An impending visit by Sean Avery with whatever NHL team employs him at the moment is always good for a media yakfest.
Every reporter who hit the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room after their practice on Wednesday wanted to ask the Leafs and in particular defenceman Mike Komisarek, who took a few Avery chops to the back of his legs and ankle during a game against the New York Rangers last Friday that were considered inadequately punished, about the chance of fireworks at the Air Canada Centre when the teams meet again Thursday night. There is also the chance of additional fireworks because Leaf forward Colby Armstrong knocked Ranger star Marian Gaborik out for a few weeks with a separated shoulder in the same game.
However, the replies were all of the "we don't worry about one particular player" variety, so the discussion turned to trash talking, a subject that is also never far away when Avery is involved. The trouble is, despite the fact he has been the flashpoint of a lot of yapping over the years, Avery is not very good at it, as his witless comments about Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf a couple of years ago proved.
Then again, there are very few NHL players who are gifted at the art of the verbal riposte. Look at the example of New York Islanders defenceman James Wisniewski. He was suspended for two games earlier this month because the best insult he could manage on Avery was an obscene gesture.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who claims he was never much of a trash-talker in his playing days but admitted to supplying teammates with material, lamented that it is a lost art. Political correctness in society in general means "the things you used to say, you can't say anymore. It's as simple as that," Wilson said.
His players, on the other hand, said there are limits on what can be said on the ice but trash talking is still alive in today's NHL. A player's race, for example, is an obvious taboo and so is family, particularly wives and girlfriends, although there is much evidence the latter restriction is not especially respected.
Armstrong is considered to have one of the league's sharper verbal needles, although he insisted he never gets personal. "I'm not that smart," he said.
Cal Clutterbuck, 22, is only in his third NHL season but the Minnesota Wild forward has already earned a reputation as an all-star trash-talker. But he skirts the bounds of good taste, too, as evidenced by his first encounter with Todd Bertuzzi, who became infamous after his attack from behind ended Steve Moore's career.
"First game I played him, he said he's going to kill me," Clutterbuck told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "I said, 'I don't doubt it.' Then, I turned to the linesman and said, 'Did you hear him?' You know, just in case."
On another occasion, Clutterbuck ran into former Leaf Darcy Tucker, who has heard more than his share of taunts because he is married to ex-player Shayne Corson's sister. Clutterbuck managed to resist bringing up the family connection.
Clutterbuck said to Tucker, "don't talk to me until you brush your teeth, your breath is awful." On another occasion, Clutterbuck told the Islanders' Kyle Okposo, "Shave your neck. If you can't grow hair on the rest of your face, why try at all?"
The names of Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Roy usually come up when great trash talkers from the previous generation of trash-talkers are discussed. Among coaches back in the day, Bob McCammon is usually the first name mentioned.
Roenick, who got in more than his share of zingers, is remembered just as much for being the butt of a great line from Roy. The exchange was started by Roy during a 1996 playoff series between his Colorado Avalanche and Roenick and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Roenick was tripped on a breakaway and Roy said later it didn't matter because he would have stopped him anyway. Roenick shot back that "I'd like to know where Patrick was in Game 3, probably trying to get his jock out of the rafters when I scored on him [then]" To which Roy replied, "I cannot hear what Jeremy is saying because I've got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears."
Even Roenick later admitted it was "one of the classics," although he sided with Wilson when it comes to trash-talking by today's players.
"You don't get that anymore, unfortunately," Roenick told the Camden (N.J.) Courier-Post. "All these guys know if you say something it's going to be in the paper, the coach is going to highlight it and put it on the board.
"You ask guys how they feel about tonight and they say, 'I don't know.' Okay, thanks for asking. You never hear, 'We're going to kick their [butts]tonight,' or 'That guy sucks.' No more fun stuff."