It should be an interesting encounter Tuesday in Calgary when the Flames host the Dallas Stars. It will be the first meeting between the two teams since Stars' forward Sean Avery singled out Flames' captain Jarome Iginla for being "boring."
In one of his infrequent media sessions, Avery slammed the NHL for not properly marketing the game and its stars. In an interview with ESPN, Avery stated:
"Our commissioner hasn't realized that he needs to probably do a better job of marketing the game and certainly some of the players in it. Nobody cares about Jarome Iginla and guys like that. They're just not exciting enough. They don't bring enough to the game."
At Flames practice Monday, Iginla shrugged off the slight.
"He says a lot of things," Iginla told TSN. "It's not the first time he's said something publicly or whatever. He's always talking on the ice, that's what he does. He says a lot off the ice, and that's fine. That's his way. From our point of view, it's not even about getting even or anything, it's just about playing and getting better and winning. We haven't even talked about it for weeks."
Iginla is enjoying another typically excellent season, leading the Flames in goals, assists and points while his team continues to battle the surprising Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild for the Northwest Division lead.
Meanwhile Avery leads the NHL in penalty minutes; however the Stars have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season as they sit dead last in the Western Conference. Heading into Tuesday's game, Dallas has won only three of its last 10 games. In addition Avery was called out by teammate Mike Modano for his selfish play and embarrassing antics after a loss to the Bruins in early November.
"Tonight, it was idiotic and stupid," Modano told reporters after Avery and teammate Steve Ott argued with referees and fans. "It was one of the most embarrassing things I've seen. If that's what we're going for, then they need to find me an office job."
"It was dumb penalties, dumb situations, that's kind of been the trend all season," Modano said. "There's no mental toughness. We're allowing the refs to get involved in the game with and spending more energy on them than the details of winning the game."
Avery, who signed a four-year, $15.5 million contract with the Stars prior to the season, is considered the top pest in the league and was chosen as the NHL's Most Hated Player by the Hockey News. He has clashed with opponents, teammates, fans and the media since he broke into the league with the Detroit Red Wings in 2001.
Mike Cammalleri, who played with Avery on the Los Angeles Kings, believes that the troublemaking forward's outlandish statements are great for promoting the game, but that he's really more concerned with getting a result than getting even.
"I'm sure he's going to get here in front of you guys in the Canadian media and that's good," Cammalleri told reporters following practice Monday. "He enjoys that and you guys enjoy that, but for us it's two points we need to get."
To add another twist, Avery was romantically involved with Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert earlier in his career. Cuthbert is currently dating Iginla's teammate, All-Star defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was not in the mood to discuss his personal life, preferring to keep his focus on the Stars.
"We've played against him a lot, and we know the way that he plays," Phaneuf told reporters. "That's the style of player that he is. He's an emotional guy and you know that he's going to be talking to you, but with saying that, our focus right now is on winning a hockey game against the Dallas Stars. That's the bottom line."
While Avery may be controversial, he remains one of the few players in the NHL willing to speak his mind both on and off the ice.
"As far as his verbal ammunition, that will be interesting," said Cammalleri. "If you see me laughing out there, it's sometimes entertaining."