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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Why is Avery mum all of a sudden? Plus: Ducks, Avs stumbling out of gate


I knew it was a long shot, but I e-mailed the Dallas Stars asking whether Sean Avery would be interested in speaking with ESPN.com ahead of his big games next week in the New York area -- Monday at the Rangers against his former team and Wednesday at New Jersey against Martin Brodeur.

Shockingly enough, I got a big "no" from the Stars.

Avery-Brodeur
Sean Avery's infamous stick-waving drew instant reaction from the NHL, which amended a rule as a result, making it an "unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty" if a player uses his stick in a similar matter in front of a goalie.

"Sorry, but Mr. Avery is not doing any media right now," Stars PR man Rob Scichili said in an e-mail. "He is not doing one-on-one/set-up interviews at all. He made that crystal clear to us yesterday."

Now, let me quickly point out that the Stars PR staff is one of the best in the NHL and I've never, ever, had an issue getting a player on the phone through them. This is all on Avery, who picks his spots when it comes to the print media. It's the cameras he finds hard to resist.

Should be an interesting reception at Madison Square Garden, where he was a fan favorite. But what intrigues me more is the game across the Hudson River two nights later. The last time we saw Avery and Brodeur on the same ice, the Devils goalie refused to shake his hand after a first-round playoff loss that was marked by Avery's crazy antics in Brodeur's crease. It famously prompted Avery to call Brodeur a "fatso" on an MSG interview (TV ... figures).

Just a hunch, but I don't think Brodeur will take any more of that from Avery. I'll be watching next Wednesday.

Not so Ducky
The Anaheim Ducks are off to a horrible 0-4-0 start this season despite having all of their parts in place. Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne aren't taking half the season off. There's no short summer or Cup hangover. So, there should be no excuses.

And yet, they sit dead last in the NHL one week into the season.

"My reaction is real simple, right now we're horse----," Ducks GM Brian Burke told ESPN.com before Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to Edmonton. "But I'm not quitting on this group. This is a group that's averaged 103 points the last three years. And they've given our team a lot of good hockey. So, I'm not panicking. I believe in these guys and I think we'll get this thing back on the rails.

"And if we don't, we'll look at Plan B. But, right now, I believe in these guys and I'm going to sit tight."

I'll give this a month. If the Ducks aren't playing well by then, Burke will act. That's his track record.

Hello! My name is Fabian!
You might remember all the hype that surrounded Swedish forward Fabian Brunnstrom last season when a dozen NHL teams competed to sign the unrestricted free agent. I guess I'm as guilty as anyone for helping create and maintain that hype by mentioning him a few times during our Hot Stove segment on "Hockey Night in Canada." I won't deny that. (I believe Ken Campbell of The Hockey News was the first North American hockey writer to do a piece on him early last season).

So, when he was scratched by the Stars for their two opening games, you kind of wondered, what gives?

"The reason we did that is that we felt toward the end of preseason that he was squeezing the stick a little bit and pressing," Stars co-GM Les Jackson told me after Wednesday night's 6-4 win over Nashville. "We wanted him to watch the first couple of games from up top and get a sense of the NHL game from that vantage point."

Well, the early-season coaching award goes to Dave Tippett. Brunnstrom got into the lineup Wednesday night, playing on a line with Brad Richards and Sean Avery, and promptly scored a hat trick in his first NHL game. Three goals on five shots. (Watch: Highlights)

"What a thrill for a kid, first game in the NHL to do that," said Jackson. "You couldn't ask for a better start to your NHL career than that. He was also good all over the ice and was strong on the puck. I think that erased many doubts some people might have had."

If you haven't already, pick him up in your fantasy pool!

Woes in net for Colorado
Few teams provided more debate on the message boards in preseason than the Colorado Avalanche.

The reasoning behind the negativity wasn't terribly complicated. Despite the presence of some top-notch offensive talent, led by Paul Stastny, Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth, and a solid blue line anchored by Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles, many were deeply concerned with the guy wearing the mask. Peter Budaj has been given a second chance to be the No. 1 guy this season (he lost the job to Jose Theodore in 2007-08), and so far -- gulp -- the results are ominous.

Now, it's only three games into the season, so it's way too early to write Budaj off. But let's take a look at what we've got so far: three starts, three regulation losses, 13 goals against.

"His team scored 10 goals in those three games," an NHL scout, who requested anonymity, told ESPN.com. "Three one-goal losses in regulation. That's a killer. I mean, you score four on the road [in Calgary on Tuesday night], you should be in position to at least get a point."

Backup Andrew Raycroft is slated to get his first start tonight when Philadelphia visits. That had been planned ahead of time by coach Tony Granato. But if Budaj continues to falter, Raycroft will probably get a shot before the Avs think about a trade.

"They went out and signed Raycroft, so I would think that's their first option," said the scout. "Let's face it, he's got to prove he can be consistent, too. He's had some great work in the NHL, but he's also had some that wasn't good enough."

If neither Budaj nor Raycroft settle the goaltending question by the end of the month, the scout says Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin (on the trade block) should be considered by the Avs.

"I would think so," he said. "And Chicago would have to take back something back in return to make the numbers work."