NEW YORK – Sean Avery’s glasses had clear frames, and his expression revealed a smile instead of the concerned scowl he sported the last time he showed up at NHL headquarters.
So much has changed for hockey’s biggest pest in the five months since he was called to New York to face punishment that threatened his playing career.
Avery was back at the NHL’s U.S. epicentre this week, but instead of paying a visit to commissioner Gary Bettman and disciplinarian Colin Campbell, the New York Rangers forward had a pleasant sitdown for a radio interview at the league’s flagship store located next to NHL headquarters.
Avery has criticized the NHL’s marketing tactics in the past, and has suggested the league focus on villain-like players as well as well-known stars. He has softened his stance, and even though he was right outside headquarters it wasn’t because the league decided to focus a campaign on him.
“All of that stuff is out of my hands at this point,” Avery said after his radio appearance. “If I come in and do an interview, I represent the Rangers and represent New York. I’m not concerned about who is doing their job or who isn’t doing their job. I did enough worrying about that and it didn’t really get me anywhere. They can go in whatever direction they feel like.”
A hearing in December landed him a six-game suspension from the league after he made crude comments regarding players dating his former girlfriends. His transgressions prompted the Dallas Stars to waive Avery, paving the way for him to return to the Rangers in March after a minor league stint.
Avery sported dark shades and hurriedly moved to and from a waiting car without stopping to speak to reporters back then. His mood and appearance this time were markedly brighter as he moves deeper into an off-season he guaranteed would be fun.
The Rangers’ season ended following a short playoff stay. Despite taking a 3-1 series lead over the Washington Capitals, New York couldn’t close the deal and was knocked out with a 2-1 loss in Game 7.
“Usually for a couple of days you’re bummed out about it and you play over all the games in your head three or four times, but I went away and it’s kind of out of my system,” Avery said. “I’m more excited about next year than dwelling on last year.”
Avery took a weeklong vacation to Jamaica and then returned to New York, the place he called the best city in the world, and opened a downtown bar and restaurant this weekend called Warren 77.
New Rangers coach John Tortorella had been a big critic of Avery’s earlier in the season while working as a television commentator. But since Tortorella took over in February for the fired Tom Renney, the two have hit it off.
“One of the most important things that has happened to me in my career so far, and I’m extremely grateful, is Tortorella,” Avery told Ron Duguay and Ken Daneyko on the former players’ SIRIUS XM radio talk show. “It was funny, because he was on me right from the get-go, checking in on me. Torts would check in and just make sure I’m there. That’s what makes a good coach.”
And even a benching for Game 5 by Tortorella, after Avery took a series of potentially costly undisciplined penalties, didn’t cause a rift. Quite the contrary.
“I knew after that game, if he didn’t scratch me, it would be a mistake for our team, not this year but next year and the year after that,” Avery said. “Whatever he’s instilling now is something that had to be done. It was in the middle of the playoffs and I put myself and the team in jeopardy, but he had to do it.”
Avery admittedly played timidly upon his return for Game 6, but was back at his aggressive, agitating best for Game 7.
“No way would I ever go into a game being gun-shy again,” Avery said. “The worst thing you can ever do as a player is to question yourself, and I did.”
He, along with all of the Rangers, have been sternly told by Tortorella to be in good condition before they report for what will be an intense training camp in September.
Avery is on board, and is excited about next season. The team had organizational meetings this week in California, and changes are sure to be coming. A lack of offence hurt in the playoffs, and that will be addressed in the off-season.
Because of his shortcomings in Dallas, Avery is back in the Rangers’ plans. He is 29 and under contract for three more seasons.
“I’m excited about it,” Avery said. “All of the stuff that happened this year is just going to help me to become a better player. With Torts thrown into the equation and (general manager) Glen Sather, these guys are all here to help me and it feels good to have that support system and have an organization behind you.
“That’s what makes being a Ranger so special. Moving forward, that is going to be emphasized so much more.”