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McKenzie: Three ways the Stars can deal with Avery

Bob McKenzie
12/11/2008 10:45:15 AM
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Figuring out what the Dallas Stars will do with Sean Avery is likely as easy as A-B-C.

Actually, make that C, as in all three of their options beginning with the letter C.
 
Dallas owner Tom Hicks said Wednesday that the organization wouldn't make its intentions on Avery known to the public until his six-game NHL suspension has been served.

Here, then, is a look at what's available to them and how they may proceed when that moment arrives:
 
THE CONTROVERSIAL ROUTE:  Hicks did suggest at one point that he had a “team” of people looking at the club's legal options in terms of possibly voiding Avery's contract or further suspending him without pay, above and beyond the NHL-imposed suspension. This, of course, wouldn't go over too well with the NHL Players' Association and even a legal neophyte would have to believe Avery's transgression, while a little on the unsavoury side, is hardly enough to void a four-year contract worth almost $16 million. This could make an ugly situation even uglier, if that's possible, and therefore would appear to be the long shot plan of the three.
 
THE CONVENTIONAL ROUTE:  If a team is stuck with a player that, for whatever reason, they no longer want, there are really only two by-the-book methods to dispose of him. One is to buy out the contract, but that cannot happen until a designated two-week period in the off-season, so that doesn't help the Stars now. The other method is to put the player on waivers, hope that someone else picks him up (not going to happen at this point with Avery), but failing that assign him to the American Hockey League or, with the player's permission, to a European league. The downside to this conventional approach, at this point anyway, is that it will even be tough to find a minor-league team prepared to take Avery, who is widely viewed as toxic right now. But if the Stars have a legitimate landing spot for Avery, this is indeed a viable and plausible scenario. And there are always re-entry waivers, where Avery would be available at half the cost of his contract with the Stars paying and taking the cap hit on the other half.

THE COMPASSIONATE ROUTE:  It was interesting to hear Hicks at the NHL Board of Governors' meeting in Florida this week calling Avery a “troubled young man” and making some reference to getting him the “help” he needs. It might have been a throwaway line of superficial concern for a player who has really infuriated the Stars on a lot of different levels, but it may also be a hint that the Stars could choose to treat this problem on a more personal than professional level.

That is, if Avery is prepared to play ball, the Stars could announce that they are granting him medical leave with pay and that he will continue to draw his $3.875 million annual salary while he undergoes “counseling” for whatever issues he may have. This option would allow the Stars an open-ended, non-confrontational approach that would keep Avery out of their hair but would not fan any more flames of controversy.

Of course, Avery has to want to buy into this concept and whether he will is entirely his call, but the motivation to do so is that if he doesn't, who knows what far-flung minor-league outpost he will be assigned to if he wants to keep collecting a pay cheque?

No one outside the Stars' organization knows for sure what will happen, but if I were a betting man, I would be choosing some variation of what's behind Door No. 3, the portal to the Compassionate Route.

The added benefit of that is there are at least some other possibilities that may develop in time if Avery gets “counseling” and appears to rehabilitate himself and his current image - that of a “bad teammate" - which is just about the worst thing you can say about a professional hockey player.

While no teams are eager to have Avery right now, hockey is a funny, and often forgiving, game. If Avery goes away for a time and comes back with any degree of sincere contrition or pleading for a chance to start anew somewhere, it's much more likely to be considered then than now. And even if that's just a pipe dream and it never happens, there's nothing to stop the Stars, after having gone the Compassionate Route for awhile, from going the Conventional Route and either assigning him to the minors or buying him out at the prescribed time.

The point is, if the Stars are ever going to get Avery off their books without getting dinged on a buyout, they need for him to become marketable again, and the way they do that is not by washing their hands of him in some minor-league outpost - at least not yet - and instead seeing if the young man wants to rehabilitate his NHL persona and image.

 I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Bob McKenzie

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