By Mark Spector
FRISCO, TEXAS — Brett Hull leaned up against the wall at the Dallas’ Stars practice facility and admitted to going after Sean Avery last summer, “Because I didn’t feel we had guys who would stand up and be counted. He would be one of those guys.”
Now he says he can’t even speak to Avery and has absolutely no idea what state of mental health the suspended Stars winger is in.
Hull, a co-general manager of the Stars, can’t even divulge the team’s plans for Avery when his suspension ends on Saturday night.
“We don’t have any. First of all we have to find out, how long is his treatment?” said Hull, who on Wednesday told the Dallas Morning News, “he is suspended and … he’s in the (NHL)PA’s treatment program.”
The program is actually a shared entity between the league and the players’ association, known as the NHLPA/NHL Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. It covers everything from addictions to, in Avery’s case, anger management issues.
If Avery is indeed enrolled in the NHLPA/NHL program, the problem, Hull said, is that under collective bargaining agreement rules the team is not allowed to monitor a player’s progress. It is designed that way to minimize outside pressures so the player can heal.
Sources say it is highly unlikely Avery will be ready to return to hockey in a matter of days, with his suspension concluding after Dallas’ Saturday night game in Nashville.
Hull suspected that to be true.
“It doesn’t take one week to fix that,” Hull said of Avery’s alleged anger management issues. “There has got to be some serious demons and stuff in there. And when they arise (due to being at) the rink, he can’t come back around the rink when that’s his biggest problem.
“How long is it going to take before he’s better? How are we as an organization supposed to find out how things are going for him? How’s the timetable? Where is this going?”
Hull would love to call Avery just to check in, but “I can’t. He’s in treatment,” Hull said. “And if he doesn’t want to tell me anything when he can (speak to Stars management), he doesn’t have to.”
Hull has been given the lion’s share of the blame for the Avery signing, a four-year deal worth $15.5 million. He stands up to the fact that he backed the signing, but scoffs at people who say the decision was his and his alone.
“I’m like an intern. I’m learning the job,” he said Thursday. “Les (Jackson) is the GM here, and I learn from him every day. He’s got years of experience at the job. You think I make a decision like that myself? Everybody is (involved with) a decision like that.”
There were dissenters inside the Stars’ war room no doubt — like, very probably, Stars director of player personnel Dave Taylor, Avery’s GM in Los Angeles for a time. But Hull said he pushed for Avery because he saw a bit of fire brand in the sassy winger.
“A guy who has personality,” said Hull. He cited his distaste for the recent rash of news stories emanating from the Stars locker room featuring anonymous players being quoted. “That was one of the reasons I wanted him here. Because I didn’t feel we had guys who would stand up and be counted. He would be one of those guys.
“It was a plan that, obviously, had some risk. And unfortunately the worst scenario happened.”
Avery hit rock bottom. And so have the Stars, mired in last place in the West.