Between inconsistent play and mounting injuries, the Dallas Stars have already endured plenty of adversity in 2008-09. At least they'll have one less distraction surrounding them as they continue the season.
Having learned that left wing Sean Avery won't re-join the team, the Stars turn their focus to gaining ground in the Pacific Division as they host the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night.
Dallas (11-14-4) advanced to last season's Western Conference finals before being ousted by eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit, but hasn't been playing like a championship contender as it currently sits last in the West with 26 points.
Several factors have contributed to that position, among them injuries to six key players including captain Brenden Morrow (torn right ACL).
Dallas has also struggled to string wins together, securing back-to-back victories just once and alternating wins and losses through six December contests, following up Saturday's 3-1 home win over the Red Wings with a 3-0 loss at Nashville on Sunday.
The lone constant this month has been the absence of Avery, who had been serving a six-game suspension - his first in the NHL - for the now-infamous pre-game comments he made regarding his ex-girlfriends getting involved with other hockey players.
Avery was eligible to return versus Phoenix (14-13-3) but the Stars announced Sunday that they were parting ways with the noted agitator.
"You have to do what's right for both parties, and that's what we're really trying to do," said co-general manager Brett Hull, who was among the biggest supporters for signing the free agent to a four-year, $15.5 million deal in July.
The details of the split have yet to be sorted out, but Dallas will honor Avery's contract as it explores its next step. In the meantime, the Stars intend on moving past this issue and working their way back into the playoff race.
"We have a lot of work to do," center Brad Richards told the Stars' official Web site. "At this time of the year and with the position we are in there is not a lot of room for error. Our effort has to be there. It is a challenge; I don't think it's far from possible but it is a challenge."
Richards and the Stars now match up against a Coyotes team that has been playing well lately, winning six of its last 10 contests (6-3-1) - a span that includes a 5-3 victory at Dallas on Wednesday - following a season-high 0-4-2 slide.
"We're playing solid right now," coach Wayne Gretzky told the Coyotes' official Web site. "A breakdown here and there, but all-and-all, our team is playing well as a group and I like the way we are competing every night and that is a real good sign."
However, Gretzky's club was unable to win its third straight on Saturday night, falling 5-4 in a shootout to visiting Detroit.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 34 saves through overtime, and also stopped 29 shots versus the Stars on Wednesday to improve to 4-3-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average in his last 10 appearances against them.
Meanwhile, Dallas' Marty Turco turned aside 29 shots in the teams' most recent matchup, and is 15-11-0 with a tie, three shutouts and a 2.56 GAA in 33 games against Phoenix.
The Stars' defense has allowed a conference-worst 102 goals, and will look to contain Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who has recorded nine of his team-leading 29 points in his last eight contests. In 71 career games versus Dallas, Doan has 24 goals - his most against any opponent - and 51 points.