Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Coming And Going?

There's always an interesting dichotomy in hockey. Whether you're talking about winners or losers, good news or bad news, injuries and recoveries, or any other opposites, the dichotomy of good and bad is always there. Yesterday, the dichotomy was exemplified wonderfully by the NHL. How so, you ask? The good: Stefan Legein announced that he has rediscovered his passion for hockey, and is planning a return to the game in January with the Columbus Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. The bad: Sean Avery's bid for as much television time as possible, and his disgusting comments towards his ex-girlfriend and current squeeze of Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf, Elisha Cuthbert.

Let's start with the good news because it really is a good story. I saw this information last night on, thanks to the yeoman's work that Bob McKenzie has done with this story.

As we all know, Stefan Legein, a highly-touted prospect with the Columbus Blue Jackets, decided hockey wasn't for him at the age of 19, and walked away from the game. I gave Legein a pass on this one, explaining that he was just a kid and needed to find his own way before deciding on what path he would venture down for the rest of his life.

Thanks to Mr. McKenzie, we now know that Stefan Legein needed the time off to find his passion again, as suggested by this writer. "I missed it," Legein said to TSN, who turned 20 on Nov. 24. "I don't have any regrets about what I did, but I know I want to play now. I feel good about it. I'm getting back in shape. I have a ways to go yet, we'll see how it goes, but I want to play. There are no doubts in my mind any more. This is what I want."

"Really, I just lost my desire to play hockey," Legein answered when asked what happened. "It started to happen after the (2008) World Junior Championship. I hurt my shoulder and I couldn't play for three months. It was during that time I just sort of lost my passion to play. I just got away from the game and I didn't feel great about coming back."

Personally, this is excellent news, and I commend Mr. Legein for making an extremely difficult decision. He has shown that people need to step back once in a while, and that's something that should not be forgotten.

Make no mistake, though, that he will be under a microscope in the Columbus organization. He wants to come back, but, as GM Scott Howson said, he better be ready to come back 100%.

"I got a phone call from Stef about 10 days ago," Howson said to TSN, "and he told me wants to play again but he wants to get in shape first. We have no problem with that so long as he's fully committed. It's got to be all in for Stef. It can't be because he's running out of things to do with his time. It can't be because he's running out of money. It has to be because he wants to be a professional hockey player."

No matter what happens - whether Legein cracks the Blue Jacket lineup or he becomes a journeyman career minor-league player - I'm happy for Stefan Legein for finding his passion again. He made one of the hardest decisions of his short life by walking away from hockey, but it sounds like his batteries are recharged, and that's excellent news for the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans.

Perhaps everyone who blamed his girlfriend should take a long look in the mirror. Perhaps everyone who said he had a drug problem should re-examine what they said. Perhaps all those who doubted his reasons all along should apologize to Mr. Legein. I guarantee you that Columbus and Syracuse are getting a player who will make you smile again, and you owe him an apology for the crap you spewed when he walked away.

Bethany is pumped. Light the Lamp seems a little more skeptical, but still optimistic. Me? I'm all for Legein's return. He's a comedian and a great guy from everything I've seen, and I'm all for him getting back onto the ice.

Now for the bad.

No, make that the stupid.

No, make that the downright idiotic.

Way back on October 21, I made the following comment in my blog entry that day: "Officially, I will not speak about Avery on this blog again unless he's suspended for something stupid. Which means I'll probably talk about him before the season is over."

I also made a comment on October 10 on my blog entry that day about something that I'd like to see: "I'd like to see someone absolutely destroy Dallas' Sean Avery. The guy simply needs to learn when to shut up."

Put those two things together, and you have Sean Avery's indefinite suspension for making disparaging comments about Elisha Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter after the morning skate. What did he say? I'm sure you've already heard it, but here's the video:

... and here's the text version:
"I am really happy to be back in Calgary, I love Canada," Avery said on camera this morning in Calgary. "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about. Enjoy the game tonight."

Wow. Total jackass. It's one thing to speak about your ex-girlfriends to friends and buddies in a disrespectful way in a private setting, but this is a new low for Sean Avery. The worst part, personally, is that he asked if the cameras were rolling, meaning he had already planned this entire sequence beforehand.

Stupid? You bet. I'm almost convinced that Avery has some sort of brain damage in that his filter that prevents him from saying stupid things doesn't work.

Let's take a look at what the Stars have to say about their "valuable" teammate.

The man who decided to bring Avery to Dallas, co-general manager Brett Hull, had this response to Avery's idiotic comments: "This goes beyond hockey and beyond the game on the ice, and that’s what bothers me. We have talked and talked and talked about being on the edge within the game, but not going over the line. We told him from the start that he cannot do things that would embarrass the organization. Ever since the start here, this organization has been built on class, and there is a responsibility to the organization, to the owner and his family, and to the city and the fans to maintain that class. Play hard, push the game on the ice, but do not embarrass the organization."

"There comes a point when you have to be responsible for your own actions," Hull added. "They can’t just keep sending you to the principal’s office."

Head coach Dave Tippett added these comments: "I think the words (he used) and his disrespect for an opponent," Tippett said when asked what about the statement was so damaging. "There’s lots of trash talking that goes on on the ice, but to announce something like that for everyone to hear, that just crosses the line."

"He embarrassed our team, our city. He embarrassed our owner," Dallas co-GM Les Jackson told on Tuesday night. "Right now, we're pretty disappointed.

"It’s disappointing. Brett really stuck his neck out for him. I feel bad for Brett, because he put his total trust in Sean, and Sean hasn’t respected the league, the game, the Dallas Stars, Mr. Hicks. He hasn’t represented anybody professionally.

"It's pretty simple. It's totally unacceptable for the Dallas Stars. That's not how we want to be portrayed," Jackson added. "It's not how we want people to see us."

"I completely support the league's decision to suspend Sean Avery," Stars owner Tom Hicks said in a release. "Had the league not have suspended him, the Dallas Stars would have. This organization will not tolerate such behavior, especially from a member of our hockey team. We hold our team to a higher standard and will continue to do so."

"It's none of my business what he says and I'd rather not talk about Sean," Stars centerman Brad Richards told TSN in a post-morning interview. "He's got his own thing going on."

"It's just so disappointing for guys who have been around here for a long time and have taken a lot of pride in how this organization has been perceived," Stars goalie Marty Turco said after defeating the Flames 3-1 last night. "The disrespect of this morning and other things over the course of the season have been extremely disappointing for us. It's a slap in the face.

"We think we've given him a chance," Turco concluded. "I'm a people person, and I generally think the best of people. But a lot for me is to be seen before that subject even gets touched. We want to be an organization of standing up and being a man. And if he's a part of it, he's got to own up."

"It's unacceptable. Our perception around the league has been tarnished a bit," centerman Mike Modano said in perhaps the most understated comments. "Our attitude with the refs has been rough this year. We don’t get the benefit of doubt because we're very vocal in those areas. In the past, we've been a quiet, confident group, and we simply need to get back to that."

How about this writer's view?

Avery was already involved in an ugly, insult-filled shouting match with Boston Bruins fans this season. His work of "agitator" has made him into the biggest three-ring circus in the NHL. He doesn't agitate any longer. He simply stirs the pot, and works his hardest to get his face and his comments plastered all over every bulletin board in NHL dressing rooms and across every media outlet across the planet.

He spoke about how the NHL needed villains in an interview earlier this season. He spoke about how he should be in charge of the NHL's marketing team earlier this season.

This is a prime example of why Sean Avery shouldn't be allowed back into an NHL dressing room for any reason. If anyone wants to defend his comments as being "off the cuff", "funny, but crude", or "not warranting a suspension", he's a professional hockey player. As a professional, it's understood that you're held to a higher standard.

Would you allow your child to say something like this? If your answer is yes, you have serious problems. And like all serious problems, Sean Avery needs to be punished for his lack of judgment.

I'm thinking a five-game suspension from the NHL should do the trick, followed by a demotion to the AHL by the Dallas Stars. Oh, and a formal apology to the fans, the team, the league, and both Elisha Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter on national television would allow the suspension to end after five games. No apology, no return.

There's really nothing else to say. It's high time that Sean Avery pays the piper for his continual stupidity and lack of respect.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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