Theo Fleury was a unique breed of player, small in stature (5-foot-6) but acutely aggressive and physical. A colorful character who was never afraid to run his mouth, he was a polarizing figure on the ice; teammates loved his fearlessness, while opponents couldn’t stand his antics, including his zealous celebrations. Fleury broke into the NHL in 1989 and scored at a torrid pace, finishing with more than a point-per-game production. His career was prematurely derailed by drug and alcohol addiction, but he was irrefutably one of the most electrifying players of his generation. So, does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
The case for
Truly, Fleury defied the odds in being able to put together such an impressive career despite the deck being stacked against him. Fleury not only overcame lack of physical size, but also a troubled upbringing and a tormented adolescence after being sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. And he was a dynamic presence on the ice. In 15 seasons, Fleury finished with 455 goals and 1,088 points in 1,084 games. Plus, he wasn’t ever afraid to mix things up, amassing a whopping 1,840 penalty minutes. He helped the Calgary Flames win a Stanley Cup during his rookie season in 1989 and had success internationally as well. He helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and brought home gold at the 1988 world junior championships as well as the 1991 Canada Cup.
The case against
Fleury’s time in the league was not all unicorns and roses, let’s be honest. He was suspended multiple times under the league’s substance abuse program. He consistently violated NHL policies as he battled drug and alcohol addiction. He is admittedly no choir boy, and he knows this may play a role in why he has not been, or might not ever be, inducted into the Hall of Fame. Fleury told ESPN.com the decision is out of his hands, but above all else, he’s happy that hockey has given him the platform to become an advocate. "When I close my eyes, I’m content," he told ESPN.com of his work with sexual abuse victims. "This is the most important part of my life."
He belongs. Fleury, for all the ups and downs of his career, was a fierce competitor who was one of the most compelling players to watch in his generation. The demons he was forced to wrestle should not be held against him. In fact, if anything, he should be applauded for his advocacy on issues that continue to have a deep impact on the NHL today. He has brought a level of awareness that could make huge inroads for the future of this league.
ESPN Panel: 60 percent voted for induction into the Hall.