Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.

This week we are pleased to have FF writer Mike Adams join us to talk about the most hated player in the NHL.

Ash: We all know what Sean Avery said to the media on December 2nd about his ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert and Flames’ defenceman Dion Phaneuf. There are so many different things that we can discuss, so I will present two options and we’ll see where this one goes.

One: Avery received a six-game suspension for his little comment. Does he deserve this punishment?

Two: This incident seems to be the last straw. The Dallas Stars have been fed up with the pesky forward and his antics since he was signed this summer. There have been rumours that management was thinking about assigning him to the AHL a few weeks ago, but the Manitoba Moose said that under no circumstances would they take him.

The Stars are in danger of losing their season. It’s no secret that his teammates hate him, and he doesn’t seem to have the same on-ice production in Dallas that he had in New York. Will the Stars look to make Avery a scapegoat and dump him as soon as possible?

Mike: Sure, Ash, start me off with a tough question. It really depends on how you look at it. If you just consider it in the context of what he said, absolutely, he deserves that suspension. it was a despicable thing to say, not that stuff like that doesn’t get said ON the ice all the time. And it was obviously premeditated. Anything we can do to rid the league of this guy is a good thing.

But, if you look at it in the context of other suspensions handed out by the league, then I think it’s very questionable. The issue is that you’re suspending guys for two games for hits that could end players’ careers while sitting Avery for 6 games for saying something stupid. Something doesn’t quite add up here. It appears the league’s public image is more important than the health and well-being of its players.

Question 2: Yeah, I think so. He has never fit in with that group. The classier Dallas veterans like Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow still run that locker room, and they want nothing to do with Avery. Who knows how much the Avery distraction has done to torpedo the Stars’ season? But they were a conference finalist last year, and this year, they are one of the worst teams in the league. They’ve had no focus. It’s hard to deny that Avery has played some role in that.

So I do think they will try to move him somewhere. But where? It’s hard to imagine any NHL team bringing him in. Well, unless the Rangers get desperate. That’s the only place he seemd to be halfway comfortable, probably because of all the attention he got. But it’s a different Ranger group now, with Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr gone.

They can’t buy him out until the offseason. They could try waiving him. But, again, who would pick him up? Maybe the best thing would be to just send him home like the Eagles did with TO. Pay him to stay away.

Or, hey, I hear the Charlestown Chiefs are holding tryouts…

Ash: It’s true that it was a bit odd that the NHL suspended Avery for 6 while they only give out a 2-game suspension to those who like to play dirty on the ice. However, the problem here is not that the NHL suspended Avery for six…it’s that they are soft when it comes to disciplining dirty players. They may be more concerned about their public image than the health of their players (as you said) but there will be no greater threat to the NHL’s public image if someone dies or is paralyzed from one of those dirty hits.

But that’s a whole other discussion…

Avery just may be gone by the time this column is published, since the team has plans to meet this week to discuss his fate with the organization. I think they need to cut him loose sooner rather than later. That team is too good for their current record this season, and I would like to see them play without him. If I was a bettin’ girl, I’d say that they would make the playoffs this year if they cut him loose before Christmas.

Some people say that the players need to be professional and that there is no excuse for being in the NHL’s basement, but I tend to disagree. There are guys on that team who hate Sean Avery and are sick and tired of his antics. How can you concentrate and play at your best when there is someone like that in the locker room and on the ice?

When the Stars meet to decide what to do with Sean Avery, I would suggest a modified Radim Vrbata approach. Get him to sign with a European team, place him on waivers, and put him on a plane.

Problem solved.

Mike: I suppose we’re going a bit off topic if we start into the whole NHL justice issue. So I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand.

Dallas is just a mess right now. How much of that has to do with Avery, we’ll never know. But I sure wouldn’t want to be Brett Hull right about now. He seems to be the one responsible for bringing Avery in. Well, that’s what happens when you hire a novice as a GM. Len Barrie, anyone? I am sure they will cut Avery loose now, but the question is how. No self-respecting NHL team would ever take this clown. Dallas has no AHL affiliate, so they could try to assign him just about anywhere, I imagine. Maybe the ECHL is the best spot for him. He could go to a team like Las Vegas and be the main event. He’d love it. And I’m sure he could find a woman of his very own there, too.

Now, as for your Europe suggestion, can you say “international incident?” I cannot even imagine sending this guy overseas. He would coin a whole new term—Ugly Canadian. I’m not even sure he could get a visa to enter many countries over there. But hey, considering his feelings about the French, maybe they’d like to take him in (as a hostage). Now wouldn’t that be fun!

Ash: He wouldn’t have to travel outside of North America to find people who would like to take him hostage – he could just go to Quebec.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but doesn’t Dallas have to get Avery’s permission before sending him to the ECHL? If that’s the case, it’s really too bad. I’d love to see him take 16-hour bus rides, and I’m sure there are a few players who wouldn’t hesitate to teach Avery a lesson or two. They could take him up as their own personal projects as a favour to hockey players everywhere.

Or how about this idea: maybe Avery can get a permanent job with Vogue. He seems to like the fashion and entertainment world a whole lot more than hockey. He could move back to NYC, be Anna Wintour’s personal assistant, fetch her coffee and clothes, and be ignored by all the models who walk into the office.

One thing I do wonder about is whether or not another NHL team will pick him up. You would think that no one would want to consider taking him, but you just never know – there are a lot of crazy GMs in the NHL. Dallas wasn’t the only team talking to Avery this summer (or at least that’s the rumour), so someone may take a risk and trade for him. I don’t know what the Stars would want, but they just may let him go for a 3rd or 4th round pick if they want to clean their hands of him.

Mike: I think Avery would indeed be much happier in the fashion/entertainment world. He seems to really crave the attention that celebrity brings. It’s like he’s not happy if the spotlight isn’t on him. And in sports, with so many outrageous personalities (think Plaxico), it’s hard to stay in the limelight without becoming more and more absurd. Hey, maybe he could change his name to Sean Seize. Kinda has a ring to it, eh?

Now, as for his future, I don’t know that there are too many crazy GMs in the league. Mike Milbury is long gone. So is JFJ in Toronto. Mike Keenan has been relegated to bench duties. Craig Patrick, gone. Who’s left? Don Waddell? Maybe he’ll trade Kovalchuck for Avery. Yes, I imagine there were more suitors over the summer, but that was before his Dallas implosion, before the latest fiasco. I just cannot imagine a GM bringing him in if his team is in the playoff hunt. The risk of tearing apart the locker room is just too great. Now, if a team just wants a cheap way to sell some tickets, maybe they would take that risk. Hey, how about Tampa Bay?

Stoosh: Sorry I’m a little late to the party here, folks.

Mike, as far as potential destinations for Avery, you beat me to the punch on the obvious Tampa Bay reference. Talk about a circus that needs another clown.

Do I think the suspension was too long? No. I think it was just right. Beyond the six games, the teams has ways to deal with it so it doesn’t entirely look like the league is ruling with an iron fist here.

I think this is something that has to be looked at independently of any sort of other suspension for on-ice incidents. From a practical standpoint, this is an image issue that the NHL doesn’t want or need. The NHL doesn’t need the kind of publicity this kind of garbage generates. It’s a league that’s fought more than its share of public relations battles over the last few years – from the more generalized issue over fighting to the Bertuzzi incident, the lockout, the league’s fade out in terms of overall relevance in the States, etc.

I think part of the reason for the suspension had to do with the game. At the risk of romanticizing this a little too much, hockey is a game where an overwhelming amount of the men and women who play it do so with an honest and humble appreciation for the spirit of the game, and I think this is the case at every level of the game. The concepts of respect, hard work, heart, humility and honor blended with toughness are taught at a very early age, and these all seem to be interwoven very tightly. By and large, most hockey players respect their opponents just as much as they do their own teammates, and this is because so many are conscious of the game.

Ash and I discussed this in an earlier post in the series when I asked why hockey players are largely viewed as such good guys. Hockey is a sport in which behavior like that of Avery is only tolerated so much. I remember watching Matt Barnaby literally play his way off of the Penguins because he took a momentum-killing, boneheaded penalty in a game in the 2000-01 season. In the weeks before that game, Barnaby had developed a penchant for taking some bad penalties. Mario Lemieux was on the ice with Barnaby at the time and as Barnaby made his way to the penalty box, Lemieux stared daggers through him the entire time. You could tell Lemieux had had enough. Within a week or two, Barnaby was traded to Tampa.

Antagonists are fun to watch, but only to a point, and hockey fans are a smart bunch that recognize when an agitator is going from doing his job to become a self-promoting circus act.

When a locker room killer like Terrell Owens or Stephon Marbury is given chance after chance after chance in his respective league, Sean Avery may have very well played his way out of the league with this. One can only hope.

Ash: “Talk about a circus that needs another clown.” Oh, how I laughed at that…thanks Stoosh :)

Bob McKenzie said in his column today that he thinks that the Stars will likely take a ‘compassionate’ route with Avery by granting him a medical leave of absence to rehab himself/his image, which would make him more attractive to suitors when he is ‘fixed’. With Dallas’ owner saying that Avery is a very troubled young man and yadda yadda, it wouldn’t be surprising if this was their solution.

Would this be okay with me? Heck no.

I know that my judgment may be slightly clouded because I have never liked this guy, but I believe that he should be flat out fired. They can do this by suspending him for the rest of the season and buying him out, they can bury him in the minors, whatever. If he wants to take time for rehab, then fine, he can do that once he’s gone. This guy just doesn’t get it and someone needs to send a message; I don’t think this can be done by trading him, or by having someone claim him from waivers.

I keep thinking about what would happen in the real world. Let’s say (heaven forbid) that I had the attitude and personality of Sean Avery. Here’s the scenario: I go into the hospital where I work and I make sexist/racist/ageist comments to a patient…or to a co-worker…or to the news crew assembled for the latest capital campaign press conference. The result? Well, I think it’s safe to say that I would be fired on the spot, and the hospital wouldn’t care about the union.

I know that the NHL isn’t the real world, and that the NHLPA would put up a fuss if Avery isn’t paid his money. It’s really too bad, because it would be nice to see the Dallas Stars find a loophole in his contract that would allow them to make it null and void for humiliating the organization.

Mike: Ash, I couldn’t agree with you more. How nice it would be if they could just fire him. I’m sure Tom Hicks would love to do that, but the CBA prohibits it. Now, if this was the NFL, where no contracts are guaranteed, they could certainly get away with it. But not in the NHL.

The “man” does need psychiatric help. But he has needed it for years and nobody seemed to care. As long as he was fulfilling his agitator role on the ice, the Kings and Rangers were fine with him. Thankfully for him (and us), it appears he will finally get the help he needs because he went over the line this time.

You know, you contrast him to some of the other agitators and enforcers around the league. Those guys are easily able to separate their on-ice roles from their off-ice lives. Most enforcers (Georges Laraque comes immediately to mind) are very good people off the ice. Same with agitators like Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu. They leave it at the rink. Avery can’t do that, for whatever pathetic reason. And that’s why he is nothing more than a circus sideshow.

Ash: This is one case where it’s too bad the CBA guarantees all contracts.

Mike, I think you make a good point by comparing Avery to other agitators/enforcers. He is truly in a class of his own – this is really the first time we have seen a player push things so far that his teammates have publicly declared that they don’t want him back.

So with all that being said, the Stars have made their decision to get rid of Avery. Brett Hull said the following this morning:

“Everyone understands that Sean will not return to the Dallas Stars. We all need to move forward.”

I think we can all agree that this was a good decision on Dallas’ part.