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Hockey notes

League's punishment didn't fit the slime

SEAN AVERYBest to ignore him SEAN AVERYBest to ignore him
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 7, 2008
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He was wrong. Yeow, was he ever misguided. What was he thinking? This time, boy, he really, really, really made the NHL look foolish.

Yeah, sometimes I have to wonder what goes on in Gary Bettman's head.

Now, you probably thought I was writing about Sean Avery, right? The moronic Dallas forward, as only he can, rang the gong for stupidity one more time last week with his premeditated, vulgar comment about other NHL players dating his ex-girlfriends. No point in repeating his words in this space. Sadly, they're all too easy to find somewhere here in the crumbled universe of common sense and decency we call mainstream media in 2008.

Bettman, the NHL commissioner, followed up by hauling Avery's sorry self to New York for a hearing, then promptly tagged Avery with a six-game suspension, insisting that the renaissance Neanderthal go for anger-management evaluation. (Regular readers of this space know that I want most NHL players in those same classes - but to learn how to get mad over something other than their wages and road per diem.)

Truth is, Avery really didn't have to use vulgarity to demean these women or ridicule their current beaus. The mere fact that the women actually went out with such a person is really the mother of all indictments. Let's see here . . . dating Sean Avery or, hmm, exposing yourself on Howard Stern's show, all in the spirit, obviously, of seeking some, you know, attention, gratification, that real human connection.

Yep. Tough call, but Avery might be a slight (I said "slight") cut above Stern (did I say "slight"?).

Bettman was out to protect the integrity and dignity of his sport. I get that. Bravo, I say. But there have been more important events on Bettman's watch that have gone far less punished. He's making his stand now, here, around Sean Avery? This can only mean, after all these years, John Ziegler must still be phoning in the plays (from Switzerland, of course).

For instance, Randy Jones came close to killing Patrice Bergeron a little over a year ago, and the Flyer defenseman received only a two-game suspension. Well, if that's all it's worth, fine. But in one instance a guy attempted to take another guy's head off, and then Avery, standing in a locker room in Calgary, shot off his mouth, making himself look far more vulgar and idiotic than anyone he was attempting to smear. Two games for the former, six for the latter. Huh?

Note to the NHL front office: Don't engage the nitwits. And, oh, how I wish I could heed my own advice when they come knocking at the door via e-mail or when posting anonymous vile comments to stories we post on the Internet.

Bettman, though well-intentioned, got himself suckered by one of the game's great sucker artists. Avery once again spewed some filth, and rather than ignore it, or simply apologize for it on behalf of the league, Bettman instead called more attention to it by "honoring" it with a six-game suspension.

Just like a poorly officiated game, he now has everyone looking at him, and his response.

Before you know it, like Stern, Bettman will get his own satellite radio show.

Oh, wait . . .

On cue, the NHL Players Association, led by the astute Paul Kelly, fired off a statement Friday afternoon. To wit:

"While the NHLPA does not condone Sean's comments, which were clearly inappropriate, the discipline imposed by the commissioner is unprecedented both in its severity as well as the process by which it was handed down."

For impulsive actions, what Bettman did was reminiscent of how the Canadiens handled Patrick Roy after he pulled his hissy fit behind the Habs bench, stomping back there and snorting, grade-school-like, after getting pulled by then-coach Mario Tremblay. Instead of privately telling St. Patrick to go stick his head in a plate of poutine, they traded him to Colorado. Sweet. The Avalanche went on to win two Stanley Cups with Roy. The Habs, meanwhile, haven't won one since Roy backed their '93 championship. Sure showed him, didn't they?

Avery deserves himself, which from here looks like punishment enough. The more he talks, the more people will turn away. Imagine running his profile through eHarmony? The printout would return with, "Hey, Borat, is that you, buddy?"

What Avery deserved most was to be ignored. Instead, Bettman gave him the dignity of a response. Now he should join Avery and forfeit six days' pay, for conduct unbecoming a commissioner.

Etc.
A way out of San Jose? Ex-Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren remains in Worcester, earning some $2 million playing for the AHL Sharks, and is eager to resume his NHL career. "I wouldn't rule out being back in San Jose this year - but not next year, highly unlikely," said McLaren, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. "I'm only 31 years old and I feel like I've got at least a couple of years left. The main thing is staying healthy. I still love the game. If I didn't still love coming to the rink every day, then I'd be, 'OK, I'm done.' But I still love it." McLaren twice was put on waivers by San Jose this season, but none of the other 29 teams put in a claim. The Blackhawks had him on their radar, but, unable to move the pricey Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million), they never put in a claim.

Extreme makeover Look for the Lightning to start clearing out roster deadwood (two bodies or more) via trades in very short order. Kicking Barry Melrose to the curb, only 16 games into his coaching redux, was just the start of it. Melrose was hired by the new owners, and the false start under him has general manager Brian Lawton controlling all the important personnel strings, which recently has meant the employment of kids such as Paul Szczechura and Radek Smolenak. Also look for potential superstar Steven Stamkos to be handed increased minutes sooner rather than later. Part of Melrose's downfall was his unwillingness to roll Stamkos over the boards. Bench boss Rick Tocchet has Stamkos much more engaged, including working the point on the power play. Stamkos surprised the entire Bolts bench recently when he dropped the gloves and flattened Rangers winger Nikolai Zherdev.

Loose pucks Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who wrenched a knee with Team USA at last spring's World Championships, should be high on the Yanks' watch list for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Asked if Team USA had talked to him about a trip to Olympus, he said, "Specifically about the Olympics, no, but I think it's too far away right now." . . . Lawton, in his agent days, had Bruins center David Krejci as part of his client list. "We figured David would be an NHL player," said Lawton, "but what's he's doing with Boston is tremendous. I think he has exceeded the expectations of a lot of people. Good for him, just a great kid." . . . And finally, faithful reader Allan Steele, responding to a feature here about Claude Lemieux playing with the AHL Worcester Sharks, suggests, "Can we get [Cam ] Neely to suit up for Providence the next time Worcester plays there? A Neely/Lemieux reunion in the corner would be priceless. Maybe we can get pay-per-view deal, 'Extreme Bowling,' as Neely rolls Lemieux into the boards." Neely's response: "Make sure the Globe has signage in the corner." Now that's news sense.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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