Losing fans, the NHL needs Avery’s antics

Sean Avery is a punk.

His antics have been talked about, speculated on and even changed the NHL’ rule book.

He gets into heated arguments with fans when he’s on the road, gets very personal on the ice with players and has been rumored, on multiple occasions, to have had behind the scenes confrontations with coaches and players around the league, to which even his decency as a human being has been put to question.

Some say he’s bad for the game, others vow he will get his one day. Either way, one thing cannot be debated and it’s the reality that Avery is the perfect heel. Good or bad, he brings excitement.

Avery’s comments Tuesday, about ex-girlfriend, Hollywood starlet Elisha Cuthbert and her current boyfriend, Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf, were unwarranted and inappropriate, albeit entertaining. Hours before Avery’s struggling Dallas Stars took on Phaneuf’s Flames in Calgary, Avery made light of his concern with Cuthbert being leaving him for other players in the league. His comments instantly ignited a feud.

The few childish slanders brought upon a tide of fans wanting to know what was said and more accurately what did Avery do now? The fair-weather hockey world was abuzz with conversation over the scandalous misanthrope and what fireworks could occur when both players met later in the evening.

But staying on par with Bettman’s “new” NHL, the excitement was quickly policed, when word came from NHL’s front office that because of his choice of words, Avery will be suspended not only for the Calgary game, but for an indefinite amount of time. The insta-suspension turned a can’t miss contest between two mid-level Western Conference teams, into just another game. In fact, the slogan for Bettman’s regime since the lockout should be, “It’s just another game”.

With recent news that the lingering recession could cripple the American NHL markets, U.S. hockey fans need a reason to pay attention. Ticket sales will drop and viewers will remain uninterested unless things change. Seven-goal games and never-ending special teams play have not generated much interest, but rather assisted in extinguishing rivalries, by taking the focus off the little things that make the game great. Hockey’s trademark, physicality and toughness, are being phased out due to the critical use of the two referee system. Fighting has remained, but with the instigator rule in place, even that has lost much of its luster and pure grittiness.

Sure, there are goals being scored, but the passion and pure emotion of the old NHL has faded. The days of watching the Red Wings and Avalanche grind each other into a pulp in some of the most entertaining hockey contests ever, is unfortunately over.

The Avery snafu is just another pillar to fall, in the un-entertainment of the NHL.

The best businessmen are opportunists. They manage to turn every hand their dealt, bad or good, into something playable. Bettman doesn’t. He should be playing the Avery hand, not folding immediately in fear of backlash. Instead of burying Avery for his spark plug personality and bad guy persona, Bettman should be embracing it. A simple fine and stern warning would have sufficed to satisfy the public relations people, leaving the fans something as well.

Avery is a popular figure in hockey. He’s been a star in two of the biggest markets in the country, New York and Los Angeles. His internship at Vogue magazine over the summer made headlines everywhere and his relationship with Cuthbert was well documented. The rivalry between Avery and Phaneuf over the damsel’s good name would have made every major sports outlet in the country, as well as some entertainment outlets – attention the NHL desperately needs heading into tough times.

But instead of using the media opportunity to work the crowd with one of the best bad guys in all of sports and bring interest to a set a games where they normally was none, the NHL instead, cowered under the pressure of public relations and left their fans hanging out to dry. So, the next time you find yourself asking where your NHL went — just ask Patrick Roy and Jeremy Roenick.

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Filed under 2008-09 season

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