by PuckStopsHere on 12/03/08 at 02:39 PM ET
I was away from anywhere that I could easily gather hockey news for a while yesterday. When I came online I saw a TSN story titled NHL Suspends Avery Indefinitely for Comments, Pending Hearing. The story is similar to this one although since TSN updates stories over time, it is now longer than the story I first read. My first thought was that the NHL is not usually in the business of suspending players for comments, so whatever he said must be awful. Not only was he suspended, it was an indefinite suspension, so I assumed there must be some profanity laden tirade. When I found out what he actually said, I was disappointed. All he said is:
I am really happy to be back in Calgary. I love Canada. I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about. Enjoy the game tonight.
It was an off-color comment referring to the fact that Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames (who he was to play that night) is dating Elisha Cuthbert, who is an ex-girlfriend of Avery. Jarrett Stoll of the Los Angeles Kings is dating another Avery ex actress Rachel Hunter. It’s not a tasteful comment, but it’s not worthy of suspension.
Sean Avery is the best player in the NHL at agitating his opponents. He has the ability to say and do things that get his opponents to stop concentrating on the game and start concentrating on hurting him. That is a major victory for Avery and his team, because presumably they are trying to win the game and will gain an advantage to their opponent’s loss of focus. In the process of doing this, Avery has made enemies with much of the media and with many hockey fans. He might be the least popular player in the NHL. However, his skill at agitating opponents is a valuable one. It earned him a four year $15.5 million contract from the Dallas Stars as a free agent this summer.
I support the idea of trash talk. I think it is a useful way for players to agitate opponents. Avery said something that would likely upset one of the best players on the Calgary Flames (Dion Phaneuf) who he was about to play and he managed to do it by saying something that was clean enough for national TV. That is an accomplishment. He had to hit Phaneuf with something personal to do this. It seemed to me like a rather minor incident. It was something that might be played in the broadcast of the Dallas at Calgary game that night and soon be forgotten (it is possible some larger incident may come during the game which would keep it in the news - but most likely it would be soon forgotten).
The NHL had other plans. They suspended Avery for his comments. A large number of fans applauded - many on the logic that they hat Sean Avery and suspending him for any reason is a good thing. The problem is this reason for his suspension is a weak one. It’s not the worst off ice thing that Avery has done. He has given a camera man in New York the middle finger and had off-color verbal comments about Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake.
Avery was suspended because he is Sean Avery. Had another player been in his position, there would likely have been no suspension. The league is looking to suspend Sean Avery. If this becomes a precedent for further suspensions for pre-game trash talk, that will lead to more suspensions for relatively minor offences. If there are no further suspensions for pre-game comments, then it shows that Avery is being unfairly treated as he is being punished when others in the same situation would not be.
The NHL got some attention that it craves with this suspension. Here is coverage of the story in the Huffington Post. This is an example of a source that has no history of covering the NHL giving it coverage due to the Avery suspension. Had he played and had a fight with Dion Phaneuf in an otherwise run-of-the-mill regular season game, there would have been no such coverage.
Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks said that had the NHL not suspended Avery, the Stars would have. This seems like a big over-reaction to an attempt to trash talk an opponent. It seems that Dallas is having second thoughts about signing Avery to a large contract this summer. When you are last place in your conference (as the Dallas Stars are) you often re-think things. On a winning team, Avery might be a valuable player, but when the team is losing it is easy to blame the unconventional free spirit. The Dallas Stars will not have Avery accompany them to Edmonton for their next game. Sean Avery’s relationship with the Dallas Stars is in jeopardy. They may act to get rid of him - and possibly weaken their team in the process.
Sean Avery is a controversial NHL player. He chooses this style because it allows him to gain an advantage by agitating opponents. That is a strength of his game. The problem is that it leaves many people hating him. It makes Avery a target for disciplinary action, which in this case would likely not have occurred had it been any other player who did the same thing. The NHL gains with its fans who do not like Sean Avery and are happy to see him suspended for any reason and it gains with those who rarely notice the NHL who are hearing about a story when they normally would never notice the league. I think this suspension is the wrong move by the league.
The most forgotten (and should be most important) part of this story is that Dallas defeated Calgary 3-1 and Marty Turco played well, which is a rare occurence for him this season.
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