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Stars say Avery will not return to Dallas

by Phil Coffey

Sean Avery will not return to the Dallas Stars this season.

The team made the announcement Sunday morning, saying the team and Avery's representatives would continue to work together to support the player during "this critical time," but also noted a return to the Stars would not be in the best interests of Avery or the team.

"Sean needs to focus on his own well-being while the Stars hockey team must focus on playing hockey and competing for a playoff spot," Stars Co-General Manager Brett Hull said in a statement. "Everyone understands that Sean will not return to the Dallas Stars. We all need to move forward."

The NHL suspended Avery for six games on Dec. 4 after he made derogatory comments regarding a former girlfriend to the media prior to a game with the Flames in Calgary on Dec. 2

In Sunday's announcement, Stars management said the team would not seek to challenge Avery’s contract under the conduct clause included in the Standard Player’s Contract.  The agreement’s Paragraph 2 (e) directs all NHL players “to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

"The message here is: no distractions. Sean can focus on resolving his personal issues," Hull said, and the Stars will have closure on this episode. "The team needs to put its energies into winning."

The Stars said the team will continue to honor Avery’s contract while exploring all options for his hockey future consistent with the terms of his counseling.

"We do care about Sean and want what is best for him," said Hull. "We've agreed to do what we can to help find him a place to play hockey once he addresses his personal issues."

Stars coach Dave Tippett and several key players have said Avery's return to the dressing room would be problematic because of his short, but controversial, tenure with the team. Avery signed with Dallas as a free agent during the summer and has three years remaining on his contract after the 2008-09 season.

"From my own standpoint, there’s a great deal of frustration and embarrassment," Tippett told reporters shortly after the incident in Calgary. "Ten minutes before Sean came out with those comments, I defended him — and that's very disappointing to me. There’s been people from management to coaches to teammates that put a lot of time and effort to try and get him engaged in our group.

"From a coach's standpoint, I try to build a team where players play for each other and care for each other and play with continuity," Tippett said. "I find it hard to believe that Sean can come back in that dressing room and find that continuity again. That's still up in the air, but that's my own personal feelings."

Following the incident in Calgary, Avery apologized for the remark, saying "I would like to sincerely apologize for my off-color remarks to the press yesterday from Calgary. I should not have made those comments and I recognize that they were inappropriate. It was a bad attempt to build excitement for the game, but I am now acutely aware of how hurtful my actions were. I caused unnecessary embarrassment to my peers as well as people I have been close with in the past.

"I apologize for offending the great fans of the NHL, the commissioner, my teammates, my coaching staff and the Dallas Stars management and ownership. As many of you know, I like to mix it up on and off the ice from time to time, but understand that this time I took it too far."

The apology was not enough to prevent a suspension from the NHL. Avery met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in New York City on Dec. 4 and announced the six-game suspension the following day. Avery also agreed to undergo anger management counseling.

"I'm not entirely surprised it got to this point," Bettman told in an exclusive interview Dec. 5. "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."

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."

Avery has been a controversial figure for both his teams and the opposition over the years. He is an agitating player on the ice and gained notoriety in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring when playing for the New York Rangers. Then, he stood in front of New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and waved his glove and stick in the goalie's face to prevent him from seeing the puck. He also was suspended by the Los Angeles Kings previously.

"Maybe they decided that this one crossed the line further than all the others," Hull said after the suspension was announced.

"More than anything, he's let his teammates down. That's the worst part of it. It's basically a fundamental -- you don't embarrass the team and you carry yourself with class and good character. I've told him before, there's more to the game than just lacing up the skates. There are things you have to be accountable for."

"I thought that he was the type of guy that our dressing room needed to light a little bit of a fire and get a little bit more emotion on the ice. Obviously, it went a little bit overboard. For me it's a little bit difficult because I feel more responsibility for having Sean here." -- Dallas Stars Co-General Manager Brett Hull
Hull had played with Avery while the two were with the Detroit Red Wings and Hull opted to pursue Avery when he became a free agent last summer.

"For me it's a little bit harder," Hull said after the announcement of the suspension. "I obviously was probably more influential in trying to bring Sean here. We have a past history together. He lived with my wife and I in Detroit when he was a young rookie.

"I thought that he was the type of guy that our dressing room needed to light a little bit of a fire and get a little bit more emotion on the ice. Obviously, it went a little bit overboard. For me it's a little bit difficult because I feel more responsibility for having Sean here."

Avery, 28, has 3 goals and 7 assists for 10 points and has 77 penalty minutes in 23 games with Dallas.

"This is a situation where he's painted our organization with a brush nobody wants to be painted with," Tippett said before Wednesday's game. "I know from a personal standpoint, that's not the way I want to be perceived as an organization and as a team."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.
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