Whatever the punishment, Sean Avery's next issue will be with Stars

December, 4, 2008
As the hockey world waits with bated breath for Gary Bettman's decision on Sean Avery, the real issue going forward has nothing to do with the league's head office.

It has to do with the Dallas Stars.

At some point, when Avery's suspension ends, the club will have to decide what to do with their unwanted child.

One thing is clear: The players in the Stars' dressing room do not want him back.

Just more than a month ago, several players we spoke to quietly defended Avery, saying he was working hard in practice and wasn't really too much of a distraction.

"We spoke too soon," said a Stars player, who requested anonymity, to ESPN.com on Thursday. "He slowly has just become what you saw over the last few days. It's been a rough few days for the staff and the team."

So we know how the Stars' players feel. But let's be clear about one thing: the Stars' management and ownership deserve some of the blame in this whole fiasco. This isn't all on Sean Avery.

"Are you telling me they didn't know what they were getting when they signed him last summer?" an NHL executive said Thursday. "Give me a break. They made their bed."

So regardless of how harsh the treatment is that Avery gets at the end of all this, the Stars should not be allowed off the hook. They either have to pay him the rest of his four-year, $15.5 million contract to play in the AHL, or they buy him out in June and pay him two-thirds of that amount over the next six years. Not a dime less.

It was Stars co-GM Brett Hull that made the hard sell to the front office to sign Avery this past summer. To his credit, Hull admitted his mistake this week and hasn't tried to weasel away from the bad judgment he made.

"Brett laid a lot out in saying why we needed this guy," former Dallas defenseman and current Stars TV analyst Craig Ludwig told ESPN.com on Thursday. "And Brett Hull has been pretty good in his career in knowing what to do. He did it because he felt it was for the best of the team, that this was a piece of the puzzle that was going to help us. All Brett is trying to do is win the Stars a Stanley Cup.

"Let's face it: There's a lot of other GMs in the league that have tried to get their teams to the next level and their moves backfired as well. It just happened that this had a little more gas on it."

Judging from the comments coming from ESPN.com readers over the past week -- who overwhelmingly seem to think the league was too harsh on Avery -- understand for a moment what kind of organization he has embarrassed.

The Dallas Stars moved to Texas in 1993 and, from the get-go, made a point of being a model organization, on and off the ice. It was Montreal Canadiens-South. After all, Bob Gainey was at the helm in those early years. They made inroads in the community as hockey rinks popped up in the area over the next 15 years.

"It was Bob Gainey, Doug Armstrong, Mr. Hicks, everybody here," Ludwig said. "Especially here in the community, the players and the organization do so much here. There's a level of respect and reputation around that. We've never really had any kind of an incident that's been at this level.

"We all know some of the things that are said on the ice in the heat of the game, when you're yelling and screaming at other players about their wives or girlfriends and stuff like that," Ludwig said. "I'm sure there are harsher things that have been said. But it was just the venue that it took place in and the way it was done. I guess the only other thing he could have done is waited for a game in Montreal or Toronto."

Avery was never the right fit in Dallas. Now comes the ugly divorce.



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