For years, critics of hockey have loved to tweak fans by asking a very simple question: Who's the one hockey player than an average American can name? For somewhere North of 25 years now, the answer has always been Wayne Gretzky.
And, as the game's critics have enjoyed pointing out, that's not only a tribute to Gretzky's greatness, but also to the NHL's subsequent failure to capture the imagination of more than a small but dedicated slice of American sports fandom.
But here's another question: Is the game really better off if the answer to the first question becomes Sean Avery?
It's not an idle threat. Thanks to a combination of Avery's recent innovation in screening the goalie that he displayed during the first round playoff series between his New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, and his assiduous courting of attention at the highest level of New York's fashion world -- the recent announcement of Avery's plan to spend part of the Summer as an intern at Vogue is just the latest in a string of stories positioning him as a hip and sophisticated Manhattanite -- Avery's profile has been elevated above all others, at least when it comes to certain circles on the outside looking in.
As for the league, it can be argued that, like everyone else, they'd prefer to have their cake and eat it too. Case in point, a report this morning from Larry Brooks that while the league was chastising Avery for flipping the bird to a New York camera crew with one hand, it was working with the NHLPA to create a t-shirt to help cash in on his new found fame with the other.
Then again, I'm sure that some of the folks working at NHL HQ would probably like to remind me that you have to "dance with the one who brung you," and these days it isn't Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin who are drawing interest from publications like The New Yorker and The Huffington Post. And when you look at it that way, the choice may be pumping Avery, or just nothing at all.