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Avery takes next step back to NHL

by Shawn P. Roarke
The Dallas Stars assigned forward Sean Avery to the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf Pack on Tuesday morning, taking the next step in the long process of finding a new home for the troubled winger.

Avery cleared waivers Monday at noon, opening up the avenue of playing in the AHL. But, because Dallas does not have an AHL affiliate, the task of finding a home for Avery was far more complicated.

Glen Sather, the general manager of the New York Rangers, eventually agreed to let Avery be assigned the Wolf Pack, which is the Rangers AHL affiliate. Avery played for the New York Rangers last season before signing a four-year, $15.5 million deal with Dallas this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

"Sean and the Dallas Stars approached me looking for an American Hockey League team for him to resume playing, and I am happy to provide him with the opportunity to continue his career," Sather said in a statement.

Avery took part in Hartford's 70-minute practice Tuesday afternoon, wearing a red No. 16 jersey. Avery wore that number this season with the Stars, as well as during his tenure with the Rangers. There is a chance that Avery could play for the Wolf Pack on Wednesday in a home game against Manitoba.

He has been out of hockey since incurring a six-game suspension on Dec. 2 from the NHL because of inappropriate comments he made about the personal lives of other NHL players. In the wake of that suspension, Avery agreed to undergo anger-management counseling.

Now, Avery is looking forward to resuming his hockey career. He sees the assignment to the Wolf Pack as the first step in that journey.

"I would like to thank Glen Sather and the Rangers organization for giving me the chance to resume my hockey career by affording me this opportunity with the Hartford Wolf Pack," Avery said in a statement. "I am looking forward to getting back on the ice, working my way back to the NHL and playing the game I love."

He also said that he would not make any further public comments during his time with the Wolf Pack, however long it lasts.

"While I appreciate the many interview requests, at this point in time, I would like to focus on hockey and will not be making any further statements while with the Wolf Pack," he said.

Avery was cleared by doctors to resume his hockey career last week; but, by then, the Stars had made it abundantly clear that they were ready to part ways with the controversial figure.
"Sean was a good player for the Rangers during his time here and has worked extremely hard off the ice over the last two months. He remains under contract to and property of the Stars, therefore, any further comment would be inappropriate." -- Rangers' GM Glen Sather
He was placed on waivers Saturday and cleared Monday when all 29 NHL teams refused to make a claim. Any team making a claim before Monday at noon would have been responsible for the full value remaining on Avery's four-year deal

The fact the Stars have a record of 12-7-3 (27 points) since Avery's suspension only reinforces the notion that the club is eager to shed itself of Avery. Dallas was just 8-11-4 with 20 points in the 23 games in which Avery appeared, cementing its status as perhaps the most under-performing club in the season's first half.

Avery had three goals, seven assists and what was then a league-high 77 penalty minutes in his 23 appearances with the Stars. He never meshed with his new teammates.

Avery's assignment to the Rangers' top affiliate only further intensifies the speculation that Sather is contemplating adding Avery onto a roster that has struggled recently. With Monday's 3-0 loss to rival New Jersey, the Rangers have not won in their past five outings and have been outscored 21-5.

The Rangers could either trade for Avery while he is in the minor leagues or he could be claimed on re-entry waivers when Dallas attempts to call Avery back to the NHL. In the latter scenario, the Rangers would only be responsible for half of the remaining salary -- and cap hit -- remaining on Avery's four-year deal. Dallas would be responsible for the other half.

Sather, however, refused to elaborate on his plans for Avery in Tuesday's statement.

"Sean was a good player for the Rangers during his time here and has worked extremely hard off the ice over the last two months," Sather said. "He remains under contract to and property of the Stars, therefore, any further comment would be inappropriate."

Avery was an integral part of the Ranger club that made it to the second round of the postseason last season, combining an agitating style with some timely offense to become a key cog for coach Tom Renney.

In 57 games last season, Avery had 15 goals, 33 points and 154 penalty minutes. He had four goals and seven points in eight playoff games last season. For his career, the 28-year-old has 68 goals, 177 points and 1,144 penalty minutes in 402 regular-season appearances.

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