Avery suspended indefinitely by NHL

December 3, 2008 2:25:33 PM PST
Sean Avery knows all about the punishment that comes with saying something inflammatory on the ice, from time in the penalty box to having a stick swung at him. On Tuesday, he learned how harsh the league can be about things said off the ice.

Avery was suspended indefinitely by commissioner Gary Bettman for making "inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game." The punishment came down only hours after Avery used a crude term about his former girlfriends now dating other hockey players.

Avery missed the Dallas Stars' game against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. Because terms won't be settled until Avery meets with Bettman, likely in New York, he almost certainly will be out again Wednesday night when the Stars play in Edmonton.

"More than anything, he's let his teammates down," said Dallas co-general manager Brett Hull, who played with Avery in Detroit several years ago and was a driving force in signing him.

Despite all the cajoling, snide remarks and other stunts Avery has pulled on the way to becoming the biggest pest in hockey, this is the first time he's been suspended by the NHL.

Avery's inflammatory line came following a morning skate in Calgary, Alberta.

Reporters were waiting to speak with Avery about disparaging remarks he'd made last month about Flames star Jarome Iginla when Avery walked over to the group and asked if there was a camera present. When told there was, he said, "I'm just going to say one thing."

"I'm really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada," he said. "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my (former girlfriends). I don't know what that's about, but enjoy the game tonight." He then walked out of the locker room.

Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert of the television show "24" and the movie "Old School," is dating Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf; she also had been romantically linked to Mike Komisarek of the Montreal Canadiens.

"My thoughts were that it was a very disrespectful comment, and the league took action and I definitely agree with the way they took action," Phaneuf said after the Flames' 3-1 loss to the Stars on Tuesday night.

Avery also dated Rachel Hunter, the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and actress who is now the girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings center Jarrett Stoll.

"I completely support the league's decision to suspend Sean Avery," Stars owner Tom Hicks said in a statement. "Had the league not have suspended him, the Dallas Stars would have. This organization will not tolerate such behavior, especially from a member of our hockey team. We hold our team to a higher standard and will continue to do so."

Avery is the kind of player who delights in doing or saying something to get under the skin of opponents and their fans. He's led the league in penalty minutes twice, and was doing so again going into Tuesday.

He's not only often called the most hated player in the NHL, he loves hearing it.

"I like to push it to the edge, no doubt about it," Avery said this summer, after signing a $15.5 million, four-year deal with the Stars. "That's how I play. That's how I live. That's what I'm all about."

His most infamous tactic came during last season's playoffs, while with the New York Rangers, when he stood in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, waving his hand and stick in the goalie's face to block his view. The next day, the league put in the so-called "Avery Rule" to prohibit such shenanigans.

Avery has been fined by the league and was once suspended by the Los Angeles Kings. Other players have been suspended for retaliating against Avery, including Chicago's Ben Eager getting a three-game suspension for swinging his stick at Avery. However, this is the first time in his seven-year career that the NHL has taken him off the ice.

"Sean crossed that line," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "He won't continue with us on the trip. We've always professed that there is nobody that's ever bigger than our group or bigger than the team.

"Sean said something that just doesn't paint our organization in a good light, and appropriate steps are being taken."

The Stars signed him in hopes that his grittiness would boost last season's Western Conference finalists. Instead, the injury-riddled Stars came into Tuesday with only 20 points, fewest in the West and near the bottom of the NHL. Avery had 77 penalty minutes in 23 games. He also had three goals and seven assists.

"I've told him before, there's more to the game than just lacing up the skates," Hull said. "There are things you have to be accountable for."

Avery and Iginla were to meet on the ice for the first time since Avery told ESPN "the NHL does a terrible job of marketing" by not promoting its "villains," and that "nobody cares about Jarome Iginla and guys like that, they're just not exciting enough."

The Stars and Flames meet three more times. Next is Feb. 3 in Dallas; the Stars return to Calgary on March 18.

"We expect that out of him like we have all year," said goaltender Marty Turco, who was critical of Avery's agitation of Brodeur during the playoffs when it happened. "You know, the show continues."

There is no guarantee that Avery will be able to repair the damage he caused within the Stars' dressing room.

"It's going to take some time," teammate Mike Modano said. "It's a situation we'll have to address when that time comes, if it does."


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