NEW YORK - Bad boy Sean Avery is back with the New York Rangers.
In a move weeks in the making, the Rangers claimed the controversial forward off re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. New York is set to give Avery what could amount to his last chance to resurrect his NHL career.
He could be in the lineup as soon as Thursday on the road against 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 he was suspended 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 the Rangers facilitated his move to Hartford. He was assigned there after all 30 NHL teams passed on him when he went through a first set of waivers.
New York will be responsible for half the money remaining 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.
Avery left the Rangers after last year's playoffs to sign a $15.5-million, four-year deal with the Stars, who will pay the other half of the contract. Had a team claimed him before he went to Hartford, that club would have had to pay all of the remaining money.
Avery had three goals and seven assists in only 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 was placed on re-entry waivers Monday.
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. They posted a 50-23-13 mark when he was in the lineup and dropped to 24-35-9 when he was sidelined by injury.
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, who got the most out of Avery, was fired as coach last week as New York went through a slide that still threatens their playoff chances.
Renney was replaced by hard-edged coach John Tortorella who, while working in television earlier this season, delivered harsh criticism of Avery at the time of his suspension.
"Enough is enough," Tortorella said then. "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. Send him home. He doesn't belong in the league."
When general manager Glen Sather introduced Tortorella as Rangers coach during a conference call, he said he expected Tortorella to be on board should Avery return.
"He doesn't have the history with Sean that we do," Sather said. "Over time you learn to love him, just like I do."
To make room for Avery on the roster and the salary cap, the Rangers sent forward Mark Bell to Hartford on Monday.
Bell, who hasn't played a game for New York, was acquired last week off waivers from Toronto. He is believed to have been insurance in case a team claimed Avery before the Rangers did.