The Dallas Stars
thought they were missing one key component in their run to the Western Conference Finals last season — abrasiveness. They believe they got plenty in free-agent forward Sean Avery
, whom the club signed to a four-year, $15.5 million contract Wednesday.
"We like our team, but the thing I think we were lacking was a little bit of sandpaper and some grit," said Stars co-General Manager Brett Hull, who played with Avery in Detroit. "We also improved our skill level with Sean."
In 57 games with the New York Rangers last season, Avery tied a career-best with 15 goals, and his 33 points were the second-highest output of his six-season NHL career. He also had 154 penalty minutes. More important, in his 86 games with the Rangers over the last two seasons, the team was 50-20-16 with him in the lineup, and 9-13-3 when he was out.
In 379 NHL games with Detroit, Los Angeles and the Rangers, Avery has 65 goals, 102 assists and 1,067 penalty minutes. Much of that, though, is obscured by Avery's outspokenness and colorful off-ice behavior.
He clashed with teammates and coaches in Los Angeles. In New York, his antics in front of goalie Martin Brodeur during the Rangers' first-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils last spring led to the NHL changing its rules on the fly. Avery also gained a prominent spot in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, and made headlines for a just-finished summer internship at Vogue magazine.
"I think the opportunity I got in New York was a big one and one that helped me as far as my career development goes," Avery said. "I think it's a place that I’m always going to come back and live. I think that it's become part of me, and I feel like I call it home now. I loved playing for the Rangers and I certainly love New York fans and I loved walking into Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, it wasn't really in my control. You have to think about your future. I would have loved to have stayed in New York. Things didn’t work out.”
Les Jackson, the Stars' other co-GM, believes all the outside noise blocks out just how talented a player Avery is.
"He's got a good measure of talent," Jackson said. "Sometimes when you look at the external issues that people perceive, you don't give him any credit for the talent he has."
"It's limitless what he can bring to us," said Hull. "His ability to play the game … he's still developing as a player. His skill level is getting better and better year by year. That, ability along with his grit and toughness, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win, I thought it was a no-brainer to have him in our lineup."
Avery said the opportunity to go to a team coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals was a factor in his decision.
"I certainly wanted to go to a team that had a chance to win," he said. "I think that's an understatement when you're referring to these guys, because I think they have a very good chance to win. You saw that last year. It probably was just a couple of pieces that maybe would have pushed them over the top. Hopefully I’m one of them.
Hull's relationship with Avery goes back to the 2001-02 season, when Avery was a rookie on a veteran-laden Detroit squad that featured current and future Hall of Famers Hull, Igor Larionov, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom and Luc Robitaille.
"When he first came to us in Detroit, he was just a ball of fire," Hull said. "You could see the potential. His confidence is through the roof, he believes in what he can do, and that, probably early in his career, was his downfall.
"When you come into the League, you have to earn your way. Sometimes for some guys, including myself when I was young, I thought I could play and I should be playing. His confidence in himself was his detriment. You've seen him grow and you see what he did to help the New York Rangers become the team they became and the players become achievers instead of underachievers. He won't let anybody take a night off. If he sees you doing that he's going to let you know."
Hull said he enjoyed sharing a dressing room with Avery because he saw so much of himself in Avery.
"He's one of the most personable guys I've ever met," Hull said. "He has what I call individualistic thoughts. He goes against the stream, which I kind of like — reminds me of myself in a way. I think every team needs that."
For his part, Avery was thrilled to be reunited with Hull. "Brett was my favorite player ever since I was a kid," he said. "I played with him my first couple of years in Detroit and actually lived with him. Our relationship has gone on ever since I left Detroit. He was certainly a hell of a player, and I think he's doing a pretty good job as a GM now.
"It certainly was a comfortable situation and I'm happy with the commitment they've given me. I’m ready to come in and add to the team. I'm excited about it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.