The National Hockey League announced Friday that Avery has been suspended for six games without pay, retroactive to Tuesday's game in Calgary, as a result of the comments he made Tuesday morning after the his team’s morning skate at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
Avery also agreed to seek professional anger-management evaluation and, if necessary, structured counseling in light of his pattern of behavior, which the NHL has deemed unacceptable and antisocial.
Avery will not be eligible to play again for the Stars until Dec. 16, when Dallas hosts the Phoenix Coyotes. He already has served two games of the suspension, Tuesday’s game against Calgary and Wednesday’s game against Edmonton.
"As all of you who cover the game know there is no formula that ever gets you to a particular number in disciplinary cases," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during a media conference call Friday afternoon. "With precision you have to evaluate the circumstances and what you think was correct. What guided me in this case was we needed to be clear that this was not acceptable and not representative of what our players do. I wanted it to be clear to the fans that this is not something we tolerate, particularly fans with children, who may have to explain to them what this statement was."
Bettman confirmed that Avery had previously met with both him and NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell privately and was warned both times that he was perilously close to going over the line in regards to his actions and statements.
"There were probably a couple of times that he may have been over the line but we couldn't verify it," Bettman said. "He had a session with Colie Campbell where he was warned and he had a session with me where he was warned. Based on other cases and other situations of inappropriate comments this was the right ballpark number. It was also coupled with the fact that we had the hearing.
"I believe Sean was remorseful and he wanted a professional anger-management evaluation. When I weighed all the factors this is where I came out. In the final analysis, you have to do what you think is right and that's what I did here."
The League said the suspension was issued in accordance with the provisions of By-Law 17 and Article 6 of the NHL Constitution for conduct "detrimental to the League or game of hockey." The suspension was imposed following inappropriate public comments about the personal lives of opposing players, and not pertaining to the game.
"He's got some issues that he has to deal with and, during this time off, he's going to seek some help to get the ball rolling to get those things taken care of so we don't have to do this anymore or anybody else has to do this anymore," Stars co-GM Brett Hull said. "For me, the first thing is you have to take care of the individual. I don't think many of you know him personally; but he is a good man, he is a caring man. We have to fix him first and the hockey player is very secondary."
Bettman said all of the factors, including how Avery conducted himself, what he said, who he said it to and the fact that it appeared premeditated all factored into his decision to issue the six-game suspension.
"You can't pick apart the puzzle," the commissioner said. "It's the totality of the pieces that give you the picture that you're dealing with."
The decision to suspend Avery comes less than 24 hours after the player had a hearing inside the NHL's Manhattan offices on Thursday.
Avery met with Bettman, Campbell, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHL Associate Counsel Jessica Berman, Dallas co-General Manager Brett Hull, NHLPA General Counsel Ian Penny, NHLPA Director of Player Affairs Glenn Healy and Pat Morris, Avery's agent.
The meeting lasted 92 minutes and Avery left without talking to the media, which was stationed outside the building for most of the day.
"I did what I thought was appropriate and the right thing to do under the circumstance. The standards and circumstances obviously can vary from situation to situation. When you look at this particular situation, based on what transpired and the warnings that have been given, I think this was an appropriate response."
-- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
Avery was suspended indefinitely by the NHL following the remarks he made Tuesday morning in reference to Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who currently is dating Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert.
Avery will miss the Stars' three-game homestand, which began Friday night against Colorado and continues Wednesday against Phoenix and next Friday against Detroit. He also will miss the Dec. 13 game in Nashville.
The Stars have not yet made a determination if they plan to enforce any further punishment on Avery beyond what the NHL has already issued.
"It's a decision that the organization is going to have to make on the future of Sean," Hull said. "What that is right now, we're not sure; but obviously that's a decision that will have to be made fairly quickly."
"I can't speak for the Stars and frankly from my perspective I was looking at the League's response so I haven't taken a look at what their actions might be and I don't know what they're thinking or not thinking," Bettman said.
Bettman was pressed hard by media members who were wondering why Avery, whose inappropriate actions came off the ice, received six games when players who directly harm another player on the ice are perceived to receive more leniency, depending on the severity of the play.
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"Sean Avery apparently believes, as do I, that there is a type of conduct that is repetitive, inappropriate and perhaps antisocial," Bettman said. "The point that I'm making is when you have repetitive conduct over a point in time and you're looking at an inappropriate response under the circumstances, the fact that somebody may play more aggressively on the ice… We're not talking about player play and player conduct on the ice. We're talking about interaction with people, fans, the media, other players that is completely out of the norm. We have things that 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. But I think it's not talking about the same thing to compare player playing conduct with the type of conduct we are seeing here."
Bettman added that he is not worried about possible on-ice retribution other players could take on Avery when he returns to the ice. He also suggested that it's possible that through the anger-management evaluation Avery would be required to seek subsequent counseling that could keep him off the ice past the date he's allowed to return.
Bettman said the League will make sure he has been evaluated and he is complying with any program that may get set up.
"The disciplinary aspect of this is really the six games, although Sean is seeking and I am agreeing and requiring that he be evaluated and then (we) do whatever the evaluation leads to," Bettman said. "That's a standard he will be held to. If in fact he's not playing for a longer period of time because the counselors have determined that is the appropriate treatment for him, that isn't a matter of discipline, it's a matter of getting help and doing the prescribed treatment the right way."
Hull said it is a positive sign that Avery initiated the idea that he needs to seek help.
"He made the first phone call to get that ball rolling," Hull said. "I walked into the office in New York with him yesterday and he was very honest with me, looked me in the eye and said, 'I need help and I'm going to get it.' That's the best start we could have right there."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.