The National Hockey League threw the book at bad-boy Sean Avery on Friday, suspending the Dallas Stars forward six games, without pay, for inappropriate behaviour earlier this week in Calgary.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed out the punishment following a three-hour meeting Thursday in New York with Avery, his agent Pat Morris, Stars co-general manager Brett Hull and Glenn Healy, the NHL Players' Association player affairs director.
Avery was suspended Wednesday, pending a hearing with Bettman, after telling reporters he couldn't understand why NHL players keep falling in love with his former girlfriends.
Avery has agreed to seek a professional anger management evaluation, and, if necessary, structured counselling in response to what the league says is a pattern of unacceptable and antisocial behaviour.
"Mr. Avery has expressed remorse for his recent comments," Bettman said in a statement. "I will require that he follow through with that process as a condition of his returning to the ice, and that he complies with any and all recommendations.
"Mr. Avery has been warned repeatedly about his conduct and comments, which have too often been at odds with the manner in which his more than 700 fellow players conduct themselves.
"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, requiring a high standard of personal behaviour. Mr. Avery forfeits that privilege for six games."
Avery's latest comment, made prior to Dallas's 3-1 win over the Flames, was directed towards Calgary defenceman Dion Phaneuf and his girlfriend, Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert, who at one time dated Avery.
Avery also once dated Auckland-born model and actress Rachel Hunter, the current girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings centre Jarret Stoll.
Latest comment involves ex-girlfriends
Avery is eligible to return to the Stars lineup Dec. 16 against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes. He already has served two games of the suspension — Tuesday's game against Calgary and Wednesday's contest at Edmonton.
Should Dallas owner Tom Hicks or Stars management choose to further discipline Avery, a Toronto-area native, they have four options:
- Keep him on the active roster.
- Place him on waivers and send him to the minors.
- Put Avery on waivers, send him to the minors and bring him back on re-entry waivers.
- Send him to the minors for the balance of the NHL season and on July 1, put him on waivers for the purpose of buying out two-thirds of his contract at double the term.
As for any potential on-ice retribution against Avery following the suspension, Bettman didn't say the league would issue a warning to the Stars before the Phoenix matchup or prior to their next game against Calgary on Feb. 3 at Dallas.
"I believe our teams and players know what is expected of them on the ice and what conduct will and won't be tolerated," Bettman told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman during a conference call Friday.
Hull, a teammate of Avery's with Detroit in the early 2000s, said the player was remorseful about the incident, adding, "I hope that we can put this all behind us."
Avery, who signed a four-year, $15-million US contract with the Stars last summer as a free agent, issued an apology on Wednesday through SportingNews.com. The publication said it obtained the statement through Avery's personal publicist.
"It was a bad attempt to build excitement for the game," said Avery of his most recent comment. "But I am now acutely aware of how hurtful my actions were."
Avery at centre of other incidents
Bettman said he isn't concerned about the precedent that has been set with the Avery suspension.
"Players in this league are held accountable for their conduct both on and off the ice. The standards and circumstances, obviously, can vary from situation to situation," he said. "We have had instances when things have been said on the ice that crossed the line and [the offenders] have been punished. You have to look at [things] on a case-by-case basis."
The NHL commissioner was also asked by a reporter why Avery would require anger management evaluation but not a player that takes out his anger on an opponent on the ice.
"We have things happen on the ice that we would prefer not happen on the ice but sometimes in playing the game of hockey you see it and we discipline those appropriately," said Bettman. "It's not talking about the same thing to compare player playing conduct with the type of conduct we see here.
"You're talking about two different things."
Before the Stars' 5-2 loss at Edmonton on Wednesday, head coach Dave Tippett said he has a hard time envisioning Avery being welcomed back to the dressing room by his teammates.
Dallas goaltender Marty Turco said Avery, "better show up like a man," after learning of his comments while other teammates just shook their heads.
Stars management also issued a statement saying the club supported the NHL's initial decision to suspend Avery, and noted it would have if the league didn't step in.