The New York Rangers played their best game of the season yesterday, an 8-2 destruction of the Edmonton Oilers. What we should be talking about is how amazing the offense looked and how the Rangers are finally sticking up for their teammates. Unfortunately, here we are, the morning after, talking about something stupid Sean Avery did. Yesterday’s game was as old-fashioned as you can get—there was plenty of offense, plenty of fights, and of course, a line brawl at the 11:18 mark of the third period that resulted in more than 80 penalty minutes.
As I wrote about in the post game recap yesterday, it was all started with a clean hit Avery threw on Colin Fraser. That is not the issue here, and no one is arguing about the check; it was what happened next that people are taking notice of. With Fraser getting up off the ice (without complaint, mind you), Ladislav Smid skated over and challenged Avery to a fight. At first it looked as if Avery wanted no part of it, and the two skated near one another. Then, in a split second, the gloves were off, and with one punch, Avery knocked Smid to the ice. The Oilers quickly took exception to this, saying it was a “sucker punch” and Smid did not have a chance. This is both right and wrong all at the same time.
Here is the video of the entire brawl, in case you missed it:
You can clearly see Smid initiating the fight, and Avery does appear to not want to scrap, and when they do fight, Avery punches Smid before he even knows what is coming. But was this unfair? Does it count as a sucker punch? As I said earlier, yes and no.
The fact is, Smid wanted at Avery after a clean hit, so he went looking for trouble. As a player you have to know what kind of person Sean Avery is. There may have been nothing evil in his motives here, but he is a very sneaky player, and although I do not consider this a “sucker punch”, I will throw it into the bush-league category of not having honor for you opponent in not letting him drop both of his gloves before you start swinging.
Derek Zona over at Copper & Blue, the Oilers SB Nation partner broke down the fight with a series of screen shots. I will not post them all, just the last one, and you can see for yourself if this punch was cheap or not:
As you can clearly see, Smid’s right glove is not yet off as Avery’s fist is heading for his face. People know I am no fan of Sean Avery, because of incidents like this. Maybe if it was another player who threw this punch, we wouldn’t be having all of this trouble, but it is no player other than Avery, so here we are, as Rangers fans, trying to defend him. I really don’t know how many times fans want to defend this guy, because it’s getting old. When he is on his game, he is effective, there is no doubting that. He is also having a great year on the score sheet in leading the team in assists, but let me ask you, is it worth it? Is it worth having this stigma attached to the Rangers so we can see his vintage agitation once every five games, and then a gem like this one once or twice is a season? To me it’s not worth it. I’m not even saying this is a sucker punch, but to me it does not matter—Avery will never be respected in this league (and rightfully so) and all it will cause is unending trouble for the Rangers. This is a team that will struggle to make the playoffs this year, and they need to nix distractions like this to achieve it.
Incidentally, Erik Christensen told Edmonton media yesterday, the following: “It looked like he suckered him; I’m not going to deny it, I mean, everyone could see.” (Per NY Post). Had Avery been well-liked in the locker room, I highly doubt this statement would have been made. Furthermore, if Avery was any other player, a player that just happened to get heated and throw a punch at Smid before he could get his gloves off, we would not be discussing this today. Nevertheless, I believe Christensen is wrong for saying something like this in public, as you do not throw your teammate under a bus like that. I could care less that the media now has a dissenting opinion coming from the “inside”, but it will only cause more trouble in the locker room. It really shows you how much respect his teammates have for him—about enough respect as Avery has for his opponents.
Even with all of this talk it does not appear any suspensions will be coming for either side, just fines.