January 06, 2011
The last time Sean Avery(notes) played in Dallas was Nov. 30, 2008, in a 4-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers. He scored a goal in the third period, played 18:13 and had nine shots in the game, skating with Mike Ribeiro(notes) and James Neal(notes).
It was his final game in a Dallas Stars uniform, despite being in the first year of a four-year, $15.5 million deal. Two days later, he made a joke about his "sloppy seconds" in a Calgary locker room. An indefinite suspension became a six-game suspension with anger management therapy. The Stars cut ties with him and eventually placed him on re-entry waivers in March 2009; and the New York Rangers claimed him, officially correcting a free-agent mistake that contributed greatly to the end of Brett Hull's tenure as co-general manager.
On Friday night, Avery returns to Dallas for the first time since this all went down, still on the Stars' salary cap this season and next (at a $1,937,500 hit). Bob Sturm of Sportsradio 1310 in Dallas, for one, read the calendar:
Hey look what the schedule says! Friday Night, the New York Rangers are coming to town. And some guy named Sean Avery. It seems like an eternity ago that the train wreck known as the Avery signing occurred, culminating in that odd evening in Calgary, but I would imagine a guy or two on the Stars bench remembers. I find myself quite excited about getting to the rink on Friday night. There is not telling if a fireworks show will be there, too. But, I won't miss it if there is one.
Perhaps trying to defuse those fireworks, or perhaps just coming to terms with a dark time in his professional career, Avery opened up to Larry Brooks of the NY Post about this tenure in Dallas, which he said "was doomed from the start."
What kind of reception will he receive at the Stars on Friday night?
Before hearing Avery's mea culpas, it's important to remember that his problems in Dallas extended well beyond one sex joke. From Michael Farber of SI:
Even worse than his scripted misogyny, Avery was guilty of hockey's deadliest sin: being a lousy teammate. There can be room for personal agendas in other sports -- think Terrell Owens with the Cowboys -- but hockey takes a dim view of square pegs in their perfectly rounded holes. The ethos is different. Unlike baseball clubhouses, where players sit facing their stalls, or football locker rooms, where players are segregated by position, a hockey dressing room is designed so all players face toward the center, gazing at one another. Avery did not look at his teammates in Dallas. Between periods he would often sit by himself in the hallway, headphones on, a citizen of Planet Sean. When Avery was in the dressing room, according to Stars veteran Mike Modano(notes), he was often on his phone, discussing a potential book deal or his movie project, a romantic comedy based on the life of the only NHL player to spend his summer as an intern at Vogue. (Avery handled a variety of assignments including assisting on fashion shoots and "guest editing" on mensvogue.com during his time at the magazine last year.)
Avery wore shorts with his sport coats to preseason games because, Modano said, "he didn't feel he could express himself if he dressed the same as everybody [else].... He just seemed unwilling to do what we were all asked to do, on and off the ice. He wanted to march to his own beat." Avery was the iconoclast clown, throwing spitballs at hockey's ways.
Oh, if only they had heeded the words of Avery critic and Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow(notes) at the time of the signing: "But some of the stuff that makes the individual more important than the team, that's not something we want to see here."
So what does Avery have to say about his time in Dallas? In speaking to Brooks, he said the following:
On His Lack of Chemistry with Teammates: "They gave me a contract to come there and help the team win and when I got there, I didn't adjust. I didn't adjust to the conditions. I didn't adjust to Texas as a whole, I didn't adjust to the team, and when I say the team, I don't mean the organization, I mean some of the guys in the room. ... I'm responsible 100 percent for that; 100 percent."
On Which Players Didn't Like Him on the Stars (Hint: Rhymes with "Yarty Yurko" and "Schmike Schmodano") : "I was hung out to dry a lot by a couple of guys on that team," Avery said. "They are two individuals who aren't playing there anymore. ... I think people should be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together fairly easily."
On His Relationship With Former Teammate and Housemate Hull: "I apologize to Brett Hull. ... Brett Hull is the guy who saw that I could help his team, and I didn't do that, and I hurt him. Obviously it hurt our relationship. That's my No. 1 regret about the whole situation."
Avery said that, in hindsight, "I don't think anything would have made it work" in Dallas, and it's hard to argue with that. It was an F-minus signing.
Question is: Do Dallas Stars fans care that Avery recognizes that and accepts blame, or will there be vitriol in the arena on Friday night?