Sean Avery was suspended for six games by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Friday after the league's most notorious agitator made a crude comment regarding his ex-girlfriends dating other hockey players.
Avery already has served two games of the suspension and will miss an additional four, making him eligible to return Dec. 16 against Phoenix, if Dallas Stars management and teammates accept him.
"We needed to be clear that this was the type of conduct that we did not view was acceptable and not representative of what our players do," Bettman said during a conference call.
Avery, who has twice led the NHL in penalty minutes and is second this season, also agreed to be evaluated for anger management. The league cited his "pattern of unacceptable and anti-social behavior."
"He looked me in the eye and said, 'I need help,"' Stars general manager Brett Hull said Friday from Dallas. "It was brought up by him."
This is Avery's first league suspension in his seven seasons. Stars owner Tom Hicks said he would have suspended Avery if the league hadn't.
"You have to move on and start a new chapter, and that's kind of what we're planning on doing and working toward," Stars forward Mike Modano said. "As players, I think we've kind of washed our hands of the situation. After today, we're not going to discuss it or talk about it or him."
Bettman deemed Avery's behavior "detrimental to the league or game of hockey" and said in a statement the 28-year-old player has "expressed remorse for his recent comments." Bettman said completion of the anger management evaluation is a condition for Avery's return.
"I wanted it to be clear to the fans that this isn't something that we tolerate -- particularly fans with children who might have to explain to them what this statement was," Bettman said during his call.
The league said earlier that Avery's actions have often been "at odds with the manner in which his more than 700 fellow players conduct themselves."
Bettman said Avery had been close to drawing a suspension many times before, but the league couldn't verify his actions. Bettman said he warned Avery during the playoffs last year, and the player was also warned by league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
"At the end of the day, I felt we had to punish," Bettman said.
Avery had been under an indefinite suspension from Bettman since Tuesday when the forward sought reporters to make his remark. He spent three hours Thursday at a hearing at league headquarters in Manhattan.
"We have to fix him," Hull said. "There were a lot of words thrown out -- anger management, depression. He's going to use this time to figure things out."
Hull played with Avery several years ago in Detroit and was influential in bringing him to Dallas. The GM insisted that treatment is merely a beginning.
"It's a process. You don't go to a retreat for a weekend and it's fixed," Hull said. "There will be apologies made, probably more privately.
"Once the suspension is over and once we find out the process he's trying to go through, as an organization, we're going to decide as a group what direction we're going to go. The players will have a chance to give their input."
So far, it has been mostly negative.
"I could forgive somebody for making a mistake or making a few mistakes, but it goes a lot deeper than that," goalie Marty Turco said. "I'm prety sure Brett knows how we feel. This is long before a week ago."
Avery sat out Dallas' 3-1 win over the Flames on Tuesday and again Wednesday when the Stars lost at Edmonton 5-2. He was denied a chance by teammates to apologize to them, and his message of contrition Wednesday was distributed by his publicist.
On Tuesday, reporters in Calgary, Alberta, were waiting to speak with Avery about his disparaging remarks last month concerning Flames star Jarome Iginla. Avery walked over to the group and asked if a camera was present. When told there was, he said he was "just going to say one thing."
"I'm really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada," he said. "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about, but enjoy the game tonight." He then walked out.
Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert of the television show "24" and the movie "Old School," is dating Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf. She also had been romantically linked to Mike Komisarek of the Montreal Canadiens. Avery also dated Rachel Hunter, the former Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model and actress who is the girlfriend of Los Angeles Kings center Jarrett Stoll.
Avery left the New York Rangers this summer after 11/2 seasons and signed a four-year, $15.5 million deal with the Stars. Dallas entered Friday with the fewest points in the Western Conference. This week, coach Dave Tippett questioned whether Avery would be welcomed back in the locker room.
"It's up to us as a group to decide if that's possible," Hull said. "Anybody who uses him as an excuse for their poor play, I'm not sure I want them on my team."
In 2005, Avery was cited for making derogatory comments about French-Canadian players. He apologized after an NHL reprimand. Against Edmonton, Georges Laraque, who is black, accused Avery of using a racial slur, which Avery denied. Avery also unleashed a profane tirade at an Anaheim Ducks television commentator.
Last season, Avery was fined $2,500 for pregame skirmishes against Toronto and New Jersey. During a playoff game, he face-guarded Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and waved his stick in front of him, prompting the league to outlaw such actions with the "Avery Rule."
This season, Avery argued with a cable network reporter at Madison Square Garden and then referred to Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette during an interview as a "minor leaguer."
AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)