North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Avery is Hockey’s Heel

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When Sean Avery shot his mouth off a couple days ago, he wasn’t just slamming Dion Phaneuf – or even his ex girlfriend. He was carving his niche, building his role as hockey’s heel.

Heel, as in wrestling villain. He’s the player that you want to root against, that you love to hate.

It’s a role he’s been carefully cultivating and it’s one that shows in the media’s treatment of him.

For a player in what is maybe the fourth-popular league in the states, Avery is getting attention is above and beyond the rest of the league. Columns are written about him on Fox Sports, his quotes appear on SportsCenter, and people who don’t follow sports know who he is.

Even those who disagree with what he does have to at least admit that he’s good for the league.

Why? There’s a school of thought that says any press is good press; this is to say that Avery is getting himself out in the media spotlight, and hockey will inevitably follow.

In this sense, Avery is filling a good cause for the league. Superstars like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Jerome Iginla are positive models for the league, sure – but they’re boring.

They’re almost in the Michael Jordan school of superstardom; be on TV, but don’t offend. Don’t be controversial. Don’t stir up any debate. As Jordan once said, Republicans buy shoes too.

But Avery doesn’t seem to care about selling shoes, only selling himself. He’s the guy who puts himself out there by acting out and acting controversial.

He may pay for it, sure. He’s been fined and suspended by the league. Reportedly, he’s worn his welcome out in more then a few dressing rooms.

Avery’s not the first guy to fill such a role: Ulf Samuelsson and Claude Lemieux were both reviled for parts of their careers.
They were heels too. They, like Avery, drew people to cheer against them.

In that sense, Avery’s what hockey needs to stand out from the pack. He’s marketable, he’s noteworthy and his quips can fill notebooks and blogs. For better or worse, he’s perhaps the most marketable player in the NHL today.

So, in a way, the NHL needs Avery more then Avery needs the NHL. He’s the one who appears on both gossip blogs and ESPN. If the NHL wants to stand out in a crowded sports market or attract more then just niche fans, they should learn to use him.
Not just shut him up.

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Written by M.

December 6, 2008 at 12:06 pm

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