It figures to be an interesting evening at Madison Square Garden tonight (7 p.m. ET) when the New York Rangers host the Dallas Stars. It marks the return of fan favorite Sean Avery in a Dallas uniform, which presents a conundrum for Rangers fans, whose allegiances might be torn just a bit.
Avery, well known for opinions on anything and everything, has been quiet heading into the homecoming with his former team, issuing a statement through the Stars instead of hurling invective via the press.
"In my effort to focus on the game at hand, I would prefer not to do a lot of interviews, so please accept this statement in lieu of a full-court press.
WHAT FANS ARE SAYING"I have no animosity toward anyone in (the Rangers) organization for not bringing me back; that is sometimes how things work out."
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"Avery has done nothing yet, but the season is young..."SOCALSWEETNESS
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"OK. So the Stars start the new season 1-3-1..."KITIKITHAKIS
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Avery signed on with the Stars this summer, but made it pretty clear that his heart remained in Manhattan. In published reports after he signed with Dallas, Avery tossed a couple barbs in New York's direction.
"It's an interesting situation because then they turn around and spend it on guys they shouldn't have spent it on," Avery said at the time. "New York is a tough place to play. Markus Naslund is going to have a tough time; so is Wade Redden. New York fans aren't going to put up with those guys. I don't think that they're going to live up to the expectations.
"I've gone to a better team."
The record doesn't bear that out at the moment. The Rangers have gotten off to a hot start at 6-1-1, while the Stars have stumbled at 1-3-1.
But over the long haul, Avery sees himself as a difference maker in Dallas.
"I think if you threw me into the Dallas lineup in that series against Detroit, it definitely would have made a difference." he said, looking back at last spring's playoffs.
Avery is a study in contrasts. On the ice, he's an agitating motormouth who drives foes to distraction. Off the ice, his interests run in completely different directions. He gained lots of notoriety during the summer for his internship with the fashion magazine Vogue, which could end up being a movie, and he has dated several Hollywood actresses.
But at the rink, he is controversial in his demeanor and comments, many of which are dismissed as self promotion. In the past, for example, Avery and Stars captain Brenden Morrow have battled fiercely, leading some to wonder if the mixture of oil and water will prove to be combustible in the Stars' dressing room.
"I know I've had my battles with (Brenden) in the past, but the good thing about hockey players is the fact once you become teammates, that stuff is all forgotten," Avery said. "It'll be exciting to play on the same team, maybe even on the same line. You almost have more respect for the guys you've battled in the past, even a guy like Steve Ott, who I know I'll enjoy playing with. It'll probably bring my (penalty minutes) down a bit because it seems I always ended up fighting or scrapping with one of those guys. It'll be tough for other teams to play against me, Brenden, Modano, Ribeiro and Richards and Ott. It's going to be a lot of fun."
One of the reasons Avery landed in Dallas was his past association with Stars Co-General Manager Brett Hull. The two had been teammates with the Detroit Red Wings, and Hull, never one to shy away from a blunt comment, liked Avery's grit and presence.
"(Brett) was my favorite player growing up and, then, 10 years later, I end up living with him," Avery recalled. "I probably took on his persona a little bit and I don't think I was really ready to do that. But as far as watching a guy play and being able to read the game, he was certainly beneficial."
Lost in the controversy is the fact Avery is a pretty good player, one who combines agitating with talent to form a very tough combination to play against.
"This is a better team than the one I formerly played on so that's a big attraction and very important to me because being able to win provides more opportunities," Avery said when introduced in Dallas this summer. "The relationship I had with Brett and, now with his moving on to management and the faith he has in me that I can come in and help the team win, also played a big role."
Avery finished with 15 goals and 33 points in 57 games for the Rangers last season. In eight playoff games, he had four goals and three assists. He was also the topic of week-long debate following Game 3 of New York's Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Devils at the Garden. If you'll recall, that's when Avery planted himself in front of Vezina Trophy-winner Martin Brodeur and began waving his hands and stick in the goalie's face while the Devils were defending a 5-on-3 that eventually resulted in a goal by Avery.
"When you put the jersey on, you represent the team and the city, and I certainly do cross the line at times, but it's not out of anything other than wanting to win the game," Avery said. "I think I'm coming to a team that's happy to have me and expecting a lot out of me. I'm willing to take it to the next level and I think I proved what level I can take my game in New York. I'm actually a pretty mellow guy off the ice; laid-back. I think my on-ice persona is almost somewhat of a character. It would be too tough to live like that 24 hours a day. I'd be dead by now if that were the case."