We would've loved to have been a fly on the wall as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with Sean Avery today to determine how long Avery's indefinite suspension for his “sloppy seconds” remarks will actually last. Did Avery keep a straight face as he apologized at the meeting, which ended just a short while ago? Did Bettman have to check Urban Dictionary at any point? But the real question is this: Was what Avery did really all that bad? No one is going to argue that what he said wasn’t immature. But first of all, we’re sure it’s FAR from the worst thing he’s ever directed at an opponent — even if such things are usually confined to the ice. (As Greg Wyshynski asks, have you ever been to a hockey game? Stuff like this isn't exactly unheard of.) It's also not surprising coming from Avery; after all, this is the guy who called Martin Brodeur "fatso" last season.
Avery knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s not the type to drop the gloves and fight; he’s the type who’ll run his mouth hoping you’ll take a swing at him. If you do, he wins. A guy like Avery has no strategic place in, say, baseball. But he does in hockey. And, not coincidentally, his is a sport, more than any other, that allows its players to police themselves. You want to make fun of the girlfriend of one of the hardest hitters in the game, go ahead. But you — or a teammate — may pay the price. We New Yorkers saw Avery do this for two years and loved him for it. The Stars, on the other hand, have buyer’s remorse — they never fully embraced Avery, anyway — even though we bet their fans giggled when they heard the comment. (Rangers fans certainly did.)
If we didn’t know any better, we’d say this is a brilliant PR move from Bettman: He has on his hands the least controversial controversy ever. The team has gotten loads of attention all week, without having an especially troublesome impetus for it. (The Pacman Jones situation this is not.) Anyone so offended by this that it turns them off from hockey probably isn’t wired to like the sport anyway. (We hear golf is lovely and quiet.) Of course, that’s giving the NHL far too much credit. They’ve never quite figured out how (or even if) to market Avery. To them, this really is about suspending him for what they consider a tasteless comment. But Avery, at least, knows better. On one level, it has to do with hockey strategy, but on another, it's about attention. Surely Bettman realizes that's a good thing, right?