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Posted: Thursday February 12, 2009 5:50PM; Updated: Thursday February 12, 2009 5:50PM
Jim Kelley Jim Kelley >

Sean Avery, fighting and Eddie Litzenberger in the mailbag

Story Highlights

Sean Avery will not make up for the loss of Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan

Former Sabres enforcer Larry Playfair added his voice to the anti-fighting chorus

Litzenberger is the only North American to win six straight hockey championships

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The Rangers have fallen and their problems are more than Sean Avery (here with old pal Martin Brodeur) can fix.
Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMI
Jim Kelley's Mailbag
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It's mailbag time and the issues, like the bottom races, the playoff seedings and the debate over Sean Avery are heating up. Still, the issue of fighting dominates your concerns. We've spread the topics out a bit for the purposes of keeping your interest.

Hey Jim, is Sean Avery returning to the New York Rangers the answer to their problems? They seem to be just a shell of themselves since he left.
-- Chris Smith, North Collins, NY

Well, Chris, they have been a shell of the team they were last season, but don't forget that Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan are also gone, and they had a heck of a lot more to do with the success of the Broadway Blueshirts than Avery ever did -- or will should he return.

New York's problems are fairly obvious: they have second-line players in first-line roles (Chris Drury and Scott Gomez being obvious examples). They have a blueline that's not very efficient or deep and it hasn't improved despite the highly expensive addition of free agent Wade Redden. They have trouble getting the puck into the offensive zone and keeping it there, and teams have started to figure out goaltender Hendrik Lundqvist.

GM Glen Sather has a history (and somewhat mixed success) of reclamation projects and Avery will be his biggest one to date. But even at the top of his decent game, Avery isn't the end-all of New York's problems. He could help the team if he's committed to playing his game and putting his reputation for distraction aside, but the big fear is that he will only add to New York's woes.

Everyone -- okay, almost everyone -- deserves a second chance but even if Avery gets one in New York and makes good on it, he can't fix everything that's troubling that club.

First off, I admit as a younger hockey fan I liked the occasional fights in the sport. However, now that I'm a bit older, I find myself wondering why the fighting has to be there. I keep hearing owners and players talk about the need to protect the "skill players." Having attended many Colts games, I've never seen any one player starting a fight because of a late hit on Peyton Manning. If other leagues are able to protect skill players without fighting, why does it appear the NHL is incapable of doing so?
-- Evan Ballard, Indianapolis, IN

Well, Evan, it's not that they can't. The history of fighting and the need for it is so ingrained in the NHL that the idea of running the game by rules instead of base instinct has simply never been tried. The theory is that the game polices itself by an unwritten code that maintains if you take liberties with a skill player, you have to answer for your actions by taking a beating. The opposite theory -- a rule that tosses players for taking said liberties and imposes severe penalties that hurts the player and his team -- has never been tested in part because "it's always been this way."

Unfortunately for the NHL, fighting has gone beyond that now. There are fights just to impose a sense of intimidation, and fights simply because bigger players can impose their will on smaller players by doing so. There are fights just for show and because some players want to get their faces (or battered faces) on sports highlight shows or even because some sports commentators say certain players "oughta go."

Hanging over all of this is the recent death of a senior league player in Canada that was the direct result of a fight. Hockey has its proponents for and against fighting, and they will have their say when the general managers meet next month in Florida, but don't expect too much. There are enlightened GMs, but they are usually shouted down by the "traditionalists." So I don't expect much, if anything, from their conference.

What hockey needs is a commissioner who can enlist enough owners to the cause to eliminate or certainly reduce the elements of fighting in the game. The current guy appears to have no interest simply because of yet another school of thought that says fans who buy tickets like fighting.

Will the Philadelphia Flyers make a push to get a strong defenseman like Derian Hatcher at the trade deadline, and do they need to get a solid No.1 goalie to be able to contend for the Stanley Cup?
-- Chuck DeVuono, Warrington, PA

Chuck, every team with designs on the Cup will be looking for some sort of upgrade on the back end, though the ideal is a strong defenseman who can also skate a little bit and move the puck quickly. You don't have to be brutish to be a shutdown defenseman, so what the Flyers and most every other team will be looking for is a good defensive backliner. There won't be many available unless a noteworthy one is headed for unrestricted free agency. Florida's Jay Bowmeester is a good example of that, but the Panthers are so desperate to make the playoffs this season that they might not make a deal even if it's dead-lock certain that he won't be signing with them come summer.

Regards a goalie, well, they are just as hard to find, so it's the same scenario: an impending free agent might come on the market, but then what's the price? What are the chances a team that pays a lot for him gets any assurance that he will sign with them after the season? Most teams take note of what Marian Hossa did in spurning an offer from Pittsburgh after the Penguins had given up a big part of their future to get him at the trade deadline.

If the goalie is there, sure, the Flyers will have an interest, but Martin Biron was a hot ticket for them in the playoffs last spring, and the betting, for now at least, is that they will stick with him unless a deal that makes sense and allows them to manage their salary cap issues at the same time.

Where is Eddie Litzenberger?
-- Ron Low, Halifax, Nova Scotia

As best we can determine, the native of Neudorf, Saskatchewan, Canada is living in retirement in or near Toronto. For those of you who don't remember the 1955 Calder Trophy-winner, Litzenberger has the distinction of winning six straight championships in two different leagues. He was captain of the 1961 Blackhawks and won the Cup with them in 1961. The following season, he was traded to Detroit but later claimed on waivers by Toronto. That year, the Maple Leafs won the Cup and did it again in 1963 and '64. Ed then went to the AHL where he won two consecutive Calder Cups (1965 and 1966) with the Rochester Americans. In his last season with the Leafs, he played just 19 games, but got into one in the Cup final, which qualified him for having his name on the silver bowl for a fourth time. Unfortunately, the Leafs neglected to put it on. Still, Ed is in the record books as the only North American ever to win six consecutive hockey titles.

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