Eight key questions surrounding Avery's future

December, 5, 2008
12/05/08
5:34
PM ET
The ball is now in Sean Avery's court. How the rest of his NHL career plays out completely depends on how he comes out of this latest run-in with the league. There are key questions still surrounding this situation:

1. Does he understand he's running out of chances to make a living playing hockey?
Yes. From the people we've spoken to over the past 24 hours, we are being led to believe he's hit rock bottom. He's had several of these disciplinary hearings with the NHL, but sources say this is the first time he showed true remorse. Multiple sources also confirm it is Avery who voluntarily suggested counseling. He knows he needs help.

2. But will he finally figure it out and salvage his career?
"I hope so," former teammate Rob Blake told ESPN.com on Friday. "He's a good enough player that if he can figure it out, he can have himself a good career. Unfortunately, he hasn't figured it out yet, as you saw from the statement this week. But I think he's a smart enough guy, maybe he understands that this is the last straw and when he comes back he has to buy into it to be part of a team."

3. What is his most important challenge coming back?
"The biggest thing is learning to be a teammate," Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who had Avery with him in Los Angeles, told ESPN.com Friday. "It's not the yapping in itself, it's what it does and the message that it sends to those sitting next to him."

4. Can he help a hockey team?
"The irony is, these offseason incidents that people label stupid, the fact is, this guy on the ice is a smart player," Lombardi said. "Playing the game, he understands the game and he does a lot of good things. He's got speed, he's tough, he'll fight, he can make a play -- his hockey sense is underrated. And those guys? They're hard to find -- in terms of playing hockey."

That's why, Lombardi said, the Kings, and then the Rangers, put up with him.

"We all knew the MO," said Lombardi. "But you're balancing that against what you see on the rink when he focuses on playing hockey."

5. How do you channel the "good" Sean Avery?
The Rangers have had the most success. For starters, coach Tom Renney gave him a clean slate and told Avery he was ignoring the baggage. Renney also asked Avery to be a leader on the team, which was a first in Avery's career. Veteran GM Glen Sather was also a positive influence. He had the odd meeting with Avery where the two would just talk about life, hockey, etc. Just as Sather was a master at molding and reeling in the young Oilers brats/stars of the 1980s, Sather struck a chord with Avery. At least on some level, anyway.

6. Can Avery still be the same effective player if he cleans up his act and loses his edge?
Tough to say. We got a mixed reaction around the league on that one. There's such an emotional attachment to the way he plays, because he's very outspoken and vocal, that it might be hard for him to disconnect.

7. What are the Stars' options if they don't want him back in their dressing room?
There is no trade market for him right now, so that's not a current option. "Who would want that contract?" said an Eastern Conference GM.

They can send him home on a paid leave of absence after his suspension is completed.

They can put him on waivers, and once he clears, send him to the AHL. "You know, a few months in the minors might actually be beneficial. He might rediscover his passion for the game and understand why he chose this career to begin with," said one NHL source.

The Stars could also buy out his contract in June, although that carries a salary-cap hit for the next six years.

There's also the rumor they'll try to claim he violated some clause in his contract with this latest incident and therefore the contract should be voided. Good luck with that one. The NHL Players' Association would hammer that one down.

"We've also seen signals from the Dallas Stars that Sean's contractual rights might be challenged," NHLPA boss Paul Kelly said Friday. "We are monitoring the situation as it develops, and we will evaluate all legal options as the circumstances warrant."

8. Is today's environment in pro sports partly to blame for what's happened with Avery?
"Part of this is our whole culture of sports now," said Lombardi. "It started in the NBA. We needed to know the players' personalities. This started 15-20 years ago. It's important that we know their personalities because it helps sell -- I question that premise.

"I still think people pay $120 to see an athlete perform. But we have encouraged this personality thing -- express yourself. Well, that's Sean's personality. Now, has he crossed the line with that? Sure. But again, it's a matter of degree. On the one hand, we put the cameras in front of them and go to their homes and want to find out everything about them. Then, when we find out what we don't like, we say, 'Oh, that's not good.'"

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