Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 12/05/08 at 06:36 PM ET
Q. How did you come to settle on the number of six games, and two, had you spoken to the Stars before you decided on the suspension by the league? I get the feeling that they were going to take action if you had not.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Let me take the second question first. What we have done is reflect the league response. This is what we felt was the appropriate response to what Sean Avery said, and what the Stars choose to do or not do is up to them. And you’ll have to talk to them if you would like their guidance in that regard.
With respect to the six games, as all of you who cover the game know, there is no formula that ever gets you to a particular number in disciplinary cases with precision. You have to do your evaluating based upon the entirety of the circumstances, what you think is correct.
What was guiding me in this case was a number of factors. One, we needed to be clear that this was the type of conduct that we did not view as acceptable and not representative of what our players do.
Two, I wanted it to be clear to the fans that this isn’t something that we tolerate, particularly fans with children who might have to explain to them what this statement was. I was very concerned that this inappropriate comment be something that everybody was clear and parents could tell their children that this is something that athletes should not be doing, and hockey fans could be comfortable that it’s not something we tolerate.
Sean had been warned over the last year that he was getting close to the line too many times. There were probably a couple of times where he may have been over the line, but we couldn’t verify it based on the circumstances. He had a session within the last year with Colin Campbell where he was warned, and he had a session with me during the playoffs where he was warned.
So at the end of the day, I felt we had to punish him and make clear that this was not appropriate. And from a disciplinary standpoint, I felt based on other cases and other situations of inappropriate comments, this was the right number, the right ballpark.
It was also coupled with the fact that we had the hearing; I believe that Sean was remorseful and that he wanted a professional anger management evaluation. And as part of the six?game discipline there’s also the component that says that he needs to get evaluated and that says that he needs to comply with whatever counseling program is determined.
So when we weighed all the factors, I weighed all the factors, this is where I came out. In the final analysis, you have to do when you’re making one of these judgments what you think is right, and that’s what I did here.
Q. In regards to Sean’s comments, was it the nature, the subject matter that he dealt with, the language that he used or the premeditation involved in it; which of those things weighed heavily?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You can’t pick apart the puzzle. It’s the totality of the pieces that give you the picture that you’re dealing with.
But I will say, and I think you’re briefly touching on it, to equate trash?talking on the ice, where we punish for crossing the line, which most people don’t ever get to hear, with something that is publically disseminated, or in a situation where there’s interaction with fans, which can be verified and is a completely different circumstance; please don’t equate the two.
Q. There were reports earlier this year of an incident between Sean and a female fan at a Dallas/Nashville game and again at a Dallas/Boston game. Did either of those take place and were they factors in your decision?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The answer is, I’m aware of those reports, and had we been able ?? if those reports were accurate, and able to be verified, we obviously would have responded to them in an appropriate fashion.
Q. But did you try to verify them? I mean, there are some details other than ?? certainly a woman who claims to have been the target of Avery’s abuse in the Nashville incident as being quoted online as we speak.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: The answer to your question is, had we been able to verify it, we would have taken action. And if you can presume from that, that had we been able, means we weren’t able to, is quite right.
By the way, when you try to verify something like this, you really need independent verification. There are lots of circumstances where you get into a situation where somebody says something, but you need independent verification. Not that you doubt the person, but if you are going to impose discipline, which involves somebody’s livelihood, you’d better be pretty certain that you are dealing with a standard of proof in evidence that you’re comfortable there’s no doubt that it occurred.
Q. What can the Stars do in terms of further discipline, if they chose to, under the terms of the NHL bylaws?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I can’t speak for the Stars, and frankly, from my perspective, I was looking at the League response, and so I really haven’t taken a look at what their options may or may not be. And I don’t know what it is they are either thinking of doing or not thinking of doing. That’s something I suppose at a later point, if you wanted to talk to Bill Daly or one of our lawyers who may have focused on that, you can do it. That’s not something in these circumstances and this time frame that I’ve had to focus on.
Q. Do you worry about the precedent that’s set for suspending someone for something that doesn’t happen on the ice and the complications if somebody says something off-color again in the future?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, I’m not worried about the precedent at all. As I said before, I did what I felt was appropriate and the right thing to do under the circumstances.
Players in this league are held accountable for their conduct both on and off the ice. The standards and circumstances obviously can vary from situation to situation. But when you look at this particular incident based on what transpired and the warnings that had been given, I think this was an appropriate response.
We have had instances where things have been said on the ice and they have crossed the line and they have been punished, and we have had instances where people have been disciplined for what they said off the ice. You’ve got to look at every case on a case-by-case basis.
Q. And I know inside the league and for people who follow the league closely, it’s hard to make a standard for any of these suspensions, whether it’s something Colin does for on-the-ice stuff and things like that; but do you feel like when this suspension is longer than, say, guys who injure other players on the ice, it’s hard to respond to that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You’re talking about two different things. One has nothing to do with the other and that’s why you always in any incident, whether it’s on-ice conduct or off-ice conduct; on-ice words, off-ice words; it’s apples and oranges, and that’s why you have to look at each case based on each circumstance when you make these judgments.
Q. How much were you concerned that night, and are you concerned going forward, with on?ice retribution against Avery for anything he said that day or has said in the past?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, part of what happens when you engage in a disciplinary practice is I think everybody who has any issues or concerns about a particular incident know it has been dealt with and that discipline has been imposed to address what has been done.
My reaction in terms of the immediate suspension was it needed to be addressed immediately. I wasn’t really focused on the fact that there was a game that night. I would have done the same thing in the same time frame if Dallas was off that night.
Q. Going forward, knowing what was said and how personally some people can take it, will there be any kind of warning to the teams before the Calgary/Dallas games or if he goes back, or even Kings/Dallas games or anything like it?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I believe our teams and our players know what is expected of them on the ice, and what conduct will and won’t be tolerated.
Q. Do you have to talk to the counselors if there’s something that’s set up after the six games expire that he needs to prove that he’s in those programs and doing well in those programs?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: We will make sure that he has been evaluated and whatever program may be necessary has been set up and that he’s complying with it.
The disciplinary aspect of this is really the six games. Although, Sean is seeking, and I’m agreeing and requiring, that he be evaluated, and then do whatever the evaluation leads to, and that’s a standard that he will be held to.
But if, in fact, he’s not playing for a longer period of time, because the counselors have determined that that is the appropriate treatment for him, that isn’t the matter of discipline; it’s a matter of getting help and doing the prescribed treatment the right way.
Q. Secondly, how hard is it to draw the line between where the arena battle is: Is it the glass? Did the fans hear what’s being said in there or what if they are talking to fans? Is this something that’s going to open up and more discussion will take place? A lot of people are saying what a bigger problem is, is him talking to fans or referees that are in the arena.
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: To the extent that you say or hear things that are inappropriate that can be verified, independently, you can respond to those.
We are always mindful that in the heat of the game and the passion of the game that there may be gamesmanship going on, so you can’t always just rely on the participants to an incident to give you an independent evaluation. If the referees hear something on the ice that they think crosses the line, they will issue a penalty and we will get a report, and if it requires additional discipline, we won’t hesitate to impose it.
If a player is having interaction with a fan and a security rep or somebody independently whose word we can rely on for appropriate verification, can confirm it, then we will act.
And so the issue isn’t always so much where to draw a line, because when the line gets crossed, you generally know it. It’s making sure that you can verify it to your satisfaction.
Q. What participation did the NHLPA have in terms of have they agreed to, this or did they just witness the hearing?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, there were two participants from the Players Association were Ian Penny, the general counsel, and Glenn Healy, who is the director of player affairs. They were both there, and I think the hearing could be characterized as professional, straightforward, and appropriately cordial.
I rendered my decision and I believe, and you can talk to the Players Association, because I don’t want to speak for them, that they were very comfortable with both the process and the ultimate determination.
Q. Avery has had a series of incidents which the League has addressed; in retrospect, 20/20 hindsight, don’t you think he should have been suspended for the episode with Brodeur?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You mean in terms of waving the stick in his face? I don’t think waving the stick in his face was a suspendable offense. The officials at the time gave a warning that they would call an unsportsmanlike conduct, and it stopped.
So you know, you try not to overreact when you impose supplemental discipline. You try to do what you think is right, and even judicious, under the circumstances.
I suppose hindsight has 20/20 vision, but it goes to the points that I was making before. With respect to the conduct, some of which has been raised on this call, if you can’t verify it, it’s pretty difficult to punish. When you’re depriving somebody for any period of time of their livelihood, you want to make sure that you’re on solid footing when you do it.
Q. Had it been a stand?alone incident, no baggage from the past and it was the first time you had heard from Sean Avery and he dropped that bomb in Calgary, would this have warranted the same kind of suspension?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I think discipline would have been imposed. I don’t have any doubt about that; how it would have been structured is something that would just require me to speculate.
But what was said in this case is not something that we intend to condone and we respond to. Whether it would have been lesser games or whether or not we would have been talking about an evaluation or anger management, I can’t tell you, because those are not the circumstances I had to digest and deal with.
Q. But clearly, the history was a part of this?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Sean was warned. He was warned by Colie in a direct personal meeting. He was warned by me in a direct personal meeting. And nevertheless, he crossed the line. Obviously that’s a factor, as is the fact that he was genuinely in my view remorseful when he was in here.
So, again, you have to look at the totality of the circumstances when you make the judgment. The thing that I do want to make clear is that anybody saying what he said under those circumstances can expect to be disciplined.
Q. And if he does not accept going into counseling, and I know he very much wants to; but had he not, had he somehow resisted that, then what happens then?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Then he’ll be dealing with me again in terms of how this suspension and discipline works.
I think, to speculate down that road would be both inaccurate and unfair because based on my own independent verification last night, he is taking the steps to do the right thing in that regard.
Q. Moving forward, will you hold Sean to a higher standard now because of this incident?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, Sean is who he is. His history is his history. Our system of progressive discipline always holds repeat offenders to a higher standard.
I think to be a little less cryptic and a little more direct, and maybe you didn’t ask me this, but I don’t think Sean has any doubt based on our conversation yesterday that it would not be a good idea to be back with me again having this type of conversation.
Q. And just as a matter of getting details down, how quickly were his comments brought to your attention on Tuesday; was it fairly swiftly?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: I believe that the audio and videotapes were running on a variety of Web sites within a matter of minutes.
And while I don’t generally sit glued to my computer and I do other things in the course of the day, there is a terminal, two terminals, that are on on my desk on a regular basis. And I don’t remember how I was told or who told me first. I think perhaps Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly came in and said, “You’d better punch this up. You’re not going to like it.”
So in this amazing digital age, as we all know, things can become relatively instantaneous.
Q. Just wondering, can we expect NHL from this point forward is going to act as sort of the moral compass and arbiter when it comes to players, and what they say in terms of anything that may or may not be offensive?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, I’m curious about the question when you say “from this point forward.” Nothing has changed. The standards are what they are and we will make the judgments and the calls we need to when we need to, and that’s always been the case.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the anger management aspect of this whole thing, and I know that one of the requirements is that he be assessed and follow any sort of treatment that is demanded of him, but I’m just wondering, I don’t believe Todd Bertuzzi was ever required to do anything like this; Steve Downie; Chris Pronger has been suspended eight times for various acts on ice that have been ?? you could say, encompass anger management, and to my knowledge, none of these guys have ever had to undergo any anger management. Why would a guy have to undergo anger management for something he said, and other players who have done heinous thing on the ice not be required to do that?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: It’s a fascinating question, although all of the instances you refer to have absolutely nothing to do with the circumstances that we have before us with Sean Avery, who apparently believes, as do I, that there is a type of conduct that is repetitive, inappropriate, perhaps anti?social.
Q. What’s that got to do with anger management, though? What does repetitive, anti-social, and whatever else you said have to do with anger management? Does a guy who cross?checks another player in the face or steps on his leg or drives his head into the boards not have anger management issues, as well?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Well, obviously I’m trying to answer the question, and not engage in a debate for everybody’s benefit.
The point that I’m making is when you have repetitive conduct over a point in time and you’re looking at inappropriate responses under the circumstances; the fact that somebody may play more aggressively on the ice; we are not talking about player play and player conduct on the ice. We are talking about interaction with people, fans, the media, other players, that is completely out of the norm. We have things that happened on the ice that we would prefer not happen on the ice, but sometimes in playing the game of hockey, you see it, and we discipline those appropriately.
But I think it’s not talking about the same thing to compare player playing conduct with the type of conduct that we have been seeing here.
You may disagree with me in that assessment, but that’s my opinion, and since neither of us are psychiatrists or psychoanalysts, we are going to leave it to the professionals to evaluate.
Q. I agree with you when you say that they are not the same thing. I don’t dispute that at all. But does a player who cross?checks another player in the face or skates out from behind and sucker punches them in the head and breaks his neck, is that not ?? are there no anger management issues involved there? Are you saying today Bertuzzi has no anger management issues and Chris has no anger management issues?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: You know what, I’ll let you do some homework. There actually has been an incident where we suspended somebody and he has been evaluated for AM Anger Management. I’m not choosing to pick on ?? it wasn’t Bertuzzi or Pronger. But there has been a player who as a repeat offender in terms of what he did on the ice, and then was evaluated for anger management.
So it is not unprecedented when we think it’s warranted to do it. And in those cases, Colie, who is in the first instance the one responsible for supplemental discipline did not think it was necessary.
Q. I don’t want to bring up the apples-and-oranges thing, but can you understand why some people would wonder if the suspension, and wonder why this would be six games and somebody who drives someone into the boards would get one, two, maybe three games?
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: People who were perhaps less familiar with the game than you are, Pat, and most of the people on this call would try to equate the apples and the oranges, and you can’t. So you’re talking about completely different circumstances, and even when you’re dealing with on?ice conduct, every incident has to be evaluated on its own.
Every disciplinary situation is different. You have to look at the context. You have to look at how it arose. You have to look at whether or not you’re dealing with somebody who has had a proclivity for the same type of conduct over and over and over again.
You know, in this case, we needed to make clear to our fans that this is not what our game is about; that our players don’t do these types of things; that, you know, if you’re a parent as I said before trying to explain this to a child that it’s easier to say it’s unacceptable when you know the League is being clear that it’s unacceptable.
But again, to try and compare something that happens on the ice in the course of a game, with something where you’re walking up to the media or engaging in fan interaction or doing it on a basis that everybody would acknowledge as inappropriate; you really cannot compare the two.
Q. If it’s inappropriate contact, it just depends on ?? if it’s inappropriate conduct, it just depends on where it happens. It would seem that will has to be some relation. Guy back to the old school yard, the thing, you know, hits from behind, and ??
COMMISSIONER BETTMAN: Hits from behind to punish ?? by the way, you said the two absolutely correct words that I agree with, “It depends.” And in all of these situations, it depends on the circumstance.
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