In defense of Sean Avery
Over the years, a lot of people have been willing to throw up their arms in disgust at the behavior of New York Rangers left winger Sean Avery, who obviously knows something about throwing up his arms.
On a five-on-three against New Jersey in Game 3 on Sunday, Avery, the personification of chalk squealing on a blackboard, turned his back to the play and stood in front of the Devils' Martin Brodeur, stick high, waving it in his face in an effort to block the goaltender's line of sight. (Apparently doing "the wave" in an arena now takes on a whole new meaning.)
If such a move is not particularly classy, well, of course neither is Avery's running commentary on Brodeur's old divorce or the scabrous, rehearsed taunts that spill forth from a mouth so fresh it should be washed out with a case of Ivory.
This Broadway Blueshirt certainly works blue. And as Brodeur noted earlier in the series, maybe Avery should come up with some fresh material. In essentially face-guarding Brodeur -- and scoring later on the power play -- Avery apparently has done just that.
Avery, a lightning rod for criticism throughout his career, has been trashed for the maneuver. On TSN, guest commentator Mark Recchi of the Atlanta Thrashers said that there was no place in the game for Avery's antics. Others wonder why the referees, Don Van Massenhoven and Mike Hasenfratz, simply didn't whistle Avery for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which would have put an end to the face guarding.
The consensus, however, that Avery had somehow impugned the good name of hockey with his stick waving was almost comical. On the one hand, these are the playoffs and players are supposed to do "whatever it takes" to win, including scrums and face washes and that after-the-final-whistle slash by Bruins winger Milan Lucic on Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek's injured hip in Game 1. On the other hand, some people around the NHL have such delicate sensibilities that Avery merely standing in front of the crease and acting like a maniac is an insult.
You really can't have it both ways.
Would there have been a torrent of outrage if the player in front of Brodeur had been anyone other than Avery?
Then again, would someone other than Avery have been audacious enough to even try the gambit, which is not specifically proscribed?
The late Roger Neilson would devise ways to tiptoe around hockey norms if not the rule book -- while coaching in Peterborough he once used a defenseman instead of a goalie to challenge the surprised shooter on a penalty shot, and would tell his goalies to leave their sticks lying across the crease when he pulled them for an extra attacker -- and was subsequently hailed as an eccentric hockey genius, an impish man who knew how to think outside the box. When Avery pulls something unorthodox, he is excoriated as a scoundrel who deserves to be in the box.
In a perfect world, Avery would stand with his back to the goalie, screening and looking for rebounds like a caffeinated Tomas Holmstrom of Detroit or a smaller version of Colorado's Ryan Smyth. But Avery always has seen life a little differently.
Yes, the stick waving was part of the look-at-me act that wore thin in Detroit and Los Angeles and rankles even his current teammates in the way that Claude Lemieux's diving once annoyed his Montreal teammates, who thought he was violating hockey's code. But as Lemieux used to explain in the late 1980s, the NHL is an amoral world. He was not in the game to police himself. If Avery's tactic was over the line, then given the mayhem of the playoffs, it is legitimate to ask exactly where that line is.
The next move belonged to hockey operations director Colin Campbell and director of officiating Stephen Walkom. On Monday, an unsportsmanlike minor for such activity was ordered up, effective immediately. But as it was, Avery, the NHL's biggest pain in the butt, was just trying to do whatever it takes to win.
What do you think? Weigh in here.