Admit it. As much as you hate Sean Avery, as much as you think the guy is a jerk, a goon and a tool, you can not honestly agree with the NHL's decision to suspend him for six games for simply making an unsavory comment about his ex-girlfriends dating other hockey players.
This isn't a discussion about Avery's popularity on and off the ice, it's clear that he is universally reviled by most fans and players, but a discussion of what does and does not deserve a suspension from the league.
That Avery, the league's most loathed agitator, has never been suspended during his seven-year career says a great deal about his skills as an instigator. He isn't a physical thug, he's a cerebral gnat. He's the kid who puts his finger one inch away from your face and says he's not touching you. A tactic he basically used in last year's playoff as he waved his hands and stick in front of Martin Brodeur in an attempt to distract him. The league was forced to essentially implement the "Sean Avery Rule" the following day to prevent him from doing it again since Avery wasn't doing anything illegal.
Therein lies the method to Avery's madness. He never does anything illegal. He knows exactly where the line is and cautiously walks besides it, pretending to touch it every now and again but never crossing it. Fed up with Avery's antics, however, Bettman and the league moved the line and finally suspended him in a move that was as unprecedented as it was ridiculous.
Avery's quote may have been described as crude by some, but nothing he said was muted, bleeped, deleted or censored by the majority of media outlets that covered the story, which is an indication of how tame it was considering the ultra sensitive media environment we currently work in. That Avery, after everything he's done during his career, was suspended for referring to his ex-girlfriends who have gone on to hook up with other hockey players as "sloppy seconds" is as silly as his quote. If anything a team-mandated fine would have been more in order for a player whose comments were more childish than "detrimental to the league or game of hockey," as Bettman said.
There is a litany of good reasons to dislike Avery but there isn't one good reason why he should be suspended six games (and possibly more) for what he said. Not with the NHL's laughable history of suspending players. Avery would have been better off if he had told the media that Ilya Kovalchuk will "get what's coming to him" and that "he's going to play with a target on his back," like Ian White, who wasn't suspended for his threatening remarks, did last week. He would have only missed four games if he had given a vicious two-handed slash to Mikko Koivu, breaking a bone in Koivu's leg and causing him to miss 24 games, as Mattias Ohlund did last year. And for an extra two games he could have stomped on Ryan Kesler's leg with his skate, as Chris Pronger, who has been suspended eight times, did last season.
This isn't a defense of Avery as a player or a person; he's easily the most disliked player in hockey and I would be shocked if ever played another game for the Dallas Stars, who have all but said they are done with him. Hating a player for being a pest, a brat and an all-around jerk, however, doesn't warrant a suspension. But if Bettman wants to suspend Avery and send him to anger management for his comments off the ice, I can only hope he will now take the same stance against players who are truly a detriment to the league and the game of hockey with their actions on the ice.