The notion that Sean Avery is a lousy teammate is an easy sell, unless you actually talk to his teammates -- especially with his old mates, the New York Rangers. He had his champions and his critics, like anybody paid to agitate will have. But Scott Gomez said it best in a conference call last January:
"I know playing against him you hate the guy. But definitely when you're a teammate of his, he's one of those guys, he's a beauty. He's one of those guys you need in the locker room and he's a great teammate."
Matthew Barnaby never played with Avery, but played enough like Avery to the point where he's considered an expert on the ways of the pest. USA Today noted some comments Barnaby made about the Dallas Stars forward as ESPN's new hockey analyst:
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When Steve Levy said Thursday that Barnaby "played a lot" like Avery, Barnaby's pointed out what he believes is the key difference between himself and Avery who famously interned at Vogue magazine: "I loved being Public Enemy No. 1 and I know that Sean Avery loves it too. The only difference between myself and Sean Avery is my teammates, I think, liked me and I can't say the same thing about Sean."
"When he concentrates, he's a very good player," added Barnaby, who succeeded Barry Melrose as ESPN's top hockey analyst. "He does a lot of good things on the ice. Very good skater. Very good playmaker and he can help his team win a lot of games. But Sean Avery has to do a lot of the other things, like stay out of the media sometimes and put his team first."
Barnaby told USA TODAY by phone that he "loves the way" Avery competes. But he warned Avery might already be "starting to rub people the wrong way" in Dallas the way he did in his previous stints in New York and Los Angeles. "The question is: will guys stand up for him when he's in trouble?" asked Barnaby. "I'll be watching."
If the argument is that Barnaby was more well-liked by his teammates than Avery is, then Avery would be wise to concede the point.
But unless Dallas is a radically different situation, his teammates will stand up for him. Recall the relative solidarity in the Rangers' room in defending Avery when he was accused to making a cancer crack about Jason Blake last season. Of course, there was also the Avery Rule situation, in which he took heat from most of his teammates but had some "it's just Avery being Avery" supporters, too.
The bottom line in this Barnaby matter: Avery has made it clear that his villainy is marketable. The NHL has made it clear that it's not interested in marketing it. So perhaps the best way to capitalize on the heat players like Avery bring to the game is for a born-agitator like Barnaby to spark a feud over the airwaves.
Depending on Avery's retort -- if there is one -- this could be the spark.