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Avery, Stars parting ways

NHL.com @NHL

DALLAS (AP) -Sean Avery's days with the Dallas Stars are done.

Although the combative forward was eligible to return from a six-game suspension Sunday, the Stars instead announced Avery will not rejoin the team - ever.

"All parties said there is a clear understanding that a return to the Stars is not in the best interest of either the hockey club or Avery," the team said in a news release.

Details of his departure still must be worked out. He could be traded, sent to the minors or bought out next summer. The club said it will work with Avery to try making this an amicable divorce.

However, there's no telling when Avery will even be ready to play again. He is at an undisclosed location seeking treatment through a program set up by the NHL players association. When he was suspended, Avery told the Stars he needed help dealing with anger issues.

"Sean needs to focus on his own well-being while the Stars hockey team must focus on playing hockey and competing for a playoff spot," Stars co-general manager Brett Hull said in the statement. "We all need to move forward."

Avery lasted only 23 games in Dallas after being signed for $15.5 million and four years over the summer. The Stars could try voiding the contract by saying he violated a conduct clause, but aren't going to do that, in part because of the likely legal challenges that would ensue.

"The message here is: no distractions," Hull said. "Sean can focus on resolving his personal issues, and the Stars will have closure on this episode."

Avery - a two-time league leader in penalty minutes who delights in being called the NHL's most-hated player - was suspended by commissioner Gary Bettman only hours after he made a crude remark about ex-girlfriends dating other hockey players. The Stars were in Calgary, Alberta, and Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf is dating actress Elisha Cuthbert. Avery also has dated supermodel-actress Rachel Hunter, who is now dating Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll.

Avery's comment came on Dec. 2 to reporters waiting to discuss comments he'd made about another Flames player, former scoring champion Jarome Iginla.

Dallas coach Dave Tippett was especially upset because Avery defied him by even speaking to reporters then. The next day, Tippett made it clear he didn't want Avery back. Team leaders Mike Modano and Marty Turco also have left no doubt Avery is not welcome in the dressing room.

Hull has been the team's point man on this because he played with Avery and even lived with him several years ago. Over the summer, Hull urged owner Tom Hicks to sign Avery in hopes that his grit and character were just what the club needed after losing to Detroit in the Western Conference finals.

Instead of getting over the hump, Dallas has dropped to near the bottom of the league. Injuries are mostly to blame, but Avery's presence hasn't helped.

Avery has become famous beyond hockey because of his dual interests in fighting and fashion. Besides dating actresses, he's been written up in People magazine and spent this summer as intern for Vogue magazine. He also has his own publicist, a rarity among NHL players.

The 28-year-old Avery is on his fourth team in seven seasons. He came up with Detroit, was traded to Los Angeles and then was dealt to the New York Rangers. The Rangers let him go in free agency. His 218 games with the Kings is by far the most of his four stops.

Will a fifth franchise want him?

He and his agent could try finding a team interested in trading for him. If there are no takers, the Stars may not want to waive him because they would be responsible for the balance of his salary, which is $4 million each of the next three seasons. They could hold his rights the rest of this season, then buy him out for two-thirds of the balance ($8 million, instead of $12 million) on or after July 1.

Avery also could be sent to an AHL team, with the Stars paying his salary; if he didn't show up, he wouldn't get paid. Should Avery play in the minors, he'd go through re-entry waivers on the way back into the NHL. If a team claims him, the Stars and the new team would split the salary.

"We do care about Sean and want what is best for him," Hull said. "We've agreed to do what we can to help find him a place to play hockey once he addresses his personal issues."

Prospective teams know who they would get.

Avery's list of misdeeds includes derogatory comments about French-Canadian players in 2005, a fine for two pregame skirmishes last season and a stick-waving, face-guarding move against New Jersey's Martin Brodeur in the playoffs last spring that led to the quick creation of a rule outlawing such a move; it's known as the "Avery Rule."

Avery is a two-time league leader in penalty minutes. He was leading the league again at the time of his punishment. He also had three goals and seven assists, and was among the few Dallas players with a positive plus-minus rating, an indication he wasn't on the ice strictly to cause trouble.

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