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McKenzie: Avery's future with Stars in doubt

Bob McKenzie
12/3/2008 8:42:45 PM
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It's too early to say with 100 per cent certainty that Sean Avery will never play another game for the Dallas Stars, but it is fair to say his future with the NHL team in very much in question. Very much.

So much so that Avery's attempt to issue an apology to his teammates and the organization through the organization was summarily rejected by the club today.

Sources tell TSN that Avery's personal publicist reached out to the Stars' president on Wednesday morning in an effort to get the club, in conjunction with Avery, to issue a formal apology by means of a press release.

The Stars made it clear to Avery's representative that the door was not open for that to happen, that they wanted nothing to do with it. Avery later in the day issued a press release apology of his own that was not issued or sanctioned by the team.

The Stars, it would seem, are not in the mood for reconciliation. The Avery-inflicted wounds - in the dressing room, in the coaches' offices, in the front office and the ownership suite - are just too raw and fresh at this point. And they may never heal to the point to allow him a way back in.

For now, it would be accurate to suggest Avery is effectively persona non grata with the Stars' organization. Co-GM Brett Hull will accompany Avery to his hearing in New York City with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but until the NHL rules on how many games Avery will miss, the Stars aren't thinking about what they will do with him because they don't have to.

In effect, the Stars are going through a bit of a cooling off period and Bettman's ruling will ultimately determine how quickly they have to take any measures. But they are most certainly exploring what options are available to them.

They are believed to include exploration of the following:

- A team suspension over and above what the NHL imposes. Sources suggest the Stars are investigating the legality and propriety of such a move and whether it is permissible.

- A voiding of Avery's contract. There is a clause in the Standard Player's Contract with regard to conduct detrimental to the game, but few believe this is a viable option that would survive a legal challenge or NHLPA grievance, given that Avery in the first year of a four-year, $15.5 million contract.

- A buyout of Avery's contract. This is, at best, a longshot. It can't be done until a specific buy-out period in the off-season so it wouldn't address the Stars' short-term concerns with Avery's presence and it would require a significant cap hit that the Stars might find objectionable, although ownership would save a little money in the long term.

- Burying Avery in the minors. There is nothing to stop the Stars from putting Avery on waivers - it's highly unlikely he would be claimed - and if he clears he could be assigned to a minor-league team as the Stars see fit. As a veteran, he can't be assigned to the ECHL without his consent, but he can be assigned anywhere within the AHL. Avery's $3.875 million average salary would not count against the cap but the Stars would be on the hook for paying all of Avery's money owed.

For now, though, the Stars have made it abundantly clear to Avery that the door for a potential reconciliation is not open even a sliver. The Stars to eager to see how long Bettman will suspend Avery and it's telling that one member of the Stars' family wondered out loud: "Bettman couldn't make it four years, could he?"

That comment about sums up the sentiment throughout the organization right now. But until the team gets back home after its current road trip, no decisions will be made. Its expected owner Tom Hicks will sit down with co-GMs Hull and Les Jackson when they return to Dallas to chart a course of action, but until Bettman rules and the Stars get some feedback on the legality and propriety of their options, nothing is going to be done.

As for how long the league suspends Avery, it's anybody's guess because there's no real precedent. Racial slurs, historically, have generated low-level suspensions of one to three games, but the Avery dynamic, if you will, is likely to be a multiplying factor.

Because of the attention, and embarrassment, this incident has generated, the NHL will want to be perceived as acting firmly and significantly. That might suggest a double-digit number, 10 or more. But while much has been made of this, in the grand scheme of things it's not the worst thing that has ever happened in hockey and there is no reason to believe Avery, in spite of a somewhat sketchy past, is going to get a mega-suspension.

It's anyone's guess where it ends up and only Bettman knows for sure and he may not even know until he sizes up Avery in the hearing and sees how legitimately contrite he is and what, if anything, he has to say on his own behalf.

Just know, though, that whatever the league does, the Stars are likely to be far harsher in their treatment of Avery than the league.

 

Bob McKenzie

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