04 December 2008
I've written that I believe that it was a mistake for the league to suspend Avery in the first place, but if that happens the league will be seen as a farce (yet again!). In the comments at From the Rink I argued that the Stars, and not the league, should have doled out any punishment more severe than a fine. Had the NHL really wanted to suspend Avery (and it's clear they wanted any reason to do so) back room pressure on Tom Hicks (who was probably looking for an excuse anyways) would have been the best course of action. Instead the NHL has severely misplayed their hand, and overstepped their bounds.
The NHL's precedent, that they themselves have set, is that they suspend only for on-ice actions, or comments about league personnel (i.e refs and commissioner's). Only in the most extreme occasions have they fined for words. By extreme I mean racist comments.
By deciding to inject themselves into this mess the NHL has invited the natural comparisons of suspensions due Avery's words to the suspensions of dangerous and dirty play. Anything longer than a 1 game suspension and the NHL will receive even more (completely appropriate) scrutiny on their punishment process which can onlybe described as "arbitrary"
Had the NHL not been so quick to pull the trigger, and let Tom Hicks proceed the focus would not be on how Avery's actions instead of the league's response to those actions. Hicks had more justification to suspend Avery for "conduct detrimental to the team". Hicks can legitimately claim that Avery's words put his teammates (and therefore Hicks' investments) at risk, and also disrupts the locker room.
In my opinion Hicks has a stronger claim on the "his conduct is detrimental to the image of the Stars" than the NHL does. The perception is that the league is the governing body and the teams are individual entities that agree to follow the league's rules. Much in the same way that federal laws of the land provide a basic level of conduct needed for society and corporations can set their own code of conduct for their employees or risk being terminated. While that's certainly not true in the NHL, that's the perception the NHL has worked hard to cultivate. I think this cultivated perception gives Hicks much more leeway and legitimacy to suspend Avery than the NHL. So while the NHL has the right to suspend players for "off-color remarks" it doesn't always mean it's wise to do so. As the NHL likes to say whenever the real authorities try to punish hockey players, sometimes it's best to let these situations be handled in-house.
If Avery gets 5 games (and it's likely to be more) then after a dirty blow, like the Ziegler hit on Foote, fans and media will be comparing the suspension of the aggressor to Avery's suspension. Avery's suspension from here on out becomes the lens throuhg which every other suspension will be seen. Any time a player gets hurt from a dirty hit the suspension better be longer than Avery's, or fans, teammates and media will be beside themselves asking why Avery's comments, which hurt no one, deserve harsher punishment than someone putting a guys career in jeopardy. And that scrutiny will be unquestionably fair.Had the Stars management suspended him, spearheaded by Hicks, the NHL would avoid the criticism that will coming and Avery would be the one receiving the ire and criticism he deserves.
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