Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sean Avery Is A Stain On The Compression Shorts Of The NHL

I don't really need to introduce the topic, because you've already been thinking about it for the past 24 hours. So let's just skip all the chit-chat and get down to business.

Sean Avery's indefinite suspension is absolutely, unequivocally the correct judgment by Gary Bettman.

Yeah, I said it. Bettman got one right. And you know what? I will still respect myself in the morning.

There's been an opinion-flood of Biblical proportions in the blogosphere as everyone dogpiles onto this topic. So I'm just going to go through and cherry-pick a few arguments that I ain't buyin', and then explain my stance at the bottom of the post. If you don't care what others have to say on the topic, because I am your sole and unquestioned authority on world affairs, feel free to skip to the bottom now.

Still with me? Ok, let's get started.

Hockey guru PuckDaddy sez:
In the end, suspending Avery proves Avery correct that this League is disinterested in creating a compelling product to which fans want to pay attention.

Which "fans" are we talking about? Is a 6-year-old Stars fan going to become more engaged, or less, with his team based on this incident? To be certain, the Sportscenter/American-Mainstream-Media crowd will suddenly become more interested in our little niche sport if there are a bunch of smack-talking sideshows involved. The Calgary/Dallas game will surely have a larger contingent of shitfaced meatheads cheering for blood.

But frankly I think the NHL can do a little better than selling that type of product.

The Forechecker chips in:
If Avery gets more than a single game suspension out of this, the NHLPA should call the league out on the carpet for prioritizing PR above player safety.

Undoubtedly so, and this should be a major talking point in the disciplinary reform that the league needs so badly. Nevertheless, as far as we know at this time Avery will get only a single game suspension. "Indefinitely" in this case translates to "until we can review and make a decision".

Going Five Hole writes:
Sometimes you need a little controversy to intrigue the casual fan and even the hardcore fan at times.

Brett Hull's toe in the crease is a controversy. The instigator penalty is a controversy. But this conversation is not about a controversy, because it is a clear case of right and wrong -- there is no rational way to argue that Avery should be allowed to hold press conferences in order to launch slurs at another player's girlfriend without the league intervening. The question in this case is simply the degree of punishment.

Interchangeable Parts:
You can get suspended in the NHL for saying “sloppy seconds”? And they call the NFL the “no fun league”.

Prior to this incident, the hot topic in the hockeyblogosphere was a spat between fans of the NBA and NHL over which currently has the most fan support. The thrust of that argument was that the NBA has seen a sharp dropoff in support compared to the NHL's gains -- largely driven by the emergence of respectable young stars like Crosby and Kane in the NHL, at the same time the NBA is trying to rein in petulant prima donnas like Iverson and Marbury.

So I have a very hard time believing that the NHL would be wise to put itself in line with other pro leagues by turning its media into a sounding chamber for overpaid, underperforming players to stir up self-serving scandals. Leave that "fun" to other sports.

Is that term any more offensive than Michael Nylander dropping the s-bomb on national TV in the middle of the day? Or are we supposed to believe the NHL is suddenly concerned about players portraying women as possessions?

This misses the point entirely. The slur alone is one thing -- we have already seen Avery do worse by calling Georges Laraque a "monkey", not to mention his Franco-phobic comments about Denis Gauthier. The issue here isn't only what was said, but the deliberate and contrived way in which it was delivered. There's a big difference between an ad lib and a prepared statement.

Battle of California thoughtfully considers:
I think it's a dangerous path to discourage personality in front of the microphone without any specific guidelines, and we're probably in for a blander NHL as a result (though in fairness, we were probably in for that anyway).

While I agree that specific guidelines would be welcome, we'd be underestimating the players' intelligence to suggest that they don't understand the notion of "detrimental to the league". I would much rather see the league take the dangerous path of discouraging Avery's behavior, at the risk of becoming too bland, than take the even more dangerous path of letting it go unchecked by the commissioner, and therefore become a media circus with egotists like Avery as the ringleaders.

My thoughts on how Bettman got it right:

For starters, the league had to step in and keep Avery off the ice last night. There are two overwhelmingly strong arguments for doing so:

1) Under no circumstances can a player exploit the media for nefarious purposes without a league response. This is even more important when insulting a member of the general public, as opposed to simply calling out a fellow player, because it opens up all sorts of legal issues. Regardless of what the Stars may choose to do internally, it's imperative that the league keep a tight rein on this sort of situation.

2) There was no reason for the league to reward Avery by allowing him to drag Phaneuf (and, let us not forget, Iginla) into a potential game-misconduct situation. Imagine if Phaneuf had chased Avery to his locker room Mair-style... that would put the league in an absurd situation when trying to decide on appropriate suspensions. Considering Phaneuf and Iginla are the pillars of Calgary's playoff hopes, putting Avery on the ice could have put Calgary in a position to sink their entire season while pursuing personal vendettas. That would be unacceptable.

Bettman has to look at the big picture when making these decisions. In this case, the personal rivalry between Phaneuf and Avery is part of the little picture. Even Avery's personal history, which certainly weighs in on the subject, is little-picture material.

The big picture is that we've got a case of a player undermining the league itself. Avery knew what rules he was breaking when he decided to hold his "press conference", and knew that suspension was likely. He took a calculated gamble that the suspension would be short and that the media fallout would be worth his while. The NHL must call that sort of bluff, or risk losing its authority over its own players. If you don't think it can happen in the blink of an eye, take a look at Terrell Owens or Allen Iverson... putting on kid-gloves with these egomaniacs simply doesn't work.

If Bettman delegates Avery's discipline to the Stars, if he provides nothing but a passive shrug of the shoulders and wiping of the hands, we would see the floodgates open wide with Avery-type players. Every cellar-dwelling team with nothing to lose would have to deal with this sort of unprofessional, undisciplined misconduct from its Roenicks and Hulls. Bettman sent a clear message to not only Avery but the rest of the players in the league -- you are here to play good hockey, represent your franchise as a professional, and sell tickets. If you want to be a media sideshow, start practicing your layups.

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1 comment:

TMo said...

Here, here. Hockey has a bad enough reputation with the non-initiated. Non-life threatening goonery is part of the game on the ice, but off the ice...only give the mic to those with some kind of mental filter. Please, for the sake of the game. Please!