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Avery - Man For Himself?

by Ralph Strangis / Dallas Stars

Ralph Strangis

We’ve all had a few days to calm down after last week’s events.  I’ve been on the inside for almost 20 years with this franchise and was within a few feet in the Calgary’s visitors’ room Tuesday when the fuse was lit.  I’ve read and heard opinions from those who casually follow us – from those fans who live and die with us – from media people who tout inside sources – and from those within our group who live it every day.  And now with a few days distance and the NHL’s decision behind us – let me sort through a few things. 

This is a very unfortunate episode in an abysmal first ten weeks of Stars hockey.   Let’s be clear; Sean Avery – although certainly not without blame or adverse affect on the group - is not the reason the Dallas Stars are in the Western Conference cellar.

Debilitating, long-term injuries to Brenden Morrow, Sergei Zubov , Jere Lehtinen, Steve Ott and Joel Lundqvist; the Mattias Norstrom and Stu Barnes retirements; the lack of a proven back-up in goal; untested young players trying to fill these holes; and the inexplicable, unforeseeable, uncharacteristic poor play from Marty Turco are all far more significant factors when attempting to assess the reasons for why the Stars are where they are right now. 

One of hockey’s long-standing tenets is to accept old rivals as new teammates; you may have bloodied or trashed talked each other in past conflicts, but now you’re both wearing the same uniform and that trumps all.  In all my years around the game I can’t remember seeing an exception to this.  Until now. 

Avery’s reputation – which by all accounts – he worked hard to earn and richly deserved – permeated the Stars room like a foul odor well before he ever physically set foot in it.  Once he did get here – he did not go out of his way to overcome it.  And things deteriorated from there.  

When we signed Sean, I did my usual due diligence.  I called around to people in the league whose opinions I respect to get background.  Without exception – there were no accolades.  However – I always approach every new player the same way.  When they get here – they get a clean slate with me. 

And in fairness – I had only a few conversations with him – and none of them really concerned hockey.      He is a complicated guy.  I appreciate his interest in art, music, literature, and fashion.  He runs in circles in which few in this business would be welcome or comfortable.  He has interests far beyond hockey which occupy his time and talents – and views on marketing and promoting our game that lean more WWE than NHL.  And while those things do not a poor teammate make, they helped stock ammunition for those who view him a renegade outsider. 

 Which brings us to Tuesday, December 3rd in Calgary and the last straw for me and many others.  His comments were offensive – but let’s put that on the shelf – stipulating that the degree to which they offend is in the eye of the offended. 

It’s a game day.  His team is in last place.  They’re trying to win their second straight regular season game for the first time since late February last season.  Key people are out of the lineup – including the team’s captain who is a rugged left winger – capable of playing on the edge – going into the difficult areas – and scoring goals and making plays on the ice to help his team win.  Those are some of the same attributes (although clearly not to Brenden’s level) that Avery can bring to the game that night. 

His coach has spoken with him minutes before the incident about not speaking to the media – because of those facts listed above and because in a nationally televised interview some weeks earlier he has already riled up the Flames with derogatory comments about their captain Jarome Iginla.  Then his coach proceeds to defend him in a media scrum. 

And Sean can’t leave it alone – and be the player they need him to be – and the teammate he agreed to be when he signed his contract.  He sought out the media – made sure their cameras were rolling – and delivered what can only be judged as a premeditated foul verbal attack. 

The result of which had his entire team scrambling on a day when they should have been able to have a singular focus – the game that night.  Cell phones were going off all over the hotel.  Media requests were rolling in like a tsunami.  Statements had to be made, questions had to be answered, security had to be arranged to accompany Sean to the airport.  And on and on and on.  The Stars did not even go to the rink the following morning in Edmonton to avoid what they knew would certainly be a circus. 

Sean Avery’s deliberate actions created chaos and havoc around a team that was already in it up to its collective neck.  When they needed him to stand up and be a player and a teammate – he was anything but. 

And so if you were wondering if the NHL suspension was appropriate – or if Mr. Hicks’ reaction came out of left field – think about those things. 

Now Sean has come forward and has asked for help with his “anger management issues”.   As someone intimately familiar with facing his own demons and digging out from rock bottom I empathize with what he is doing – and his long road ahead.

But I also know this – that while my issues may not be my fault – facing them is my responsibility.  I had a lot of good friends to help show me the way – but I did not begrudge them their opinions of me because I alone was responsible for how they viewed me.  My attitude and my actions put me in a bad place many years ago.  And although I was thankful for the support I got – I certainly came to understand that I had violated a trust with the people with whom I worked and that their business had to go on – and I wasn’t someone they could count on.

My hope for Sean is that if he has issues to address and demons to face he takes this opportunity to begin this new chapter in his life – things can be different.

My advice for him is to understand that jobs aren’t created so we can all have jobs and earn a paycheck, feel good about ourselves and advance our own agendas – jobs are created because the company has a need for loyal and devoted employees who will do what is needed and expected so that the group can achieve their goals and the company can flourish. 

The Dallas Stars are no exception.  And now that we have come face to face with what we most certainly are not – the process begins to get us back to who we were – and who we want to be moving forward. 
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