Avery might listen to Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

If Cliff Fletcher truly wants to make the Maple Leafs a team opponents hate to play, he could sign the dean of despised players, Sean Avery.

According a source, the National Hockey League's reigning shock jock has changed his mind on playing in his native Canada, and his GTA home in particular, after July 1. Last year, the Pickering-born centre dumped on Toronto saying: "I don't enjoy hockey-obsessed Canadians. The (US-Canadian dollar) exchange is not very good right now. And it's going to cost me a lot of money in tickets for people I don't even like."

But money is the new motivation, with the unrestricted free agent and the Rangers as much as $1 million US apart in talks during the past season and now near an impasse. Avery had made $1.9 million and though he loves the Big Apple limelight, he currently is an intern at Vogue magazine and likely will make New York his permanent residence, the source said he'd be willing to take his on-ice act here, if it meant a big pay day.

He can score (30 to 50 points the past four seasons), and he gets in your kitchen like no other. Just ask Martin Brodeur, Jason Blake or any French Canadian player who wears a visor. In a 2007 poll of 283 NHLers, 66.4% called him the most hated player.

The Leafs have lacked in the pest factor the past two seasons, having lost their best agitators, Tie Domi, Wade Belak and Darcy Tucker.

Fletcher is not commenting on specific free agents until Tuesday, but repeated yesterday that a rebuilding year doesn't mean icing a meek team. The Leafs already have signed veteran Jamal Mayers from the St. Louis Blues and went big in the draft with 6-foot-2 defenceman Luke Schenn.

"Absolutely we want to add someone else," Fletcher said. "We're trying to give our team more bite, but so are 29 other clubs after July 1."

Avery is 28, which fits the free agent age bracket Fletcher advertised for early this week and yesterday's confirmation that the league salary cap is going up to $56.7 million US gives all teams more flexibility.

Avery has had his issues with the Leafs, topped by last year's on-ice gutter-language debate at the ACC with Blake and Tucker resulting in fines for New York and Toronto. But if Tucker and Mike Peca could forgive and forget their four-year feud, couldn't Avery and Blake co-exist here?

Extra money to sign Avery depends on whether the Leafs re-sign Mats Sundin, who seems set to take the Leafs right to Fletcher's weekend deadline before choosing to retire, stay here, go to the Montreal Canadiens or become a UFA on Tuesday when the Rangers are expected to lead a charge of teams.

"The Leafs are still an alternative," Sundin told Swedish media at a golf tournament in that country on Tuesday.

But yesterday in an e-mail to Sun Media, Sundin's agent J.P. Barry said his client still was undecided.

"He knows it could impact his opportunities if he waits too long," Barry said, "but he needs to be 100% certain before he will go ahead and look at all the options."


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