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Bettman says Avery was warned; then crossed line

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
NEW YORK -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman warned Dallas forward Sean Avery in a face-to-face meeting last spring that he was "perilously close to the line on a number of examples," and he told the then-Ranger that he needed to be careful or he would cross it.

According to the League, Avery crossed that line with his disparaging remarks Tuesday morning in Calgary and that is why the NHL issued him a six-game suspension Friday morning after a hearing at the League's midtown Manhattan offices Thursday.

"I'm not entirely surprised it got to this point," Bettman told NHL.com in an exclusive interview Friday afternoon. "There was nothing until this point that we felt we could punish either because the conduct didn't rise to that level or because we couldn't verify in terms that would make us comfortable in a matter of due process that it actually happened."

In addition to Avery having to sit out six games, retroactive to Tuesday, he is also required to seek professional anger-management evaluation and, if necessary, structured counseling in light of his pattern of behavior, which the NHL has deemed unacceptable.

Bettman said the evaluation and potential for subsequent counseling was something Avery felt he needed in light of his latest transgression.

"I think it's important that everybody knows we've made a statement that what he said and did was inappropriate, but it's as important that he deal with his conduct, which he'll be doing through the evaluation and, perhaps, subsequent counseling if that is what is prescribed," Bettman said. "The punishment sends the right signal, but this is more about getting his attention and how he, as a person, moves forward."

Bettman said the punishment for Avery's off-ice comments is a single entity and is not a message he is trying to send League-wide.

"I don't think that's a message we need to send to players," Bettman said. "When it comes to how they conduct themselves, (they) are perhaps the best in professional sports."

He also doesn't agree that you can compare an off-ice incident such as the one that happened in Calgary on Tuesday morning to anything that happens during a game that may be a punishable offense by the League.

"Lines can be crossed on the ice and there have been times where players have been punished for crossing the line on the ice with respect to what they have said; but in this case -- and you have to look at every case on its own -- we're comfortable that not only did Sean cross the line, but he had been warned repeatedly about it," Bettman said. "I don't know if six games is too harsh or too little. It is what it is and I think, at least based on everything I know, and I suppose I'm privy to everything, perhaps more than most, that this was the right balance."

"Lines can be crossed on the ice and there have been times where players have been punished for crossing the line on the ice with respect to what they have said; but in this case -- and you have to look at every case on its own -- we're comfortable that not only did Sean cross the line, but he had been warned repeatedly about it."
-- Gary Bettman

Bettman admitted that if what Avery said to a gathering of reporters after the Stars morning skate at the Pengrowth Saddledome was instead something he stated on the ice, it likely wouldn't have resulted in a suspension.

"If it happened on the ice and it had no involvement with it being publicly disseminated or immediate interaction with fans, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation because nobody would have known about it," Bettman said. "For anybody to equate public statements and fan interaction with trash talking on the ice would not be an accurate thing to do.

"The reliability on the information you get from those conversations obviously is a little more difficult. Here it was simple because everybody heard it and saw the tape. There are lines that can be crossed on the ice, but we're talking about something completely different."

Bettman was not sure if the Stars would tack on extra games or a fine or another type of punishment to what the NHL has already handed down to Avery. The Stars have not publicly stated anything about possible future punishment as of yet.

"I did what I felt was appropriate from a League standpoint," Bettman said.

While some people -- both inside and outside NHL circles -- may view Avery as being good for the League for the publicity he brings to the game, Bettman has a hard time believing that's true in this instance.

"No, not in this case for sure," he said. "When he is playing as well as he is capable of playing and when he is exciting the fans who are watching his team play well, as he did, for example, with the Rangers last year, that's something else. What has been covered the last few days isn't what we're selling."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

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