DALLAS (AP)—Whenever Sean Avery is ready to return to the NHL, it won’t be with the Dallas Stars.
The combative forward was eligible to return from a six-game suspension Sunday, but the Stars instead announced Avery will not rejoin the team—ever.
“You have to do what’s right for both parties, and that’s what we’re really trying to do,” co-general manager Brett Hull said.
Avery was only 23 games into a four-year, $15.5 million deal when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suspended him for a crude remark about ex-girlfriends dating other hockey players. Simmering tension between Avery and his teammates and his coach boiled over in the aftermath, with the dressing room united in its stance against him ever wearing a Stars sweater again.
“I thought (Sean) could bring a little bit of a change in our locker room and on the ice which I thought was missing,” Hull said. “Obviously, it went overboard and didn’t work out.”
Details of Avery’s departure still must be worked out. He could be traded, sent to the minors or bought out next summer. The club said it will work with Avery to try making this an amicable divorce. They won’t try voiding his contract on grounds he’s violated the conduct clause.
Yet there’s no telling when Avery will play again.
He’s at an undisclosed location seeking treatment through a program set up by the NHL players association. When he was suspended, Avery told the Stars he needed help dealing with anger issues. Hull said Avery is in a 10-day, voluntary program that could be extended if counselors determine he needs a longer stay.
Avery’s agent and publicist did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“We don’t want to ruin Sean or his career. We want him to get better,” Hull said. “The team needs to move on and start winning and he needs to take care of himself. … As a hockey player, I think there’s no question he can be an asset. That said, he’s got to fix the demons he has. It becomes such a huge distraction that it almost takes away from his ability to play the game.”
Avery is a two-time league leader in penalty minutes who prides himself on doing and saying things to irritate his foes. He savors his reputation as the NHL’s most-hated player and contrasts it with a well-publicized interest in fashion. He’s dated actresses, been written up in People magazine and spent this summer as intern for Vogue magazine. The fact he has a publicist makes him unique among NHL players.
Although Avery had been fined and NHL rules were changed because of his antics, he’d never been suspended by the league until Dec. 2, when Bettman punished him only hours after his now-infamous line.
The Stars were in Calgary, Alberta, so it likely was aimed at Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who is dating actress Elisha Cuthbert. Avery also has dated supermodel-actress Rachel Hunter, who is now dating Los Angeles’ Jarret Stoll. Reporters were gathered to ask Avery about comments he’d made about another Flames player, former scoring champion Jarome Iginla.
Dallas coach Dave Tippett was furious because Avery defied him by even speaking to those reporters. The next day, Tippett made it clear he didn’t want Avery back, as did team leaders Mike Modano and Marty Turco.
“Their voice was heard loud and clear,” Hull said.
When Avery was a rookie, he was teammates with Hull and even lived in Hull’s home. Knowing Avery so well, Hull thought he was just what the Stars needed after losing to Detroit in the Western Conference finals, and he persuaded owner Tom Hicks to sign him as a free agent.
Instead of getting over the hump, Dallas has dropped to the bottom of the West. Injuries are mostly to blame, but Avery’s presence didn’t help.
“I honestly believe the issues that Sean had really kind of festered when he came to Dallas and things didn’t work out for him as he had planned, as we had planned,” Hull said. “But I think a lot of those things were brought on by himself. It’s a two-way street. You have to be accepted, but you have to do everything you can to be accepted. It was just a bad situation.”
Hull was surprised that Avery didn’t know better.
“I don’t know how many times you can go through the league office before you realize you can’t do this any more,” he said.
Because the Avery signing backfired so quickly, questions have been raised about Hull’s ability as a talent evaluator. He said Sunday this was just a learning experience, noting that “there’s a lot of teams that have made mistakes.”
“Disappointed? Yeah. Frustrated? Yeah. You can pick (an emotion), they’ve probably been there over the last few weeks,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do things that we think can help bring a championship to Dallas.”
The 28-year-old Avery is on his fourth team in seven seasons. He came up with Detroit, was traded to Los Angeles and then was dealt to the New York Rangers, who didn’t re-sign him when his contract expired.
Will a fifth franchise want him?
“There’s no sense talking about it until he gets better,” Hull said. “At that point, all you can do is pick up the phone and call people. It’s hard enough to make a deal with two healthy players.”
A trade would be the easiest way out, if there are any takers. The Stars probably won’t cut him because they would owe him $4 million for each of the next three seasons. They’re more likely to hold his rights until July 1, when they could buy him out for two-thirds of the balance ($8 million, instead of $12 million).
Avery also could be sent to an AHL team, with the Stars paying his salary; if he didn’t show up, he wouldn’t get paid. Should Avery play in the minors, he’d go through re-entry waivers on the way back into the NHL. If a team claims him, the Stars and the new team would split the salary.