Remember how media critics liked to say that the NHL didn't have any buzz?
Well, it looks like the game has got it in spades now -- at least thanks to sports talk radio in Toronto.
Of course I'm talking about the fallout from Saturday night's confrontation between Sean Avery of the New York Rangers and Darcy Tucker of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As to what exactly started that confrontation, we can't exactly be sure right now, outside of the fact that it had something to do with a comment or two the NHL's resident bad boy launched across the Red Line at Maple Leafs winger Jason Blake during warm ups at Air Canada Centre last weekend.Toronto veteran agitator Darcy Tucker took offense at Avery's antics, setting off a confrontation that looked like something that might have ended up on the cutting room floor from Slap Shot. Later on, everybody got what they wanted when Tucker took Avery to task, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Reports are scattered far and wide that Avery made a crack about Blake's fight with cancer. It's an allegation that Avery has denied and others have warned us comes from a source with a less than sterling track record. But now that the allegation has been recycled through the league's Toronto-based echo-chamber -- including a crack from Wade Belak that Avery's life is in danger -- who the heck knows what to believe? In the meantime, get ready for a possible libel suit.
As for the league, they stepped in with a perfunctory investigation, and slapped Avery with a maximum $2,500 fine, while the Rangers will be paying ten times that much. As for the Maple Leafs, Tucker will be ponying up $1,000, with the organization coming up with another $10,000.
NHL disciplinary czar Colin Campbell also issued a stern warning:
"The unprofessional conduct of Avery in initiating this altercation, less than a week after being involved in an incident in the pre-game warm-up against New Jersey, is the basis for this discipline," Campbell said in a statement. "Tucker also bears some responsibility for his inappropriate response.But that's as stern as it's going to get. Because as much as some folks might hate Avery and what he does, there's little doubt that he's good for the box office.
"Both organizations must also be held accountable for the players' actions."
After all, villains always are.
At FanHouse, Avery is the gift that keeps on giving, much to the delight of our bosses here at AOL. Over the past few months, Avery has been good for a bevy of posts that blurred the line between the NHL and the entertainment industry, something that started off with a couple of notes about Avery's failed relationship with actress Elisha Cuthbert.
A little more than a week ago, the task of writing about Avery's alleged public tryst with Mary-Kate Olson fell to me. While there are other topics I'd rather write about, there's little doubt in my mind that stories like it, among others, help pay the freight for the rest of our coverage.
As for the league, they're well aware of Avery's value, and probably thank the Hockey Gods for the trade that sent him from Los Angeles to New York last season. I'm sure that his failed relationship with Cuthbert, along with his alleged dalliances with Olson and even Paris Hilton have been worth millions to the league in free publicity. And when the ultimate arbiter of Manhattan style, the New York Times Magazine, came looking for a subject for a flattering profile, can we be shocked that of all the players in New York, they decided on Avery?
Over at ESPN.com, John Buccigross likes to write about how fans should be happy that the NHL is a niche sport and that we should all embrace the "intimacy of hockey". After getting the chance to talk to more than my fair share of NHL players, I know exactly what he's talking about. The vast majority of them -- unassuming and unaffected -- is now and will always be one of the league's strongest selling points with fans.
But something tells me that in an unguarded moment, more than a few folks working in Manhattan and Toronto would admit that Avery is good for the league. Moreover, I don't doubt that most of them would reveal that they thought the NHL would be better off if it had more players just like him.
Previously on FanHouse:
Sam Mitchell on Basketball, Hockey and Double Standards
Hockey Fight of the Day: Tucker vs. Avery
Mary-Kate and Sean Avery?
Cuthbert and Avery Split Up
Wedding Bells for Elisha Cuthbert and Sean Avery?