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Flames Top-10 individual seasons: Number 10

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

Joe Nieuwendyk’s silky-soft set of mitts. Miikka Kiprusoff’s utter aplomb in the face of a tempest. Theo Fleury’s in-your-face indomitability.

From Kent Nilsson to Johnny Gaudreau, Lanny McDonald to Sean Monahan, Al MacInnis to T.J. Brodie, Joe Mullen to Jarome Iginla, over the course of over three and a half decades in this town, there have been no end of stellar turns in aid of the Flaming C cause.

So wrestling selection a Top-10 individual seasons is a chore. Many factors come into play.

Historical ramification. Sheer volume. Significance to the organization.

You’re spoiled for choice, naturally.

Some are non-negotiable.

Others calls are hellish.

The very fine Calder Trophy-calibre campaigns of Gary Suter and Sergei Makarov are absent, for instance. A sprinkling of stellar 50-goal and/or 100-point performances, as well.

More regrettable yet is the omission of the prolific yet edgy 53-goal (second highest seasonal total in franchise history), 207-PIM 1991-92 turn put in by truculent left winger Gary Roberts. A season as dynamic as this could’ve slipped in anywhere in the bottom half of the Top 10 without a word of complaint, and on many such lists would’ve.

But, well, competition being what it is …

Here, then, over the next 10 days, is one list of the 10 Calgary Flames’ seasons to most savour, that best stand the test of time, presented in descending order:

No. 10, Theoren Fleury, RW, 1996-97.
80 GP, 46 G, 96 Pts.

On the draft floor at Joe Louis Arena that hot, humid late June night in 1987, the sexy stuff, the top rounds of selecting, had long since come and gone.

Up next, 19th choice in the eighth round, on the clock and running dry of ideas, the Calgary Flames.

“When they picked me,’’ recalled Theoren Fleury with amusement, years later, “Al (MacNeil) actually threw his pen across the draft table. ’Geez’, he said, ‘not another jockey!’’

“Funny thing is, he would up being one of my biggest boosters.”

Chosen 166th overall, between Hartford’s selection of Yale University centre John Moore and the Philadelphia Flyers taking right winger Darryl Ingram out of the U of Manitoba, the Flames took a flier on a feisty little anarchist who’d go on to be one of their biggest-ever stars.

“Theo,’’ later adjudged MacNeil, a quick convert, “turned out to be probably the most exciting player in franchise history.

“He's become icon in this city, like Lanny (McDonald).

"You know, we had a lot of really good players here, a lot of fireworks up and down the lineup, but this little guy, he was the one who lit the fuse.’'

When compiling a list of any kind in regards to the Calgary Flames - most eye-catching, most entertaining, most outspoken … you name it - Theoren Fleury’s name simply must be on it.

So pick a Fleury season for inclusion here. Any among his best.

Other years may have spawned more goals and a greater amount of points than 1995-96 but that turn, given his to indispensability to the collective good, gets the nod.

By then, the landscape of the NHL had begun to seismically shift. The Canadian dollar was in free fall and the discrepancy in paying power between organizations had begun to widen.

The core of that formidable collection of talent that former GM Cliff Fletcher had built in the late ‘80s -- MacInnis, Suter, Gilmour, Mullen, McCrimmon, Vernon, etc. -- were different area codes.

A dissatisfied Joe Nieuwendyk, the team captain, walked out in early October, in search of a change, and stuck by his guns, rebuffing all enticement. Joel Otto had already left for a windfall payday in Philadelphia during the off-season.

The lone hold-over from the salad days, then, winger Gary Roberts, would be limited to 35 games that year by the neck injury that would force his brief retirement the next summer. On top of the on-ice changes and distractions, GM Doug Risebrough was sacked mid-stream, Al Coates taking up the reins.

In short, chaos.

Never was the organization’s competitive dependence on its tiny terror higher, just signed to a $2.5-million per-season contract.

Light the fuse? This particular year, he was the only guy with access to a book of matches.

And Theo Fleury delivered. As always, Despite the added distraction of being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease early on that season.

Consider: His 46 goals were a full 18 higher and his 96 points a whopping 29 more than the team’s runner-up in both categories, German Titov.

Predictably, the proved as wildly entertaining off the ice as on it.

When word got out that L.A.’s Wayne Gretzky had personally called NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to gripe about a laxity in penalty calls, Fleury, typically, couldn’t resist.

“And does Gary cut Wayne's grass when he's in town?’' Fleury chided. ''Does he babysit when Wayne and Janet (Gretzky's wife) want a night out?

“I guess I can expect a call pretty soon. Yeah, right.’'

Vintage Fleury.

Well, he got the call.

More vitally, he also strapped a team on to his slender shoulders and hauled it further than anyone could’ve imagined.

Those Flames finished with 79 points, three games under .500, yet still qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

Rather predictably, they’d be swept aside by the Chicago Blackhawks in the minimum four games.

But the little fella had done almost all of the heavy lifting in getting them there in the first place. A tour de force, actually.

They wouldn’t set foot in the post-season again for the next seven consecutive springtimes.

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