"He's a career minor-leaguer and he's got to get in the paper some way. So why not talk about me?" Sean Avery on Rangers goalie Steve Valiquette.
That may have been as ugly as it got last night. Or it may have gotten much uglier. We'll probably never know everything that happened in #16's return to the place he called home for the better part of the last two seasons. So all I can review is what was seen and heard:
I happen to really like and respect Steve Valiquette. I happen to really like and appreciate Sean Avery. It's a simple as that. Appreciation versus respect. Sean Avery, the hockey player and the personality that goes along with it, is entertaining. I appreciate that. As a fan and for what it does for the league - making it all a little less cookie cutter. I appreciated it when he was a Ranger and now that he's a Star. Above all else, no one can ever say he is boring. However, I respect Steve Valiquette. I've had the pleasure of talking with him for a few brief moments after a game once, and he is as nice and genuine as he appears on his post game interviews. A real good guy. Does a genuine good guy deserve that swipe from Avery? Certainly not.
But I'm not going to throw Avery under a bus for it either. Why? Because he's wrong. The above statement is blatantly wrong. Valiquette has better things to do than talk about Avery to get his name in the papers, for one. I'm pretty sure his play against teams like Toronto and Philadelphia mean he gets plenty of press at those games for the right reasons. He's not a minor leaguer. In fact, he can probably be starting on a few teams in this league right now. So it's false. End of story. They are just words meant to get a rise.
But the real reason I won't allow myself to worry about it - is because this is Sean Avery. Sean being Sean. He said he wasn't going to talk to the media. And yet, not at all surprisingly, he still did take time to talk to Stan Fischler (where the above quote came from on MSG network). And he said something marginally controversial. Is anyone really shocked? Anyone? This is Sean being Sean. I'm sure Vali slept just fine last night. And in defense of the entire situation - which for the record started because apparently Brandon Dubinsky and Valiquette both said things about how the atmosphere around the team was different this year and that it had to do with the absence of Avery - these guys that have a right to their opinions. I heard that Sean sat in the locker room (I'm assuming visiting or perhaps at the training center because I am pretty sure the Rangers home locker room has the two goalies sit side by side) with Dubinsky on one side and Valiquette on the other. If ANYONE has the right to be sick of his mouth, it's those two. And like him or not, and again, I still like him, Sean has a big freakin' mouth. And that can grate on anyone, day in, day out. I'm going to leave it at that.
Except for one more thing and I apologize for what might seem to be a tangent. I defended Mark Messier and will continue to do so probably forever, against all those who said he left to go to Vancouver for more money. I really ,really, really think it has everything to do with respect. I read once that he called Brian Leetch as the situation was going down and said, "I can't believe they don't want me." It might appear, on the surface, to be money. But for a guy like that who has plenty, isn't it really more about what you've done and the respect you should get. The guy gets standing ovations whenever he enters the arena. He did more for the team than just the actions of that one year, but it is that one year that cemented his legacy. He can live forever on that one year. And they pretty much said, we don't need you THAT much. And that hurt and he left, poised for the next challenge. Although I know he never wanted to leave. If I had to guess, he felt he had to. Hockey players are people, and people are prideful mammals. That hurt his pride. He moved on. That's my opinion.
Now Avery is not Messier, or Brian Leetch (who also to this day believes - very rightly so - that he was greatly disrespected by the Rangers organization), but he still might feel something of the same vein as those two great players did.
Allow me to explain before you jump at me. Are these situations on the same scale? Don't be serious. I think Leetch was the most disrespected and did the most in his time in New York, even over Messier and over Mike Richter. Again, I think Messier's moments in 1994 paints his strong legacy to this team and he will be remembered forever.
Sean Avery could not be further away on that list. It's not a contest. He might fall somewhere 300 players down the line of guys that have stood and contributed for the red, white, and blue, whereas you might be looking at 1 and 2 in Leetch and Messier.
But . . . like it or not - he made the Rangers a more effective team. He loved his time in NY. Despite his attitude and his mouth, he was very rarely a reason they lost. More often than not, he was a reason they won. Somewhat unorthodoxly? Yeah maybe. But effective. All I am really saying is the guy probably just wanted to see some respect. And in his mind, he didn't get that.
Is he worth what he was asking monetarily? Probably not, but I am not sure. I hesitate to say no way in hell, because, face it, Gomez, Drury, Redden and Rozsival are not worth what they are making for this team at all. (Neither were guys, although good guys like, Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Darius Kasparaitis, et al). And yet they get to stay. So. . . I'm not going to suggest he is or isn't worth it. It's not important. But the process is a business. (Ask Bobby Holik how he felt when he played for the Devils and went to arbitration. He's a smart guy, but his feelings were hurt. So he turned and walked away from a team he loved. For the extra $500,000? Puhhhleaaseee. It was because he felt disrespected. Right, wrong, or indifferent. He moved on.) And Sean made a business move. Whether he felt he was going to take whoever was offering the most money OR he felt disrespected by a team that was, in all honestly kissing his @ss a little at times during his years there, OR a combination of both - he moved on. In my mind it's as simple as that. We should probably move on too.
Avery's game was nothing special. He wasn't bad, he wasn't good. He was just there. Chirping at moments. Chipping at others. But nothing insane. At one point he tried to hit Dmitri Kalinin behind the net, and half missed, falling to the ice. That prompted laughs from the crowd. Which, for the most part, was in the anti-Avery corner. Whether a few guys decided to start to boo and it caught on from there, I'm not sure. I, for the record, do not boo. I really don't. I'll mumble stuff under my breath, but I don't boo. It's not my style. If fans got pleasure out of doing it, then fine. But, at the end of it all, the Stars still won the game. Which brings me to:
The Game Itself:
It was really pretty uninspired. Gomez, in my opinion, might really have been suffering from effects of the flu in the games last week, because he looked much quicker last night. I'll admit that. The rest of the team, with the exception of Callahan and Dubinsky, who always look fast, did not. It was a good start. The Rangers drew a powerplay on Loui Erikkson's penalty at 25 seconds and potted their first (and consequently only) goal at 58 seconds.
For the next 59:02, it was mostly Stars or indifferent. Rangers got some shots, definitely. But even their goal - and if it helps his confidence than I'm all for him getting it - by Naslund was into an essentially empty net. Kudos on his being open for it though. And he did have five shots on the night.
Drury continued to be invisible. Is it too early to say that he is letting the "captain" stigma get to him? I mean I honestly, and I haven't said one word about this, felt the Rangers shouldn't have named a captain this year. Why do they really need one? Have 3 assistants, like they did post-lockout, and let someone step up and earn it - both on the ice and in the room. No personal disrespect to Drury, but it is not going to look good to have your team captain also being the worst player on your team. And can you ever take that back?
Gomez, Callahan, and a slightly renewed Nigel Dawes, also had a good number of shots, so it continues to prove that Gomez plays well with guys with the younger guys, rather than Drury and Naslund.
Michal Rozsival is a question for me. I never hated him, never loved him. The guy has helped score some goals over the years, many clutch. But. . . he always takes penalties - in good games, in bad games, and at all types of moments. At some point you have to ask, is he just dumb to keep taking the same penalties, or does he get caught in bad spots on the ice? I'm not sure. I don't hate him like some people seem to, but he and his co-D on the power play (one Wade Redden) are both grossly overpaid. Speaking of #6 - he hasn't had a point since opening night. At least Rozsival finds the net from time to time. Or helps others find it.
On a personal level, I loved seeing Mike Modano get the game winner. I've been a big fan of his for a very long time and to have him still play and continue to contribute (6 pts in 6 games this season) makes me happy. He's a loyal guy, and has played for the Stars franchise for all his season in the league, which is rare in this day's NHL. And he's American born, and arguably one of the all-time best from the USA. And if you are looking at goals and points, he already is that guy. I watched the Stars big time during the 99 season and the early 2000s. They had some epic playoff matchups against Edmonton and Colorado. Those were great. I've never quite understood the switcher-oo the Stars played with Modano being captain and then not, but I think he was a good enough guy to take it in stride for the most part. A part of a team, and if the team succeeds, I'll be happy, kind of guy. Or else he would have been out of there too. But he does great things for Dallas. Not many people, especially from a state like Michigan, play in Minnesota, go onto Dallas, and then stay there. In Dallas. Year round. The city of Dallas owes Michael Thomas Modano a lot. And for me, he's had a great career to watch.
Sean said good things about the Rangers - last night, when he was with the team, and at times in between. Whether it was all in the name of public relations, we won't ever know. But I think he liked NY. I think NY was good to him. And I think he was good for the Rangers as well. I'm not his teammate, so I can't guess whether or not the Rangers players (that were on the team the last two years with Sean) feel it is a good or bad thing he's not around. But, for me, he is entertaining and he is more than just the character that no one can deny he is. He came back to the Garden last night, and was essentially nothing less than his true self. And, whether he pumped up his new team or distracted his former team, his new team won the game. And that's the bottom line.