Leafs better off without Avery

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Like most sensible hockey men around the league, Ron Wilson is disgusted at the vulgar Sean Avery saga.

And to think the foul-mouthed Dallas Star could have been the Maple Leafs' problem.

It was never close to getting done but, for a little while at least, Avery and his camp certainly tried to muscle Toronto on to his radar of possible free agent destinations this past summer.

To his credit, then general manager Cliff Fletcher may have listened to overtures from Avery, but he sure didn't bite. One of Fletcher's main tasks, after all, was to rid the Leafs locker room of dysfunction, not add some.

Fletcher made it clear that he wanted to hand Wilson a roster full of players who were willing to learn and listen for the greater good, not selfish punks addicted to disruption.

Never shy with an opinion, Wilson left no doubt yesterday as to where he falls on the issue of Avery and how he would have reacted if one of his players pulled such a stunt.

"I'd go nuts if one of our players said something like that," Wilson said of the distasteful comments Avery made about fellow NHLers dating his ex girlfriends. "When you start including girlfriends and wives (in trash talking).

"In the age we are today, with movies and comedy, there doesn't seem to be any boundaries but there should be. We don't have ratings on sports channels. It's not the right thing."

The Avery act clearly has worn thin around the league, and especially in Dallas. On its official website, Avery was even removed from the team roster yesterday, though officials later said it was a technical glitch.

While it's difficult to say for certain what forces were at play and how seriously some in the Toronto camp may have considered Avery, the possibility of him being a Leaf was a hot rumour for a while in the summer.

How close was it to happening? With Fletcher in charge, let's just say if you put down $2 at the windows that it wouldn't happen, you were going to cash.

While the draft-day move to acquire Luke Schenn, along with bringing Nik Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski to town, were among his most visible moves, avoiding riff-raff may have been Fletcher's most significant initiative.

The culture of the Leafs room is developing, but from being around the team for the first two months of the season, there wouldn't appear to be any seriously sour influences.

That process will continue under new president and general manager Brian Burke as the team looks to build with a mix of talent and character.

Ironically, the acquisition of one of those big moves -- Hagman -- has a tie to Avery going to Dallas. When the Stars moved to the front of the line for the pest -- a dubious start to Brett Hull's managerial career, to be sure -- cap space became an issue.

With Hagman due to make $3 million US and Avery in line for $3.8 million, it was difficult for the Stars to afford both and they made that known to the Finn. So, the day after the Leafs signed Hagman as a free agent, Avery did the same with the Stars.

Like most players from the Coyotes and Leafs who were asked about Avery the past couple of days, Toronto forward Matt Stajan just shook his head.

"Obviously you can't say stuff like that," he said. "As players, you have to have a little more respect for each other. He definitely crossed the line."

Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky wouldn't dignify Avery with a response. Wilson was equally incredulous but doesn't have it in his personality to bite his tongue.

It could have been worse: He could have been a Leaf. Instead, it was the Stars that got stuck with the sloppy seconds.


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