NEW YORK Theo Fleury, the New York Rangers' leading
scorer, has voluntarily entered an inpatient substance-abuse
program and will be sidelined indefinitely.
Details of the case were not revealed, but with less than six
weeks left in the regular season it is unlikely that Fleury will be
back to play this season.
Fleury, fourth in the NHL in scoring, did not skate with the
team Wednesday morning and Rangers officials, including coach Ron
Low and general manager Glen Sather, met for quite a while after
the pregame skate.
"I think we're all taken back from this," Sather said. "It's
a situation which you can help players and guide them as best you
can, but it gets back to the same thing; every person has an
individual choice to do what he wants to do, and sometimes we make
the wrong choices in life."
The NHL's announcement Wednesday came just hours before the
Rangers beat the Florida Panthers 4-2 at home. Rangers officials
were notified of Fleury's decision Tuesday night. A team spokesman
said there was no event or drug test that led to Fleury's decision.
"We addressed it earlier in front of the team," Rangers
captain Mark Messier said shortly before the game. "We were aware
of what he was going through. ... In the end, it's a personal
choice. It's not a lack of character, it's a disease."
Sports Illustrated reported that Fleury sought help from the same NHL program for an undisclosed problem after last season.
Although it was the first public acknowledgment of a substance
problem involving Fleury, Messier said this has happened before.
"I guess relapses aren't that uncommon for somebody that's
trying to get himself straightened out," Messier said. "It's
something he's going to have to be aware of and battle for the rest
of his life. That's really the tough part."
Sather said the team took the news hard.
"It was the kind of reaction you'd expect, a lot of shock and
dismay," Sather said. "I think the team was devastated by it,
Under terms of the substance-abuse and behavioral-health program
run by the NHL and the players' association, the 32-year-old Fleury
will continue to receive his full salary and benefits. He will not
have a penalty imposed as long as he complies with the prescribed
treatment and aftercare program.
Sather spoke to Fleury earlier Wednesday, before he departed for
"He basically said he was sorry he wasn't going to be here to
help the team right now and wished he had been here, but
unfortunately he wasn't going to be here," Sather said.
The right wing was enjoying one of his finest NHL seasons,
following one of his worst.
Fleury leads the Rangers with 30 goals and 74 points in his
second season after coming to New York as a free agent. Earlier
this month, Fleury played in his seventh All-Star Game, first as a
starter, and had two goals and an assist.
His pace has slowed recently, with Fleury getting just four
goals and nine assists in his last 17 games and no goals in the
last six games.
Last season, Fleury who has reached at least 30 goals eight
times struggled with 15 goals and 64 points.
Fleury has 419 goals and 573 assists in a 13-year career. He
spent 10½ seasons with the Calgary Flames, before he was traded to
the Colorado Avalanche in 1999.
He then signed a long-term contract with the Rangers that pays
him between $7 million and $8 million per year.
The Rangers are dealing with a substance abuse problem with one
of their players for the second time in just over a year.
Kevin Stevens, now a linemate of Mario Lemieux's in Pittsburgh,
was arrested Jan. 23, 2000, at a motel in Collinsville, Ill.
Stevens was charged with possessing crack cocaine, a felony. He was
also charged with misdemeanors of soliciting a prostitute and
possession of drug paraphernalia.
After missing the remainder of last season, Stevens signed with
Philadelphia and was then traded to Pittsburgh.
Losing Fleury is the latest blow to New York's dwindling playoff
hopes. The Rangers are in 10th place, eight points behind Boston
and Carolina, but that was not on their minds.
"Not many things are more important, but obviously, something
like this is more important," Messier said. "I think that's why
we need to support him as a person. Hopefully, he gets the support
and the help that he needs to get himself back together."
New York already lost goalie Mike Richter (knee), defensemen
Vladimir Malakhov (knee) and Brad Brown (foot), and center Tim
Taylor (groin strain) for the season.
"We've lost two of the star players of this hockey club in the
last 10 days," Sather said in reference to Richter and Fleury.
"It's certainly not something that's insurmountable. The first
step is to believe that you can win and go on the ice and perform
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