D-Day for Avery
For those of you who believe Kris Versteeg was recently framed by Phoenix Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky – it was Coach Gretz in the Conservatory with the rope – perhaps we’re about to disagree again, but am I the only one who thinks six games (along with an intense “guilty verdict” in the “court of public opinion”) for Sean Avery’s recent comments is a little harsh? Call me crazy, but the recent suspension looks a little bit like a “Lifetime Achievement” Award for a player who’s never been shy about making himself look like an idiot. And, while I’m not at all defending his callous words, it’s difficult to believe they rightly earned him a suspension equal to almost 10% of the season.
Before I incite a riot, I’d also like to comment on how sad the Sean Avery situation really is. Like many younger, less established NHL players, Avery apparently felt his best asset was “pestiness,” to perhaps coin a phrase. To that end, Avery, like many players before and after him, decided being a professional nuisance was his ticket into the NHL – and, more recently, his ticket to NHL success and fortune. What is somehow lost in the recent events – including the apparent hostility within the Dallas Stars’ dressing room – is that Avery was fined – and now, perhaps exiled – for doing exactly what the Stars signed him to do: being a total jerk – on purpose. And, while Avery absolutely crossed a line, both as an NHL player and a person, it’s hard to believe that line hasn’t recently become intensely blurred for the player whose best attributes also seem to be his greatest liabilities. As someone who initially condemned Avery’s comments, I’ve also come to believe perhaps the Stars should give him a second chance.
While Avery serves his NHL prescribed penance, Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks has already stated publicly that Stars brass will meet on Wednesday to decide on a plan of action that could ultimately map Avery’s fate in Dallas. And, while I do hope it involves a second chance, it may become one by default. After all, the practical options available to the Stars seem to be few. To begin, a trade is absolutely unthinkable. What’s more, while no team is likely to trade for Avery, it seems none is likely to claim him off waivers either. That leaves Dallas with three options: voiding or buying out Avery’s contract, or assigning him to an AHL team, a fate Avery has stated he would accept. However, while voiding Avery’s contract is almost certainly an impossibility, buying it out would saddle the Dallas franchise with a significant annual cap hit for nearly a decade – not to mention it’s a voluntary financial hemorrhage in difficult financial times. Finally, asking an AHL team to take Avery seems to be just as difficult. The Manitoba Moose, Dallas’ primary affiliate, has already publicly refused to welcome Avery, but the Stars do have affiliate relationships with a few other clubs. Unless one – presumably non-contending – team is willing to welcome Avery – along with a presumed boost in ticket revenue – the Stars may need to forgive and forget.
And, while reasonable minds can certainly differ on what should become of the former ‘Wing, King and Ranger, it’s hard to imagine an NHL as entertaining as one that includes Sean Avery.
While no one here at the Fifth Feather will soon mistake Barry Melrose for Jacque Lemaire, it doesn’t seem as though he had a real chance to succeed in Tampa. Though meddling by executive producers may work in the film industry, Lightning co-owner Oren Koules would be well-advised to stay out of the hockey operations in Tampa Bay. While business in all major North American professional leagues is constantly changing, one of the few constants is that intrusive owners usually do much more harm than good. Hire hockey people, and let them run the (now) figurative (for Koules) show. Asking professional athletes – especially young ones like Steven Stamkos – to listen to all the cooks in the kitchen can’t be a recipe for success, and for the sake of all Lightning fans out there, let’s hope that’s not what’s happening.
If we learned one thing during last season when 18 rookies took the ice for the Blackhawks, it was that offensive forwards struggle when initially called up (save hockey freaks like Kane and Toews); defensive forwards seem to fare much better. After all, they’re asked to do less.
So, while I agree that Pascal Pelletier earned his call-up on Tuesday, it may be a missed opportunity to see exactly what the ‘Hawks have in Ben Eager. Assuming Pelletier doesn’t play on the fourth line and other line changes won’t be made to the group that scored seven goals in a half-hour on Sunday, I would’ve preferred if Jacob Dowell or Brian Bickell was recalled to play a defensive, checking role while Eager enjoyed some much-deserved face time.
Perhaps that ship hasn’t sailed yet, but it’s hard to imagine Pelletier fitting into the line-up with Eager on the Toews line, as it apparently shook out at Tuesday’s practice.
Don’t look now, but Jonathon Toews, who was by many accounts prematurely saddled with the Blackhawk captaincy, is on track for (something approaching) a 75-point season. Now, there’s no telling what kinds of numbers Toews could have put up in Rockford (as suggested by WGN radio post-game callers) or how he would have fared without the “C,” but Toews managed to do the impossible for a scoring line center during the first six weeks of this season: remain effective while not scoring. Toews’ strength on the puck – both offensively and defensively – sets him apart, and heart never slumps.
And, if you think the rest of the Western Conference isn’t watching Jonathon Toews’ ’08-’09 coming-out party in pure horror, you might be Barry Rozner.
So much was made of a possible “sophomore slump” before the season, and captaincy concerns ran wild more recently, but which baloney explanation should we give four goals and six points in three games? For weeks, ‘Hawk fans in the know have been warning our half-witted brethren to wait for Toews’ offense to come around; that time appears to be now, and the public undressing of Daniel Cleary may be just the beginning.
Tallon Report Card Follow-up
Just days after John McDonough denied published reports he was actively seeking to replace Dale Tallon, the ‘Hawks were ranked fifth, seventh and eighth by TSN, Sports Illustrated and ESPN weekly polls, respectively. Additionally, SI.com and TSN noted the ‘Hawks have eight scorers with at least fifteen points. Only the Sharks have more than eight players who can lay claim to fifteen or more points. Of the ‘Hawks’ eight, Kane, Toews, Sharp, Versteeg, Havlat, Campbell, Bolland and Ladd, only Bolland was not acquired by Tallon.
While Dale Tallon may not be one of the NHL’s top GMs, he has certainly done an adequate job helping assemble the youngest team in the NHL. Let’s take the quarter out of the GM carousel, and see where this one takes us, shall we?
View our quarter pole review of ‘Hawks GM Dale Tallon here.
***Finally, the guys at www.hockeenight.com will have the Fifth Feather as “PuckCast” guests next Monday, December 15th. So, in the meantime, please check out some of their previous PuckCasts, including this Monday’s with the gents from www.secondcityhockey.com, and make sure you tune in next week to listen to the Fifth Feather’s unique brand of Blackhawk blasphemy.***