Thursday January 7th, 2010

A couple of months ago, I semi-praised Rangers winger Sean Avery for playing with his head more than his mouth. But after bursting out of the gate, he began to look equal parts lost and bored, which created a whirlwind of speculation that coach John Tortorella had him on a leash.

The coach disputed the claim on Wednesday, saying: "I want Sean Avery on edge. There has been no leash. When he crosses the line, it is my job to bring him back."

Of course, that sort of begs the question: What exactly is Tortorella's definition of leash, if not a mechanism by which to pull back a dog that's gone too far? Ah, semantics, semantics.

Alas, the coach also said prior to Wednesday night's home game against the Stars that it wouldn't be Avery vs. the team that made him get out of Dallas on the first thing going a little more than a year ago. Perhaps not, but a four-point performance certainly earned him his Rangers paycheck -- not the one from the Stars every other week -- and proved how effective he is when playing "his game."

Most people will agree that Avery can be an extremely effective player. The problem is that it seems he can turn his game on and off at will. Clearly, despite what Tortorella said, Avery was emotionally invested in his first contest against the team that signed him to a four-year, $15.5 million contract in July 2008 and waived him seven months later for being a monumental misfit and distraction. He brought his "A" game to Madison Square Garden, but the Rangers, at least, are not paying him to show up only when it means something to him.

If it's Tortorella's job to bring Avery back from the beyond the edge, who's job is it to push him to the brink? That responsibility really can't be up to the team that lines up on the other side.

"I've got to stay consistent with it," Avery said after the game. "I can take a lot of good things from tonight, but it doesn't really mean anything unless I come back and I play that way tomorrow night. That's what I have to do."

Have to admit, though, that Avery is nothing if not self-aware. When asked what was different in last night's game, he quipped: "Well, I was getting paid by [both] teams."

Like his game, Avery's one-liners can be hit or miss. Wednesday night, he was all hits.

Alexander Ovechkin added some weight to his sweater this week by donning the C after being named the 14th captain in Washington Capitals history. After Chris Clark was traded to Columbus for rugged Jason Chimera at the end of last month, the Caps took a few days to mull their options. Among the candidates were probably the likeable Brooks Laich, the young but mature Nicklas Backstrom, and veteran strongman Mike Knuble, but in the end, the only choice was Ovechkin, the two-time Hart Trophy-winner and face of the franchise.

I'll be honest: at first, the idea of Ovechkin as captain was slightly unsettling. I thought I would've preferred to see any of the other three I mentioned wear the C, mostly because NHL captaincy is often given to the most quietly composed player in the room, not the one popping wheelies or doing donuts in the parking lot. A quick look around the league shows that there aren't many captains out there who carry themselves like Ovechkin, who has become known for (like it or not) a certain "reckless" abandon. But when you go through the most important qualities in a leader -- respect from teammates, results on the ice, team-first mentality -- those are all things that Ovechkin has demonstrated. In NHL rooms, the captain is essentially a window into the team. So, for the fun-loving, freewheeling Caps, Ovechkin is the perfect fit.

When Team Canada announced its Olympic team last week, some observers may have been slightly surprised when Drew Doughty's name was called. Kings coach Terry Murray, however, was certainly not one of them. And if you saw the Kings mop up the Sharks on Monday night, you're likely not surprised, either. The 20-year-old defenseman picked up four assists and led his team in ice time with over 26 minutes. He's been lights-out for the Kings, and anybody questioning Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman's choice would get an earful from Murray, who can't say enough good things about the kid.

"With a player like that, when you have the skill level that Doughty has, you have to throw out the birth certificate," Murray said before Team Canada's selection was announced. "That can't even enter into the equation because he's at a special level. He's just a special guy. He's at a different level than most kids....

"He's not going to be nervous," Murray continued. "If you look at the World Championships last year, he probably went there as their No. 6 guy, and at the end of that tournament, he's their No. 1. He makes that kind of adjustment; he's that special of a player."

The Nielsen rating for this year's Winter Classic went down to 2.6 from 2.9, and some of that certainly had to do with the Philadelphia market not pulling its weight, as the game played second fiddle -- no, third fiddle to Penn State's bowl game and the...Mummers Parade? Whatever. Anyway, the irony of all ironies, however, is that NBC reportedly preferred the Flyers instead of the league's first choice, the Capitals, because the Philadelphia market would get better ratings and generate more ad revenue. . .

The rink at Fenway is in for its last hurrah Friday night, when Boston University and Boston College, the last two NCAA champs, face off at the rink in the hallowed field. When all is said and done, the ice will have been down for 24 days, and unlike in years past, Fenway has become more than just the venue for the NHL's big event. Hosting everything from community free skates to corporate holiday parties, Fenway has seen a lot of action this winter. Said Red Sox COO Sam Kennedy: "It's like having a second baseball season."

Though he wouldn't comment on how much the Red Sox, Bruins or NHL stood to gain (money-wise) from having the rink up so long and coupling it with activities that can cost as much as $10,000 an hour in rental fees, Kennedy said it was by no means a financial windfall. "The money was not the motivating factor to pull these events off. It is fair to say there is revenue being generated, but there are substantial expenses that go along as well."

Still, nobody puts on events to lose money. Even more than straight-up cash, Fenway and the Sox get free publicity and buzz for three weeks in the dead of winter. That probably adds up to about $10,000 an hour.

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