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Campbell's Cuts: If Avery can change, welcome him back

Sean Avery was given a six-game suspension by the NHL last week. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Sean Avery was given a six-game suspension by the NHL last week. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For those of you who think Sean Avery should, and will, be forever banished from the NHL landscape, I recall an exchange that took place in a dressing room at the Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton during the lockout.

As the players were milling about the dressing room following an outdoor charity game, Todd Bertuzzi quietly walked out with his hockey bag slung over his shoulder and his sticks in his hand. As he walked past a group of players, a prominent member of the Colorado Avalanche and teammate of Steve Moore, whose neck had been broken by Bertuzzi just months before, held out his hand and looked Bertuzzi straight in the eye before saying, “Hang in there, big guy.”

In the wake of Avery’s comments and even more ridiculous suspension from the NHL, hockey people have beaten a path to the moral high ground like never before. They’ve transformed Avery into a pariah and are tripping over each other in their efforts to loudly proclaim they want nothing to do with him. His Dallas Stars teammates have abandoned him, likely for a laundry list of indiscretions and not just the recent one, making it clear he won’t be welcomed back into their dressing room anytime soon, if ever.

But don’t forget, people in hockey can be a very forgiving bunch when they realize a player can make a contribution. After all, didn’t Craig MacTavish return to have a bountiful career after spending a year in jail for vehicular homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol?  Didn’t Wayne Gretzky have a place for Bertuzzi on the 2006 Canadian Olympic team? How about the Canadian national junior program, which was happy to accept Steve Downie, just weeks after he served a suspension for participating in a sick hazing ritual and punching out one of his teammates? Didn’t the Hockey Hall of Fame induct convicted felon Harold Ballard as a builder?

Like anyone who has been demonized, Avery will have to patiently serve his time in purgatory and, upon his return, will be required to show the requisite contrition. Of course, he’ll have to undergo this idiotic anger management process, you know, because being a self-serving bonehead of the highest order obviously means you have anger management issues to address.

But if Avery can and does change his ways and he actually learns something from all of this, why wouldn’t the Stars want him back? Everyone in hockey acknowledges Avery has the capacity to be a very effective player and those who watched the New York Rangers defeat the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs last season will tell you Avery was a huge factor.

Of course, there are some mitigating factors at work here. The first of which is the concern Avery might not be as effective if he’s forced to tone down his act. Taking away his ability to grate might keep him from being great.

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Second is the contractual problem Avery has created for himself. It would be one of the all-time great injustices in NHL history if the Stars were able to weasel themselves out of this contract and the NHL Players’ Association would certainly fight it vigorously. With a salary cap hit of almost $4 million a year for the next three seasons after this one, Avery is virtually untradeable at the moment.

If the Stars were to send him to the minors, they’d have to bury him there for the next three and a half seasons if they wanted to avoid the salary cap ramifications that would come with either buying him out or losing him and having to absorb half his salary if he were ever claimed on recallable waivers. It certainly puts the Stars in a difficult spot even if they did want to find him another place to play.

(While we’re on the subject of Avery and the American League, AHL teams that say they would want nothing to do with Avery are doing their fans a complete disservice. Avery is contrite and has already vowed to try to change. What more do these people want? Plus, Avery would only be one of the best players in the league if he were to play there.)

Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a step back, maybe even show some compassion to a troubled soul in his time of need and give both Avery and the Stars some cooling-off time.

So instead of sending him to the minors, perhaps the Stars could continue to pay him and have him work out on his own while working out his personal problems for the rest of this season. The Stars have said he’ll never be welcomed back in their room, but never is a long time.

The fact is, Avery could come back to the NHL. He’d be a much blander, more reserved version of himself and the Stars could probably find a place for him in their dressing room again.

If, after all this, Avery cannot be a changed man, then he probably deserves to be cast out of every dressing room in hockey, but how about having a little faith in humanity and mankind?

The hockey world in general loves these kinds of stories. If Pee-Wee Herman, Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen and Britney Spears could do it, why not Sean Avery?

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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