inducted in the Hall. 

Again, this train of thought is just speculation, however with the main period scandal period around Fleury being expelled from the league more than 15 years into the past and his playing career more than 10, now is as good a time as any to put pressure on the league and on the Hall to get answers on why Fleury is still being treated like the black sheep of the family. 

And if they don’t want to answer questions, well, that’s fine; get him in the Hall already! 


Neil McKenzie-Sutter

2 responses to “OPINION: The HOF continues to snub Theo Fleury, but why?”

  1. Dennis says:

    Text yes he deserves to be in the hall of fame let alone is just due in the Calgary flames eyes! Shame on flames management

  2. Weyland Yutani says:

    I was never much of a hockey fan, but I knew who Theo Fleury was and who he played for. What I most remember him for is his willingness to speak up about his abuse, and to speak up about ANY abuse of power or position.
    A truly impressive and aware man. We need more like him on this planet.