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 played the Florida Panthers 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."
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, absolutely."
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 the program.
"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.
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 entered Wednesday's game in 10th place, 10 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."
"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 the way we can."
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