Sean Avery of the New York Rangers had 111 penalty minutes in 41 NHL games this season. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Prior to the opening of the playoffs each year, the NHL convenes a mandatory conference call for the GMs and coaches of the 16 participating teams. League personnel review various points of emphasis for officials, expectations for player and coach interactions with referees and media, Central Registry issues and a host of other topics.
Toward the end of the call, the league provides the teams with the name of the “supervisor” handling their series. The supervisor will then follow-up with the GMs to exchange telephone numbers, hotel information and, again, discuss officiating standards and points of emphasis.
The supervisor will also be available to speak with the managers and coaches throughout the series. Whether in the heat of battle after a game (which is generally frowned upon by the NHL), during off days or even on game day, the supervisor is the primary interface between the two teams and the league.
Were I managing a team facing the Rangers in the playoffs, as soon as I knew our supervisor, I would start lobbying him about super-pest Sean Avery. I would provide a DVD featuring all of Avery’s greatest “hits” after the whistle, pre-game dust-ups, love taps to the back of the goalie’s head, goalie-interference antics, etc. I would tell the supervisor it is essential his officials “control” Avery.
I would also have my coach calmly discuss with the media the fact we all “know” what Avery is about and are committed to skating away from that stuff. I would ask him to say we must be the more disciplined team and have him tell the assembled scribes he and our players won’t even discuss Sean Avery henceforth.
Of course, I would have met with the coach and our players beforehand and explained to them that I have their backs and will make sure I spend every waking hour of this series getting our message across to the supervisor about Avery. While I am doing that, it is imperative our players (and coaches) essentially turn the other cheek. Skate away from the antics, block out the verbal abuse, take the gloved punch in the face and basically ask for another. Better yet, score on the ensuing power play.
The only way to win is to be the more disciplined team and the greatest revenge to exact on Avery is to knock his team out in the first round. That needs to be the message for the players and coaches. Meanwhile, trust that I will speak with the supervisor six times a day, if needed, to highlight whatever transgressions we feel Avery may be getting away with in the series.
Will it work? It may plant a seed and if we can demonstrate our commitment to team discipline, it should work to our advantage as the series continues. In any event, as the GM, it is the only way to handle what everyone knows will be coming from Avery, because the last thing you want is for your players and coaches to be focusing on him rather than the game. Avery is a giant distraction and this time of year the GM needs to do everything possible to eliminate distractions.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.