The National Hockey League came down hard on Dallas Stars superpest Sean Avery Friday, handing him a six-game suspension for making inappropriate public comments prior to the Stars' game in Calgary on Tuesday.
The move is retroactive to Tuesday's game against the Flames, with four more games to be served.
Avery also agreed to seek professional anger-management evaluation and, if necessary, structured counseling in light of his pattern of behavior, which the NHL has deemed unacceptable and antisocial behavior. Avery will not be eligible to play again for the Stars until Dec. 16, when Dallas hosts the Phoenix Coyotes.
"It's clear that what he said crossed the line," Bettman explained to TSN on Friday. "It was inappropriate, it's not right for our fans to hear something like that and it's not representative of what our players stand for. When you put it together, I felt the combination and evaluation and the six games was appropriate."
The decision to suspend Avery came less than 24 hours after he had a hearing inside the NHL's New York offices Thursday.
Avery met with Bettman, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, NHL Associate Counsel Jessica Berman, Dallas co-General Manager Brett Hull, NHLPA General Counsel Ian Penny, NHLPA Director of Player Affairs Glenn Healy and Pat Morris, Avery's agent.
Perhaps the most hated man in hockey, Avery made headlines for all the wrong reasons after making disparaging remarks about ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert, the Canadian-born actress currently dating Calgary Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf. His comments were strongly condemned by his teammates, Dallas coach Dave Tippett and owner Tom Hicks, while his long-term future with the team appears to be in limbo.
"While the NHLPA does not condone Sean's comments, which were clearly inappropriate, the discipline imposed by the Commissioner is unprecedented both in its severity, as well as the process by which it was handed down," said NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly in a statement on Friday. "We've also seen signals from the Dallas Stars that Sean's contractual rights might be challenged. We are monitoring the situation as it develops, and we will evaluate all legal options as the circumstances warrant. In the meantime, our first priority is making sure we do what we can to support Sean's efforts to learn from his mistake and move forward in a positive manner."
Avery, who signed a four-year, $15 million deal with the Stars this past summer, has three goals and 10 points in 23 games this season.
He spent the previous 1 1/2 seasons with the New York Rangers and got plenty of attention last spring after using questionable tactics to block the view of New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
It's not the first time Avery has gotten himself into trouble. While with the Los Angeles Kings from 2003 to 2007, he publicly criticized management of the Players' Association and NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, made disparaging remarks about French Canadians wearing visors and was involved in heated arguments with Anaheim Ducks broadcaster Brian Hayward and Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy.
"Sean had been warned over the last year that he was getting close to the line too many times," said Bettman. "There are probably a couple times where he may have been over the line but we couldn't verify it based on the circumstances. He had a session within the last year with (league disciplinarian) Colin Campbell where he was warned. He had a session with me during the playoffs where he was warned."
Hull said Avery's teammates need to stop blaming the embattled forward for the team's place in the standings.
"It kind of irks me that players are trying to use Sean Avery as an excuse for their poor play," Hull told TSN's Darren Dreger and co-host Bill Watters during an interview on AM640 on Friday. "You put your foot in your skate and you pull that jersey over your head. One player does not make you play bad. You can have bad games, no question. You can individually struggle. When the whole group struggles and people try to pin it on one player, it's kind of sad to me."
Hull also suggested that if the unnamed players who spoke poorly of Avery in the media ever revealed themselves, there could be consequences.
"I don't know how to say it, but those are not people that I would want on my team - people that use excuses for their poor play," Hull said. "Sean plays very hard for us, played through injuries, never missed a practice due to injury."
Hull, however, did not provide many details on whethere he would keep Avery with the team.
"I will do what I think is best for Tom Hicks and the Dallas Stars and for the Dallas Stars to become a championship team," he said. "Whatever it takes to make us better, that's what I'm going to do. What that is right now I don't know."