Sean Avery had no business in a Dallas Stars sweater. He shouldn’t have even been on the team’s radar except as an obstacle to avoid or a target for a precision-guided munition.
But for all his desired loyalty and willingness to give a friend a chance, Assistant General Manager Brett Hull felt that Avery could bring something to the organization that was lacking in the Western Conference Finals last June – toughness.
I beg your pardon?
The Stars weren’t supposed to get that close to the Stanley Cup, unless it was on tour. A team that had struggled to get out of the first round of the playoffs for years got offense and goaltending going in the same season to advance into a series with Detroit, only to fall four games to two.
But was it a lack of grit in the lineup that was the downfall of what became somewhat of a Cinderella story in Big D?
Detroit was just the better team – period. Not that I was happy about it, because at that point I was rooting for the Pens to win the Cup, but the Red Wings are a machine – an annual contender that fans of others hope will not be in the way.
Thus the team that came within a two wins of the finals saw fit to let two capable young Fins go and brought in public enemy number one of the NHL: Sean Avery.
Both Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen had stellar seasons.
Hagman played in all 82 games (only five players on the team showed that durability), scored 27 goals (tie-2nd on team), and had 14 assists for a total of 41 points (4th on team). Hags had shown not only the skill on the forecheck that we expect from Finns, but a toughness and willingness to hit and chuck knuckles if needed.
Miettinen proved to also have the chutzpah of his countryman. His 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 69 games played put him seventh on the team total in offensive production. He had skill and toughness for only being 6’0” and 190 pounds.
Last year Avery played with the New York Rangers, where he was disliked by those in and outside the team. His numbers were similar to Miettinen with 15 goals and 18 assists, though in only 57 games.
It came down to a dollars game. Both of Dallas’ youngsters were coming to the end of contracts where they were bargains for the team. The Stars were in a pickle with the salary cap, and certainly couldn’t have afforded to keep both. But they would have stayed – Hagman in particular, for less than they were worth.
Once available on the free-agent market, Miettinen was swiped up by Minnesota, where he started strong and has 32 points in 48 games. Hagman was grabbed by Toronto, and has 13 goals and assists for 26 points on the season to date.
Having been in the locker room this season, there was a palpable difference between when Avery was with the team, and since he’s been gone (cue Kelly Clarkson’s hit song…)
Avery was suspended by the league for comments made about players dating his, “Sloppy seconds” – referring to Cuthbert’s beau Dion Phaneuf of Calgary – on December 2nd. The penalty was unfortunate because I think it would have been quite a show to have the Flames defenseman (6’3”, 210 pounds) defend the actresses’ honor at center ice in the Saddledome prior to faceoff.
At the time he was shelved, Avery had 3 goals and 7 assist in 23 appearances in Dallas colors. The team didn’t want to destroy his career, nor face union issues, so they continue to pay his $3.5 million salary while shopping him around. To his credit, Avery has attended anger management counseling, but he’s not someone I’m willing to give a second chance.
So now we’ve examined the numbers, and we can look at the results in direct relation to the reason Avery was brought to Dallas.
The Stars went three and one in the season series versus the Detroit – all without Avery on the bench. (The two teams meet four times in the six weeks between December 12th and January 29th.)
Dallas owned the Red Wings this season, and didn’t need the thug to make it happen.
What we could have used to date was none of the animosity he poisoned the locker room with after his arrival.
Additionally, the offensive ability either Hagman or Miettinen could have brought in playing on one of the Stars top-two lines would have made a marked difference in the standings.
I absolutely believe that Dallas would be second in the Pacific Division, trailing only the red-hot Sharks, and in a position to hold fourth in the conference at worst. Instead the team is outside the playoff hunt and in need of points.
As January comes to a close, the Stars are on their first three-game winning streak of the year. Further, with a healthy Jere Lehtinen back in the lineup along with a couple of good youngsters in Loui Erikkson and James Neal, the festering wound that was Sean Avery seems to have closed. Team chemistry has greatly improved, and the Stars are threatening to become the feared opponent they should have been from the get-go.
The fact that this team put a four-two beat-down on the Red Wings in Detroit January 29th shows that the book has been shelved on the failed experiment that was Sean Avery.
Can we take a mulligan on letting Hagman go?