For the foreseeable future, Sean Avery will try to help the Hartford Wolf Pack challenge for top spot in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference.
The Dallas Stars on Tuesday assigned the left-winger to the New York Rangers' minor-league affiliate because they don't have an AHL team.
"Dallas has given me a great opportunity to come and play here right now," Avery said at the Wolf Pack's practice facility in nearby Cromwell. "I'm just worrying about today and happy that I'm back playing. That's the important thing."
"At this point in time, I would like to focus on hockey and will not be making any further statements while with the Wolf Pack."
Avery, 28, cleared NHL waivers on Monday after spending the past two months in a league-mandated counselling program after making vulgar comments in December.
He was expected to skate with Hartford on Tuesday morning prior to Wednesday's game against the Manitoba Moose.
Avery's route back to the NHL is most likely through re-entry waivers after a stint in the AHL. At that time, any of the NHL's 30 teams could put in a claim at half his remaining salary.
Avery signed a four-year contract worth $15.5 million US with the Stars last summer and played just 23 games for the team.
He wasn't sure when his AHL stint might lead to an NHL return.
"Guidelines and timelines aren't in my plans right now," he said. "I just want to help these guys as much as I can and just play hard and have some fun."
Avery hasn't appeared in the AHL since a three-game stint with the Manchester Monarchs during the 2003 playoffs.
Hartford entered play Tuesday in second place in the AHL East with a 26-20-5 record, four points behind the Providence Bruins.
"I'm not surprised to see him there and, frankly, I hope he gets himself back on track," AHL president Dave Andrews told Hockey Night In Canada Radio.
Andrews believes a stint in the AHL will provide Avery an opportunity to get back in game shape around other motivated players, but he isn't sure what impact Avery's presence will have on the league.
"It will certainly generate some interest," Andrews said. "It was a big story.
"I'm sure that most hockey fans in our cities know who Sean Avery is and they know of the story and he will probably hear it from fans around the AHL when he goes on the road, but he is used to that. I think there is some interest and I think most people, frankly, probably hope he can get himself back on track and get back to the NHL."
'Sean was a good player for the Rangers'
Dallas has sent a dozen players to seven other AHL teams this season, but Avery is the only one who has gone to Hartford.
"Sean and the Dallas Stars approached me looking for an American Hockey League team for him to resume playing," Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather in a statement.
"And I am happy to provide him with the opportunity to continue his career. Sean was a good player for the Rangers during his time here [2006-08] and has worked extremely hard off the ice over the last two months."
"Glen is a guy who has a history of taking on projects like that, with some success in many cases and sometimes not," Andrews said. "Also, Sean played pretty well in New York for a year and a half and was an important part of their team before he signed with Dallas."
Avery was suspended for six games by the NHL on Dec. 3 after telling reporters in Calgary a few days earlier that he couldn't understand why NHL players keep falling in love with his former girlfriends.
The comment was directed towards Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf and his girlfriend, Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert, who, at one time, dated Avery.
Stars owner Tom Hicks told Toronto sports radio station the FAN 590 on Monday that he wished Avery well but made it clear he was not welcome back with his organization.
"We're happy for Sean. He's been working hard to take care of some of the issues he's had," Hicks told said. "Our plans are to find him a place in the AHL where he can play and show his hockey skills and maybe there will be another team in the league that might want to pick him up. But he's not going to a part of the Dallas Stars."
The Stars have thrived since Avery's departure, compiling a 18-8-3 record without him, moving from last place in the Western Conference to fifth.
Avery has played for Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Dallas during his career.
He wore out his welcome with both the Kings and Stars, and will be under a fair bit of scrutiny wherever he ends up.