'Most hated man in hockey' takes it up a notch
It didn't take long for the rest of us to figure out why his fellow NHL players voted Sean Avery the titles of both most hated and most overrated player in hockey.
All he had to do was open his mouth.
The list of guys who would have paid good money and stood in line all afternoon for the chance to punch Avery in the face, judging by the poll, was already long. Thanks to his latest provocation, it now includes at least one woman, and maybe even commissioner Gary Bettman.
Avery accomplished this a minute or so after emerging from the locker room following a morning skate Tuesday in Calgary, Alberta, to find reporters waiting. They were there to learn whether the Dallas Stars winger, who talks only when it suits him, planned to expand on remarks he made during a recent interview when he called Calgary's Jarome Iginla boring.
Once Avery was sure the cameras were rolling, he decided to go after his ex-girlfriends and the players who are dating them instead. He apparently was referring to actress Elisha Cuthbert, whose new flame is Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Then again, Avery also dated Rachel Hunter, the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and actress who is now the girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings center Jarrett Stoll.
"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 (former girlfriends)," Avery said -- except the term he used is crude enough that it won't be repeated here.
Bad taste isn't a capital offense, but Bettman decided within hours it was one worthy of an indefinite suspension, citing Article 6 of the NHL constitution, which covers conduct "detrimental to the league or game of hockey."
Exactly how detrimental, and how long the suspension runs won't be announced until after Bettman meets with Avery sometime soon.
If the punishment seemed harsh, coming as it did on the same day the New York Giants effectively suspended wide receiver Plaxico Burress for the rest of the NFL season after he accidentally shot himself at a Manhattan nightclub last weekend, it probably spared Avery from worse.
If he'd suited up for the game in Calgary, Phaneuf, Iginla, Todd Bertuzzi and who-knows-how-many other Flames likely would have taken a run at him. And if their public comments were any indication, the number of Dallas teammates likely to come to Avery's defense still stands at zero. Before he found out about the suspension, Stars goalkeeper Marty Turco said, "He better show up like a man."
The best thing to be said about Avery is that he's an equal-opportunity agitator. In the past, he's ripped the players' union, opponents, teammates and fans, but saved his most cutting remarks for Bettman. Avery has said he could do a better job "single-handedly" selling the game than the commissioner and the entire league marketing department.
"They haven't figured out," he said in a recent interview with ESPN, "that heroes and villains are what sells."
Credit Avery with doing his part.
Until his move to Dallas as a free agent last July, he had a reputation as a pest who picked up penalties by the dozen, could score on occasion and keep his teammates energized. Overlooking the fact that Avery had worn out his welcome at every other NHL stop -- Detroit, Los Angeles and New York -- Stars general manager Brett Hull lured the free agent away from the Rangers and gave him a four-year, $15.5-million deal to shake things up.
Avery has done that in Dallas, turning a team that reached the Western Conference final last season into Pacific Division cellar dwellers so far this season. There was a time, early on in all of Avery's previous stops, when his grit rubbed off on teammates and his antics were entertaining.
But if Hull had done his homework, he would have known that all of those clubs got better with Avery's subtraction. Either way, the GM wasn't in the mood to reflect.
"Maybe they decided that this one crossed the line further than all the others," Hull said.
Maybe it was because Avery was a repeat offender, or because he had plenty of time to think before he spoke, or simply because Bettman didn't want to face the criticism if one of the Flames carried the idea of frontier justice too far.
Not long after signing the deal in Dallas, Avery said, "I like to push it to the edge, no doubt about it."
The problem, as Avery is about to find out, is that the more you push the less people care what happens when you finally go over the cliff.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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