Just listened this morning. Excellent as always.
Regarding Avatar, it does tend to function as you say as the big two-part season opener, and I think the fact that it feels so much like that and so much like you're just watching another episode is what led people to start calling it "season 8." I know that the editors and writers have never liked that characterisation of the series, nor even the word "relaunch" (since that term was supposed to apply only to Avatar and not to the series as a whole), but one might almost say they were too successful at their task of making it feel like "more DS9" in that regard. It's just too much like the real thing for us to think of it in any other way.
Again, the two-part season opener style of the story can be compared to "The Search" or "Way of the Warrior" (and Picard's inclusion was deliberately intended to evoke "Emissary"). But I do think that if any novel was released today that looked as objectively thin on the shelf as Avatar pt 2 does, it would generate a s**tstorm of complaints from readers proclaiming that Pocket are sucking up our money for substandard product. Of course, at the time many if not most ST novels were of comparable length to Avatar 2. That's another way in which Pocket shot themselves in the foot with their too-good-ness - they raised the bar so high that our expectations were raised with it, and now we expect Twilight-sized doorstops with everything. And the DS9-R series was really where that rise in quality began. Still, I'd rather have an important, consequential-feeling slim volume than 700 pages of rubbish.
A lot of readers questioned how come Avatar came out as two novels, given how slim part 2 was. I believe it was in Voyages of Imagination that Marco Palmieri is quoted as saying that if he were doing it again now it would be one book (much in the way that Voyager's re-relaunch Full Circle was made into one book rather than two, perhaps), but that he had intended it as two full-length novels at planning stage, and at least this way we get two gorgeous covers. He's not wrong there.
You also brought up Vaughn seeming like a "new Sisko". If I recall, that was a minor bone of contention among some people, claiming that Vaughn was simply a Sisko re-run. Lost their partners to the Borg, raising their children alone, disatisfied with life, came to Bajor, encountered an Orb, new lease on life. When seeing it broken down like that one can see their point - except that all of those elements are explored in very different ways, and whatever their paths, their personalities are markedly different. I also believe, as you seemed to be implying, that those similarities were entirely deliberate on Marco and SD Perry's parts, and would have had story consequences somewhere down the road (if that road hadn't been left unfinished). Those similiarities created (for me ar least) an underlying sense that Vaughn was going to be some kind of back-up Emissary - a sense that was deliberately played with and then subverted in The Soul Key.
And a last note about furry Ferengi. I have speculated that Ferengi actually find furry things scary and unnatural because animals don't have fur on Ferenginar - it would be counter-evolutionary in the waterlogged environment. And that's why Daimons and Ferengi enforcers wear fur - because to them it's scary.