A week ago Friday, the National Hockey League suspended Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery for a total of six games. That suspension was to end tomorrow, but yesterday the team announced that Avery will not be returning to Dallas.
To which my reply is to scratch my head and say, "Wha-huh?"
The league suspended Avery for "behavior detrimental to the league or game of hockey." What was his transgression? Trash-talking a former girlfriend on television after she (apparently) dumped him for another player.
I'm with The Hockey News's columnist Ken Campbell on this one. Avery's suspension by the league was self-serving, hypocritical, and completely overblown. Yes, absolutely, Avery's behavior was rude, crude, bizarre, and inappropriate. As I'm sure legions of women will make very clear to him now and well into the future--and not a few men. But how, exactly, does being uncouth in public translate into "behavior detrimental to the league or game of hockey"? It seems to me that the NHL has rather a lot invested in players being uncouth in public, considering the number of players it has slapped on the wrist for things a lot more serious than a bit of trash-talking.
As Ken Campbell pointed out in his linked column, four years ago, Todd Bertuzzi blindsided Steve Moore on the ice during a game, and Moore wound up in the hospital--and has never played a game since. He probably won't suit up ever again. Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely for that infraction--but since it occurred near the end of the season before the lockout, Gary Bettman reinstated Bertuzzi after the lockout was over, meaning that the true length of Bertuzzi's suspension was something like 19 games. For ending another player's career. It seems self-evident to me that taking someone out of the NHL permanently is detrimental to both the league and the game of hockey--yet Bertuzzi continues to draw a salary.
Guys like George Parros, Derek Boogaard, and Georges Laraque (to name but a few) draw paychecks primarily to intimidate players on the opposing team--usually by dropping the gloves and attempting to pretend they're boxers who just happen to be wearing ice skates at the time. Their existence is defended by some as necessary to prevent opposing teams from taking advantage of younger, inexperienced, or smaller players on their team. (Never mind that there are rules in the game that already do that, and that those rules are being enforced quite consistently and strongly these days.) Rarely does anyone in the category "enforcer" get suspended, though he may spend more of his time warming the bench (frequently in the penalty box) than on the ice--and no one ever claims that their existence or their tactics constitutes "behavior detrimental to the league or the game of hockey," despite the fact that their primary purpose is to put opposing players out of commission. Indeed, if you ask some hard-core hockey fans, suggesting that enforcers and fights ought to go the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon is "behavior detrimental to the game of hockey."
Me, I just don't get it. You can go on international television and try to beat another guy's brains out--and not only not get suspended, but get paid for doing it, at the price of racking up a few more PIMs. But step up to a microphone off the ice and say something bad about another player's girlfriend--and not all that bad, in comparison to some of the same sorts of remarks that are apparently quite common on the ice and during games--for that, the league hands down a six-day suspension, insists on anger management training as a condition for reinstatement, and the team that owns your contract decides to renege on it. This makes about as much sense to me as shooting one's dog so as to prevent his being able to dig up the flower patch you haven't yet planted.