People who follow the New York Rangers-Philadelphia Flyers’ rivalry should be accustomed to games getting very contentious. That being said, tonight’s preseason match featured more than just bad blood.
There were two incidents that will leave many shaking their heads, but the headline-grabber involved Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is being accused of making some off-color remarks to Sean Avery less than a week after he dealt with a disgusting display of racism from at least one fan in London, Ontario. Simmonds didn’t really deny making the comments, although he didn’t confirm them either.
Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert pointed to a video that indicates that Simmonds made a homophobic comment to Avery. Various sources report that Avery confirmed those rumors, while Simmonds vaguely said that “language was exchanged.” Simmonds said he didn’t recall the specific words he said, a response that left many rolling their eyes.
Here are some quotes from both sides. (For a full video of Simmonds’ comments, click here.)
“To be here now having to answer the questions about what he did is disappointing for me. I’m disappointed for him,” Avery said.
“Honestly, we were going back and forth for a while there,” Simmonds said. “I don’t recall everything that I did say to him but he said to me some things I didn’t like and maybe I said some things that he didn’t like. I can’t recall every single word I said.”
The incident gains relevance because it was Simmonds and Avery
It’s naive to assume that these types of comments are uncommon in sports, as sad as that might be. This case is more noteworthy because of the two parties involved, though. Some might lose some respect for Simmonds after tonight, especially after what happened last week. (That seems unfair since Simmonds didn’t make a big deal about the awful banana-throwing incident, but that won’t change the way some feel about this situation.)
Avery is also a notable recipient of that comment for two reasons.
1. Avery has been outspoken regarding the topic of gay rights, although it’s hard to imagine that Simmonds allegedly made those remarks for that reason.
2. On the flip side of the coin, Avery has been accused of troublesome comments of his own in the past. Georges Laraque claimed that Avery called him a “monkey,” although the Rangers pest denied that accusation.
Again, these kinds of comments might be commonplace in trash-talking, but that doesn’t make the situation acceptable. The bottom line is that both scenarios are extremely disappointing.
There’s some talk regarding whether or not NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan should take action. Some fans might insist that the league shouldn’t intervene in trash-talking situations, but Avery’s six-game suspension in 2008 is just one example of the NHL sidelining a player for a remark or gesture rather than an ugly hit. It’s tough to speculate about what might happen here – if anything at all – but there is some precedent to players being suspended for words or gestures rather than actions.
A more straightforward issue
Speaking of handing out suspensions, the Rangers-Flyers game might provide Shanahan with something a little less nebulous to deal with. As you can see from this video, Tom Sestito caught Andre Deveaux with a check from behind. In a twist that might seem fitting to some and stomach-churning to others, Sestito essentially replaced Jody Shelley, a depth player who received a hefty suspension for a check from behind. Sestito seemed worried about a possible similar punishment, while Rangers head coach John Tortorella said that the hit was even worse than the one Shelley delivered.
Jagr shines in an ugly game
The game was flat-out ugly through the first two periods, with the Rangers tallying 38 PIM and the Flyers ending up with 39. That’s not to say that there weren’t moments of beauty, though, as Jaromir Jagr made his home preseason debut a tantalizing one by scoring two goals and one assist in a 5-3 win.
Chances are, that nice output will be forgotten long before the Simmonds-Avery incident, though.