December 05, 2008
In a half-hour press call this afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attempted to justify and clarify the League's decision to suspend Sean Avery of the Dallas Stars for six games, after Avery's infamous comments before a game against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.
Some of his answers where enlightening; others were downright frustrating.
Bettman made it clear that the NHL wasn't going to wait for the Stars to discipline Avery, and that his "sloppy seconds" press conference was a League-level offense.
"We thought this was the appropriate League response to what Sean said, and what the Stars choose to do or not do is up to them," he said.
Bettman's justification for the suspension's length included Avery's prior history of questionable behavior, including his previous sit-downs with Bettman and NHL suspension czar Colin Campbell; the League's desire to send a message that Avery's conduct wasn't representative of the NHL or its players; and consideration for fans in light of the vulgarity of Avery's comments.
"Particularly fans who have children, who might have to explain to them what this statement was," said Bettman.
(That last justification made me wonder what the suspension would look like if Avery had substituted "my ex's" for "sloppy seconds." Alas, the buzzer went off before it was time for the less prestigious media on the call to get their shots.)
A few very interesting highlights from the call:
• Bettman made a rather remarkable admission that the swift suspension from the NHL had nothing to do with the Stars having a game against the Calgary Flames that night, in which Avery would have faced Dion Phaneuf, one of his intended targets. "I would have done the same thing, in the same timeframe, if Dallas was off that night," he said.
• Bettman spent much of the call talking about precedents for suspensions, as they relate to other instances of players speaking out and to the NHL's discipline system for injurious plays on the ice. "I'm not worried about the precedent at all," he said. "The standards and circumstances can vary from situation to situation."
In fact, he put it clearly: When it comes to players suspended for dangerous plays and Avery's suspension, "one has nothing to do with the other" in the NHL's eyes.
Later, there was a contentious exchange between Bettman and Ken Campbell of The Hockey News in which Campbell wondered why players who intentionally injure opponents, and are then suspended, aren't shipped off to anger management therapy as Avery has been in his suspension.
"It's a fascinating question, although all the instances you referred to have nothing to do with the circumstances that we have before us with Sean Avery, who apparently believes that there's a type of conduct that is repetitive, inappropriate, perhaps anti-social," said Bettman.
"What's that got to do with anger management?" Campbell shot back. "What does repetitive, anti-social and whatever else you said have to do with anger management? Does a guy who cross-checks another guy in the face or steps on this leg or drives his head into the boards not have anger management issues as well?"
"Obviously, I'm trying to answer the question and not engage in a debate for everybody's benefit," said Bettman. "The point that I'm making is that when you have repetitive conduct over a point and time, and you're looking at inappropriate responses under the circumstances, the fact that somebody may play more aggressively on the ice ... we're not talking about 'player play,' and player conduct on the ice. We're talking about interaction with people -- fans, the media, other players -- that is completely out of the norm."
Bettman added, "It's not talking about the same thing to compare player conduct to the type of conduct that we're seeing here."
He later, and correctly, stated that the League has mandated anger management for other suspensions; which could have been a reference to Chris Simon.
• Bettman was asked about the incident between a female Nashville Predators fan and Avery, in which her taunting led to some rather unprintable comments coming back from Avery in the penalty box. He said the League looks into such incidents, but that the NHL has a standard of proof that needs to be met.
"You get into a situation where someone says something, but you need independent verification," he said. "If you're going to impose discipline that involves someone's livelihood, you better be pretty certain that you are dealing with a standard of proof and evidence that you're comfortable that it occurred."
• Finally, he seemed to indicate that this is a check-swing on strike three for Avery. "I don't think there's any doubt after our conversation yesterday that it wouldn't be a good idea to be back with me again, having this type of conversation."