Theo Fleury says over-coaching has taken individuality out of NHL

Former NHL star Theoren Fleury speaks at a 2011 press conference in Calgary. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

Few former NHLers have embarked on as unconventional a post-career path as former Calgary Flames great Theoren Fleury, the two-time 100-point scorer who’s now plying his trade as a country music crooner.

‘Unconventional’ describes much of Fleury’s tumultuous tenure in the NHL, as the Oxbow, Sask. native was forced to battle through plenty on his way to cementing himself in the Flames history books. But that fiery personality and unyielding determination earned Fleury a Stanley Cup and a slew of impressive stat lines – the veteran topped 40 goals on four different occasions, finishing his career with 1,088 points in 1,084 career tilts.

Unfortunately, that same mix of skill, unbridled emotion, and unpredictability is a rarity in today’s game, according to Fleury.

“The game is wayyy, wayyy too over-coached,” Fleury said to Sharp magazine’s Dave McCarthy on Wednesday. “It’s almost like coaches are playing Xbox with these guys. IPads on every bench now. It really takes individuality out of the game.”

The league still has a few characters who call back to that bygone era, according to Fleury, but they’re certainly tougher to find.

“That’s why I love guys like P.K. Subban, who have their own personality and beat to their own drum,” Fleury said. “There’s definitely a lack of that now. If you look at my era, you had all these characters who played, like Jeremy Roenick and Marty McSorley. They were different guys and said what was on their mind and wore their hearts on their sleeves.

“There were a lot of colourful people in the game. Now, when you listen to interviews with so many young guys, it’s all clichés.”

While our current era might be lacking in individuality, Fleury did say he’s impressed with the new crop of smaller-sized players thriving as the on-ice product continues to evolve.

“It’s really hard to compare eras but there’s no question that the game is built now for skill and speed, whereas when I was playing, it was a man’s game and wasn’t conducive to small guys having success,” Fleury said. “But it’s nice to see guys like (Johnny) Gaudreau and (Mitch) Marner and Marty St. Louis have the careers they’ve had.

“I was always told I was too small and I’d never make it and I’m sure it was no different for those guys. But when you have the kind of skill those guys have, that’s what really sets you apart.”