Matt Cooke was, and likely still is, the NHL's top villain. To Cooke's credit, though, he has been incident free so far in the 2011-2012 season.
Yes, the king of cheap shots has avoided slew footing, checking from behind, kneeing (with the exception of Mark Eaton who seemed to make it unavoidable with his path towards Cooke), and even most post-whistle scrums.
As we approach the halfway point of the season, consider that Cooke has 12 PIMs. Last season, Cooke could pick up 12 penalty minutes on a bad shift.
Since we are being honest, I also never cared for Avery. In fact, I still don't. But he can play hockey.
Much like Cooke, he gets caught up in the sideshow too much. It seems that he is back to being a healthy scratch for the Rangers recently.
Avery can still salvage his career, even if he is discarded by the Rangers. He should look to Matt Cooke as an unlikely role model. Sure Avery is a different form of pest than Cooke, but that does not make the lessons any less true.
Sean Avery and Matt Cooke have been similar in one regard throughout their careers—both have done things that disrespect the game, their opponents and their teammates.
Whether it was pretending to conduct a marching band in front of Martin Brodeur, an impromptu press conference in Calgary, or many other incidents, Avery has been one of those guys that you just shake your head at and wish he would go away.
Now that Avery is close to actually going away, it does not have to be that way though. As Cooke has discovered, there is redemption to be found. Avery would just have to work at it every day and be sincere about it.
Is that possible for him? As one of Avery's biggest critics, I say yes, it is. Whether it is the result of a personal desire to be in the spotlight or just bad decisions, Avery can change his way.
While there will be skeptics as there are with Cooke (rightly so), if Avery re-dedicates himself to the sport he loves, fans around the league will respect his efforts.
Matt Cooke gets talked about during broadcasts as much as he ever did. The difference is that announcers seem genuinely shocked that he has been able to stay out of trouble for this long.
Cooke had a reputation as a guy that has helped end poor Marc Savard's career (a game I was unfortunately at) and gone out of his way to cheap shot players every change he got.
Now, Cooke is becoming the poster boy for last chances. He knows that if he slips up, the potential for a 40 game suspension is more likely than a 15 game suspension.
With the help of Coach Dan Bylsma, Cooke has taken it upon himself to re-learn the approach to hitting and his part in avoiding dangerous collisions.
Sean Avery may or many not have such an ally in John Tortorella. However, if he has not approached him on the matter, he should.
Tortorella is a coach. Actually, a pretty good coach. Even if he has any grudge against Avery, surely he would not refuse a man that comes to him with designer hat in hand asking for help.
Avery will have to make the first step, but once he does, there will be plenty willing to help him take the rest.
If you are someone that says Matt Cooke never would have changed his game if he were not about to be blacklisted out of the sport, I say to you, "you're right."
However, that does not make the change in approach to the game that Cooke has taken any less important. It was the smart thing for him to do to adapt to maintain survival. Without it, there would be no NHL paycheck for his family.
Sean Avery also may find himself on the cusp of the blacklist. It may be for different reasons than Cooke, but in the end, it would be in his best interest to do whatever it takes to stay afloat in the NHL.
So whether it is the desire to cash an NHL paycheck, fashion interests, or support of gay marriage, Avery will find that it all comes a litter easier when you wear the NHL shield as your main job.
Avery can change. He just needs to follow the model Matt Cooke is building.
If you are interested in further coverage from Ernest, follow him on Twitter @shootinthepuck.