NEW YORK - Bad boy Sean Avery is back with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers claimed the controversial forward off re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday in a move weeks in the making. Avery is set for what could amount to his last chance to resurrect his NHL career, and may be in the lineup for Thursday's game at the New York Islanders.
Avery spent the past month with the Rangers' Hartford AHL affiliate while remaining property of the Stars. He hasn't played in the NHL since his suspension in December for making a crude remark about other hockey players dating his former girlfriends.
Avery served a six-game ban and completed treatment in a league counselling program, but the Stars made it clear he would never play for them again.
Dallas doesn't have an AHL affiliate, so Rangers general manager Glen Sather facilitated his move to Hartford. He was assigned there after all 30 NHL teams passed on him during a first set of waivers.
"He's really tried to help himself, and Glen believes in second chances," said new Rangers coach John Tortorella, who has been critical of Avery. "I think he's done his homework here and we'll see where it goes."
New York will be responsible for half the money left on Avery's contract that runs through the next three seasons, with a salary cap hit of more than US$3.8 million a year.
"I think it'll be great," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "The only two things that I need to know, and I think the only two things other guys in this room need to know, is that he wants to be here and wants to be a Ranger, loves wearing our jersey and loves living in New York; and secondly, that he wants to win a Stanley Cup.
"What else could you ask for in a teammate?"
Avery left the Rangers after last year's playoffs for a four-year deal worth $15.5 million with the Stars, who will pay the other half of the contract.
Avery had three goals and seven assists in 23 games for Dallas before being suspended by the NHL on Dec. 2 for comments he made hours before the Stars' road game against the Calgary Flames.
When suspended, the 28-year-old Avery told the Stars he needed help dealing with his anger. He completed a counselling program under the auspices of the league and the NHL Players' Association before being placed on Dallas' active roster for the purpose of being waived.
In six games after being sent to Hartford on Feb. 10, the noted agitator had two goals and one assist.
Avery spent the previous 1 1/2 NHL seasons with the Rangers, and gave them an instant boost when he first arrived in a trade from Los Angeles in February 2007.
The Rangers advanced to the second round of the playoffs in both seasons Avery was on the team. Last season, he had 15 goals and 18 assists in 57 games, and was second on the club in penalty minutes (154).
Avery's first stint with New York ended following Game 3 of a second-round series against Pittsburgh last year when he was hospitalized several days with a lacerated spleen. He then signed with the Stars in the summer.
The Rangers have changed coaches since Avery last suited up for them. Tom Renney was fired last week and replaced by Tortorella, who while working for Canadian television rebuked Avery at the time of his suspension.
"He's embarrassed himself; he's embarrassed the (Stars) organization; he's embarrassed the league; and he's embarrassed his teammates, who have to look out for him," Tortorella said then. "Send him home. He doesn't belong in the league."
When Sather introduced his new coach, he said he expected Tortorella to be on board should Avery return. After practice Tuesday, Tortorella began to see Avery's potential.
"We need a little more jam on our team," Tortorella said. "I haven't coached Sean, I want to see what he's all about. I've seen him play. When he's concentrating on playing under a team concept, he's an effective player. That's what we're looking for."
To make room for Avery, the Rangers sent forward Mark Bell to Hartford on Monday.