CALGARY — Sean Avery may have irreparably damaged his relationship with the Dallas Stars.
Sports teams often defend their players when they get into trouble, but the Stars have refused to bail out their super pest after he landed in hot water once again.
The Stars publicly denounced Avery’s crude comments to the media that referenced the girlfriend of Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf, and supported the NHL’s indefinite suspension levied on Avery.
"Sean crossed that line," Stars head coach Dave Tippett said.
The league imposed the ban "following inappropriate public comments, not pertaining to the game made by Avery earlier (Tuesday)."
Avery threw a verbal bomb after getting the attention of television cameras before the Stars’ 3-1 win over the Flames in Calgary.
"I’m really happy to be back in Calgary. I love Canada," the Stars forward 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 sloppy seconds.
"I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight."
Avery’s ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert, is dating Phaneuf and had been romantically linked to Mike Komisarek of the Montreal Canadiens. Avery also dated model and actress Rachel Hunter, the girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings centre Jarrett Stoll.
"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 today," Phaneuf said following a 3-1 loss to the Stars.
Tippett had defended his abrasive forward since the Stars signed him to a US$15.5-million, four-year contract in July, but he dropped his shield Tuesday.
"I think everyone in our room believes there is an integrity that has to go along with the game, respect for the game and respect for your opponents," he told reporters prior to the game.
"I think the words, the words and disrespect for an opponent like that is something … there’s lots of trash talking that goes on on the ice, but that to announce something like that for everybody to hear, to me that crosses the line and the league and our ownership felt that too."
When asked if Avery’s relationship with the Stars can be saved, Tippett responded "time will tell" and assistant captain Mike Modano wasn’t sure either.
"It’s going to take some time," Modano said. "It’s a situation we’ll have to address when that time comes, if it does."
Stars owner Tom Hicks released a statement saying that he fully agreed with the league’s decision.
"Had the league not have suspended him, the Dallas Stars would have," said Hicks. "This organization will not tolerate such behaviour, especially from a member of our hockey team. We hold our team to a higher standard and will continue to do so."
Dallas concludes a two-game Alberta swing in Edmonton on Wednesday, but Avery will not be with the team.
"He won’t continue with us on the trip," Tippett said. "We’ve always professed that there is nobody that’s ever bigger than our group or bigger than the team."
The ban may have saved Avery from on-ice retribution from Phaneuf, who is one of the fiercest hitters in the NHL, but Phaneuf would not comment on what he would have done had Avery played.
The suspension is indefinite pending a hearing with commissioner Gary Bettman. The fact the league moved so quickly indicated the NHL may have wanted to head possible trouble in Tuesday’s game off at the pass.
Flames winger Craig Conroy said Avery, his former Los Angeles Kings teammate, demonstrated the wrong sense of humour.
"He made stupid comments and it bit him," Conroy said. "I think he probably thought it was funny and the league didn’t think it was funny, the Dallas Stars didn’t think it was funny and nobody thought it was funny.
"I thought he might say something on the ice, which is fine. It happens out there, if he says it to Dion or whoever, but to say it to the media, that’s uncalled for."
The Stars knew what they were getting when they signed the 28-year-old from Toronto because he’d already established a reputation of being a talented player who constantly pushes the envelope.
The Stars are his third team in as many seasons and fourth overall. While playing in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, he showed an ability to score and get under the skin of opponents but also frequently found himself in hot water..
Avery criticized Flames captain Jarome Iginla for being "boring" in an ESPN interview earlier this season
"Nobody cares about Jarome Iginla and guys like that," Avery said. "They’re just not exciting enough. They don’t bring enough to the game."
Avery is wearing out his welcome in Dallas. Veteran forward Modano spoke out last month after watching Avery and Steve Ott become a sideshow during a game in Boston.
"It was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen," said Modano. "If that’s what we’re going for, then they need to find me an office job."
Stars goaltender Marty Turco says Avery’s pre-game comments were a distraction for the club Tuesday.
"The talk before the game, that’s something you have to talk about," he said. "As players and teammates, you can’t just bury it."
The NHL put in a so-called "Avery Rule" after he set up in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur and blocked the goalie’s view by waving his hand and stick during last year’s playoffs. He’s also previously been fined for diving and criticizing NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
Just a few months removed from an appearance in the Western Conference final, the Stars are among the worst teams in the league. They’re riddled with injuries to key players, including captain Brenden Morrow, who is out for six months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Avery didn’t help their cause when he broke one of sports’ unwritten rules — you don’t give the opposition extra incentive to beat you.
"We’ve had lots of discussions about how we need him to be a good player on our team and the stuff that follows him around off the ice, the less distraction the better," Tippett said. "It has been limited, other than some stuff that had been said this summer, it had been pretty limited until today.
"Sean said some thing that just doesn’t paint our organization in a good light and appropriate steps are being taken."
Avery has never shunned the spotlight. A clothes horse, he spent time as an intern with Vogue magazine this summer. New Line Cinema has even commissioned a script about his double life.
Asked the best thing about his reputation as a pest, he told the New York Times: "It’s better than being known as soft."
Newsweek dubbed Avery "the human equivalent of jock itch."
The next meeting between the Flames and the Stars is Feb. 3 in Dallas.
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