Throwing the book at Avery

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the twisted world of the animated series South Park, Canadian characters have been known to set their fellow citizens adrift on ice floes as a way of ostracizing them.

Of course, that isn't really a custom in the Great White North, but if it were, my guess is that former Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery would be a likely candidate for such treatment by the National Hockey League.

Earlier this month, Avery was suspended by the NHL for six games, without pay, for crude comments he made to members of the media regarding his ex- girlfriends dating other hockey players. Then, when Avery was nearly done serving the suspension, the Stars decided that they would not allow him to return to the team.

As you may infer from my earlier reference to South Park, I'm not easily offended by coarse language, but I do realize that everyone has their own standard of decency that should be respected.

That being said, it's hard to see how the punishments levied against Avery fit the actual "crime." Avery chose his words carefully and his aim was to shock and offend, but he easily could have come up with worse. He did use a phrase that is by all accounts crude, yet he didn't utter a single obscenity.

It's hard to see how the punishments levied against Sean Avery fit the actual "crime."
Avery's comments came before a game against Calgary because he wanted to take a shot at Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who is currently dating Avery's ex- girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert. I certainly have sympathy for Phaneuf and Cuthbert because nobody deserves hearing such nasty things said about them. It's also easy to feel for parents who were caught in the awkward situation of having to dance around those infamous words when asked by a child what Avery meant.

However, the idea that Avery should be punished to the point of losing his job for his comments strikes me as ridiculous.

The fact of the matter is that Avery, by many accounts, is a disagreeable person who has the ability to infuriate not only opposing players but also his own teammates. It was for those reasons, more so than what was actually said, that the NHL decided to hit Avery with a six-game suspension.

Six games just seems like an awful big penalty for using words to injure. For instance, during the 2007-08 season Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins was the victim of a hit by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones. Bergeron was slammed into the boards, suffered a severe concussion and missed 72 games. Jones, on the other hand, was suspended just two games or four less (and counting) that Avery received for making lewd remarks. Did Avery do six games worth of psychological damage to Phaneuf and Cuthbert?

To be fair, when the league issued Jones his two-game penalty it obviously wasn't known exactly how much time Bergeron would miss, so the NHL was suspending Jones for the hit itself and not the length of the injury that followed. It's not surprising that Bruins fans thought Jones should've received a much longer suspension, while the Flyers faithful felt that their player shouldn't have been suspended at all.

And that's just one example. Every season players are handed less than six- game suspensions for incidents that cause another serious injury, while the league saves its big sanctions for deliberately violent offenses such as Todd Bertuzzi's inexcusable attack on Steve Moore from a few years back.

It's also interesting that the Stars have kicked Avery off the team for good, while the Vancouver Canucks allowed Bertuzzi to remain a part of the franchise for over two years before trading him away.

Then again it's not difficult to see through the Dallas franchise's decision to dismiss Avery. The move had a little bit to do with what Avery said, and great deal to with the fact that they realized the controversial forward was not a good fit for their team.

Avery was in the first year of a four-year, $15.5 million deal that Dallas realized was a mistake weeks before the infamous comments in Calgary. In the early going, rumors floated that Avery was not at all fitting into the Stars locker room and Avery's remarks were simply the last straw from Dallas' point of view.

It's not like the Stars will benefit from getting rid of Avery, because as of this moment they are still on the hook for his entire contract. Dallas could theoretically trade Avery and make that money somebody else's problem, but it's unlikely that another team would make a deal unless the Stars paid a large portion of the ousted player's salary.

Once the money situation is worked out there will likely be a handful of teams interested in Avery's services, although it's hard to imagine a playoff contender willing to take a risk on such a volatile commodity. Avery will most likely wind up in a hockey town that might need a sideshow in order to draw some additional fans to the rink.

Then again, if Avery was an excellent offensive talent there would be no shortage of interest in teams wanting to acquire him, in fact, if that was the case Dallas would almost certainly allowed him to return. Instead, Avery is an energy-line type player with enough offensive ability to play on a second line, but mostly he brings an edgy brand of antagonism to the ice.

In the end, the NHL is doing what it thinks needs to be done by making an example of Avery's behavior and appearing to be a bastion of morality. The Stars are simply trying to make a bad signing go away.

I don't have a problem with either faction saving face, but it would be nice if they could spare us the phony outrage while overreacting to this incident. Avery may be an immature jerk, but even immature jerks have a right to fairness.
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Dan Di Sciullo