Sean Avery, looking every bit the part of every mother's dream.
The clock is ticking.
The 29 other teams in the NHL have a 24-hour window (even less now) to claim Avery before he clears and is sent to the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Connecticut. Yes. We all know this.
I know what you're thinking, Maple Leafs cohort of readers and writers. Believe me. Patience is not one of your collective virtues, but at least consider it here.
I wrote an article about Nathan Horton back in 2010 focusing on why Toronto should have made an attempt to pry him away from the Florida Panthers. I got ripped for that article.
Anyone talk to Nathan Horton lately? He doesn't answer his phone often. The weight of his Stanley Cup ring seems to make lifting it a chore. He's also enjoying all sorts of other success as a reliable, physical forward in Boston.
Enough about Horton. On to Avery.
First, let's get over the high schooler aspect of "sloppy seconds." Who cares?
Darcy Tucker and Michael Peca made excellent teammates during Peca's season-long stint in Toronto back in 2006-2007.
The Maple Leafs need an energy winger. And they need one bad.
Sean Avery > Joey Crabb
Sean Avery > Darryl Boyce
Sean Avery > Philipe Dupuis
Injuries to Mike Brown and Colby Armstrong have deducted large chunks of tenacity, grit and agitating qualities from the Leafs lineup. These are qualities that the Leafs are sorely missing right now, as they tend to have more success with players in the lineup supplying these attributes with aplomb.
Plus, he's an NHL veteran these days. He's a heart-and-soul type of player, the likes of which the Maple Leafs have never truly replaced since the departure of Darcy Tucker. Toronto could really use some veterans on the team.
Now, he has been known to take awful penalties, which is not something that a poor defensive team like Toronto may want, but in 15 games with the Rangers this season, he only accumulated 21 PIM. That puts him on pace for approximately 85-90 this whole season. That's manageable.
One thing that is commonly noted among Rangers fans is that Sean Avery is not Sean Avery under the coaching of John Tortorella. By comparison, Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson seems quite in favor of letting players be who they want to be—within reason. He wants his players to focus on the unique talents that brought them to the NHL in the first place.
Should Burke make a claim for Sean Avery?
Avery is a world-class agitator who can play the game. The Leafs needs a presence in front of the opposition's net. Avery can do this, and he can do it very efficiently.
The Leafs also boast one of the top power plays in the game right now. Their high-risk, high-reward approach to competing makes a player like Sean Avery very appealing. Let's face it, he is highly skilled at goading the opposition into taking penalties after the whistle.
Clearly, signing Avery comes with a host of caveats. Mike Zigomanis, and former Leaf Freddie Sjostrom, were teammates of Avery's on the Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) and New York Rangers, respectively. In a Toronto Star article from October 2010, they both seemed hesitant to comment on the topic of Avery being a good teammate.
Sjostrom would comment that Avery skates "a fine line" between helping his team and hurting it. Further comments by Sjostrom, Colby Armstrong and Jean-Sebastien Giguere come off as a cautious endorsement:
There’s two Seans, there’s the efficient one who can be on the top of the crease, creating a lot of traffic. He can skate pretty well and shoot the puck pretty well. Then there’s the guy who can sometimes be a nuisance to his team by being over the edge, getting bad penalties and stuff like that. That’s the guy we want. That’s the guy that would be an advantage to us. The other guy, we have to pay attention to when he’s out there. - JS Giguere
Let’s face it, he’s good at what he does. He plays hard. - Colby Armstrong
He’s got good skill; great skater. He can be a game changer. He can win games by himself almost if the other team get frustrated with him and takes penalties. But it can be the opposite too. He gets people really pissed off. I would think that’s his goal. A lot of guys are taking penalties by throwing that extra punch afterwards. Usually, that’s what the ref sees. He doesn’t see the first thing. I’d say he’s pretty good at it. - Fredrik Sjostrom
Again: high risk, high reward.
Of course, no article on Sean Avery would be complete without bringing up his past comments and incidents, but these are well documented. I'm going to take the Chomsky route here and assume that these are well noted enough to be left out of this particular article. However, on the derogatory comment from several years ago about French-Canadian players, well, it would certainly make Toronto-Montreal games more exciting.
It makes great sense from Brian Burke's perspective, given he is able to make enough room for Avery's modest salary of $1.9 million (which will be prorated should another team claim him). Burke wants an exciting team, and Avery can deliver on that note.
The two even seem to have similar social views as they are both heavy advocates for gay rights. Not to suggest that the two will become a go-to, poster children tandem of progressively raising the awareness of gay athletes, but it is something very important to each man that they share in common.
In all, Sean Avery would be a good pickup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His intangibles are sorely missing, and while he may have a sordid past with some current Leafs (OK, sordid and high-profile), these guys are professionals and at the end of the day, it's winning that matters.
If Sean Avery can be part of that effort, and it's very likely that he could be, then why the hell not?