The Adventures of Sean Avery
The NHL's most notorious agitator's 10-year career is full of on-ice antics and off-ice imbroglios. "I like to push it to the edge, no doubt about it," Sean Avery told ESPN in 2008."That's how I play. That's how I live. That's what I'm all about." He's a big hit on Broadway with New York Rangers fans, if not coach John Tortorella, but an odder hockey duck is hard to find. He's also a restaurateur, fashionista and gossip column staple. The gash on his lip landed him on People magazine's 2007 "Sexiest Scars" list. He's painted his fingernails to intimidate foes in hockey fights."Some people question whether I'm straight; others give me compliments. Some women find it a turn-on," Avery wrote in his 2008 diary for Vogue magazine. "My teammates are very supportive and cool about my interest in fashion -- sometimes they even ask for my advice on what to wear. But I'd be lying to you if I said that I don't take some verbal abuse from opposing players for the clothes I wear, or for my interest in something -- 'fashion' -- that I think sounds a little frightening to narrow-minded blockheads." The Sean Avery saga is ever unfolding. Here are the highlights (and lowlights)...so far.
Undrafted out of Owen Sound (AHL) with a reputation as a mouthy hellraiser, Avery was signed by Detroit as a free agent on Sept. 11, 1999. According to a 2006 story in SI, he "bounded into the dressing room of a Red Wings team with eight surefire Hall of Famers and announced, 'Call me A-Dog.' ('You're no dog,' a teammate replied. 'You're a puppy,' which became Avery's first NHL nickname.) Former Detroit goalie Manny Legace recalls captain Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan 'running him ragged. Sean aggravated a few guys. But we were a veteran team. Mostly we thought he was hilarious.'" As a rookie in 2001-02, Avery lived with his childhood hero and now teammate Brett Hull, who would later sign him to the Dallas Stars with disastrous consequences.
Traded to the Kings on March 11, 2003 with Maxim Kuznetsov and two draft picks for defenseman Mathieu Schneider, Avery found himself in his element in Los Angeles. He dated actresses Elisha Cuthbert and Mary Kate Olsen and irked his teammates with his lifestyle. "Guys didn't like that he lived among the Hollywood people," Kings forward Jeremy Roenick told SI in 2006. "Here was a guy who wasn't established who was trying to lead the life of someone who already had made a name for himself. Also I had to keep reminding him to make himself part of the team. To come in and say 'Good morning.' Your teammates don't have to like you, but they have to respect you. Sometimes the way Sean acted, he didn't deserve either."
During his two full seasons (and parts of two others) with the Kings, Avery was a highly effective agitator with scoring touch who twice led the NHL in penalty minutes and drove opponents off their games by running his mouth. "No one's been spared his commentary," Montreal forward Mike Johnson told SI. "There hasn't [even] been respect for the stars or some of the older players." Besides calling Coyote captain Shane Doan "the NHL's most overrated player," Predators star Paul Kariya "a diver" and Ducks center Andy McDonald "an arrogant little midget", Avery belittled French-Canadian players, screamed profanity at Ducks broadcaster Brian Hayward, and was accused by Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque (inset) of a racial slur...among many incidents.
Even though Avery produced 67 points in his final season-and-a-half in LA, the Kings got fed up and traded him to the Rangers on Feb. 5, 2007 with John Seymour for Jason Ward, Jan Marek, Marc-Andre Cliche and a third-round pick. "When I was trying to move him, only two teams were interested, the Rangers and one other," Kings GM Dean Lombardi told SI. "There wasn't even what I would call marginal interest, a 'we'll get back to you.'" On Broadway, though, Avery became a smash hit with fans, scoring 20 points in 29 games to help the Blueshirts grab a playoff berth.
In New York, Avery also began his feud with New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who became his frequent verbal -- and physical -- sparring partner.
In April 2007, Avery is chosen as the NHL's most hated and most overrated in players polls by The Hockey News . In the former category, Avery edges Nashville's Jordin Tootoo by a margin of 66 to 6 percent of the vote.
During the 2007-08 season, Avery scores 15 goals as the Rangers go 33-14-10 with him in lineup, and 9-13-3 without him. During Game 3 of New York's first-round playoff series with New Jersey, the pest waves his stick in Martin Brodeur's face while the Devils try to defend a 5-on-3 that leads to a goal by ... Avery. The NHL promptly enacts "The Avery Rule" that awards an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty for such antics. "It was childish," said Devils forward John Madden. "We are trying to sell this game and you see stuff like that going on."
After the Rangers eliminate the Devils in five games, Brodeur snubs Avery, who scored three goals and had two assists in the series, in the handshake line, prompting the agitator to tell reporters, "Everyone talks about how unclassy I am, but fatso there forgot to shake my hand, I guess."
Avery contacts Vogue editor Anna Wintour and the magazine announces in April 2008 that he will be an unpaid summer intern answering phones, working photo shoots, traveling to Paris Fashion Week, and guest-editing Mensvogue.com. "Don't forget that these agitators are the smartest guys on the team," ESPN's Barry Melrose tells ABC News. "I can guarantee he'll do great at Vogue ." Adds In Touch Weekly editor Tia Brown, "They say he's always had a flair for fashion and gives gifts to his girlfriends like designer bags and gowns." Hollywood producer Beau Flynn sells a movie idea with the working title "Puckface" to New Line Cinema about Avery's stint at a fashion mag.
While others voice misgivings, Dallas Stars co-GM Brett Hull insists on signing unrestricted free agent Avery to a four-year, $15.5 million deal on July 2, 2008. "We are excited about the opportunity to add a player like Sean Avery to our group," Hull says.""His ability to play the game with skill and tenacity makes us a better team and is a great complement to the players we have here. He will be a fan favorite, I can tell you that." Says Avery: "Certainly I've matured. I am not the same player I was four or five years ago or even three years ago. I like to push it to the edge, there is no question about that. I think what I've done now is do it without hurting the team and having it affect the other 22 guys in the dressing room." Famous last words...
Still running his mouth to maximum effect, Avery tells ESPN's Rachel Nichols on Oct. 8, 2008 that "the NHL does a terrible job of marketing" by not promoting its "villains," and that "nobody cares about Jarome Iginla and guys like that, they're just not exciting enough. They don't bring enough to the game ...They haven't figured it out that villains and heroes are what sells. But I don't think that's ever going to change unless they hire me to run their marketing stuff." The Stars players, however, aren't sold. "Avery was guilty of hockey's deadliest sin: being a lousy teammate," SI's Michael Farber writes in the Jan. 12, 2009 issue. "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, 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 ."
As the Stars sink in the West, Avery and co-agitator Steve Ott run wild in an ugly 5-1 loss in Boston on Nov. 1, 2008, drawing 69 of the 146 penalty minutes handed out to both teams, and three of the seven misconducts. In the third period, Bruins center Marc Savard says to Mike Modano in the face-off circle, "Too bad you'll be retiring after having to play with those clowns." Modano replies, "I know" and later tells reporters that the debacle was "idiotic and stupid ... one of the most embarrassing things I've seen." As for Avery, who also fought with Boston's Andrew Ference and screamed obscenities at a heckler and his female companion, he tells SI: "It's a great group of guys, for sure, but they're still trying to figure me out. The [Stars] don't seem to want the full deal with me. That takes a lot from my intensity.... Games [like the one in Boston] are the ones where I'm most effective, where I get my blood going." A report is filed with the NHL, but Avery avoids suspension.
After the Stars' morning skate in Calgary on Dec. 2, 2008, Avery makes a crude remark about ex-girlfriends Elisha Cuthbert, who is dating Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf, and Rachel Hunter, who is engaged to Kings center Jarret Stoll: "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." Avery is quickly handed an indefinite suspension by the NHL, taken to task by Stars owner Tom Hicks, and ripped by TSN commentator John Tortorella, for whom he would later play in New York. "Enough is enough. Send him home," Tortorella says. "He doesn't belong in the league." Says Stars goalie Marty Turco, "We expect that out of him like we have all year. You know, the show continues." Co-GM Les Jackson tells ESPN.com "He embarrassed our team, our city. He embarrassed our owner. Right now, we're pretty disappointed."
At a three-hour hearing in New York with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Dec. 5, 2008, Avery is given a six-game suspension without pay and ordered to take anger-management therapy. Bettman cites the agitator's "pattern of unacceptable and anti-social behavior" that is often "at odds with the manner in which more than 700 fellow players conduct themselves."
With Avery's suspension about to end and the Stars' players adamant that he not be allowed to return, co-GM Brett Hull announces on Feb. 6, 2009 that the agitator's career in Dallas is over after only 23 games. "You have to do what's right for both parties, and that's what we're really trying to do," Hull says. "I thought [Sean] could bring a little bit of a change in our locker room and on the ice which I thought was missing. Obviously, it went overboard and didn't work out." Neither did Hull's tenure in the front office. On May 31, he is booted upstairs to be Dallas's Executive Vice President.
After he clears waivers, the Stars send Avery to the Rangers' AHL farm team in Hartford on Feb. 10, 2009. (Dallas, the only NHL franchise without a primary AHL affiliate, could have dispatched him to any NHL team that had the stomach for him.) "Sean was a good player for the Rangers (who were 50-23-13 with him) during his time here and has worked extremely hard off the ice over the last two months," Rangers GM Glen Sather says in a statement. But Avery's NHL future is hazy. "Guidelines and timelines aren't in my plans right now," he says. "I just want to help these guys as much as I can and just play hard and have some fun."
The Rangers claim Avery on recall waivers on March 3, leaving Dallas to pay half his salary. While New York is clearly the place where this pest thrives, it's not lost on many observers that he now has to play for coach/critic John Tortorella, who has had the loose cannon agitator thrust upon him by GM Glen Sather.
On May 15, 2009, Avery opens Warren 77, an arty Tribeca joint described by CityStyle/New York as "perhaps the city's first hipster sports bar...an old-school cross between Peter Luger -- with dark wood walls and an imposing oak bar -- and the basement rec-room from an '80s teen flick, furnished by a set designer with very good taste. Think weathered grandpa chairs and Howard Cosell-era CBS klieg lights salvaged from the network's old Chicago studio..."
On January 6, 2010, Avery plays against the Stars for the first time since his unceremonious release and scores a goal with three assists in New York's 5-2 win. "I would have loved to have seen that delinquent do that for us last year," Stars goalie Marty Turco grouses. "I didn't think (four points) was possible. He has a good shot and he always has worked hard. His intelligence on the ice has always been an issue, and was with us when he was here." Says Avery: "Well, I was getting paid by two teams. It was the way that Sean Avery needs to play."
Having seen less than 10 minutes of ice time in 12 of his 14 games between Feb. 25 and April 7, 2011, Avery is scratched for six of the Rangers' final 12 games and their first playoff outing vs. Washington. He finishes the season leading the team in PIM (174) after scoring 24 points (with only three goals) in 76 games.
On April 15, 2011, Avery and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist open "Tiny's" and "The Bar Upstairs", a Tribeca bistro in a two-story pink townhouse on West Broadway. "You know what they say: behind every good fuchsia window treatment and antiqued dollhouse of a restaurant is a battle-hardened athlete," went the review on UrbanDaddy.com. "So let's just pretend we didn't see this vintage flyspeck of a bar coming a mile away and address the essentials. Like the pickled beet and blue cheese Tiny's Burger that's topped with a fried egg."
On May 9, 2011, Avery appears in a video by New Yorkers for Marriage Equality to support the gay marriage movement. "I'm Sean Avery, and I'm a New Yorker for marriage equality," he says. "I treat everyone the way I expect to be treated, and that applies to marriage. Committed couples should be able to marry the person they love. Join me in supporting marriage equality." NHL agent Todd Reynolds sparks an outcry by responding with the Tweet: "Very sad to read Sean Avery's misguided support of same-gender "marriage". Legal or not, it will always be wrong." When Rogers Sportsnet broadcaster Damian Goddard tweets agreement, he is fired. Avery later appears at a June 14 hearing in Albany, NY to ask state lawmakers to approve same-sex marriage.
Echoes of the mouth that roared: On July 31, 2011, Russian media outlet sports.ru quotes Avery's former teammate Alex Frolov as saying the agitator has used racial slurs on the ice: "It's not hate, it's... He has a specific role, he is a pretty unique man and he likes to do, let's say, extravagant things. Sometimes they'd be bordering on the forbidden. Something always happens around him, it's a part of his job. He needs to be talked about. He loves it, he feels at home in the spotlight. Sometimes he called opponents 'black monkeys.' He did a lot of things, I can't remember all of them." Frolov later insists to the New York Daily News that he was misquoted and that Avery "in the past...could say the wrong thing."
Avery is arrested on Aug. 5, 2011 for allegedly shoving a police officer who had responded to a neighbor's complaint about a loud party at the superpest's Hollywood home. Bail is set at $20,000 and Avery spends almost eight hours in the hoosegow. The charge of battery on a peace officer is later dropped.
Avery accuses Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds of a homophobic slur during a preseason game on Sept. 26, 2011. The NHL finds no evidence to suspend or fine Simmonds, who several days earlier had been the target of a racist incident during a game in London, Ontario.
With the Rangers in Stockholm, Sweden for preseason games against the Kings and Ducks, Avery learns he's been cut on Oct. 4, 2011. The next day, he clears waivers and is assigned to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL with $4 million left on the final season of his Dallas deal. "I'm trying to do this the right way, because I do not wanna keep on shoveling dirt over Sean Avery," coach Tortorella tells reporters, "but we have better players than Sean Avery, right now on the hockey club." Word is that Avery came to camp in less than stellar shape and was thus sparingly used by the coach.
Avery's three-week stint in the AHL does not sit well with Rangers fans, who chant his name at the team's home opener on Oct. 27, 2011 and unfurl a banner expressing the sentiment that coach Tortorella is the one who belongs on the Whale. On Nov. 2, the fans get their wish -- well, partly -- when forward Mike Rupp's knee injury necessitates the agitator's recall. Avery is a healthy scratch for his first game back and plays sparingly in his season debut on Nov. 5 -- a win over Montreal -- and in the Rangers' next game, on Nov. 9 in Ottawa, where he engages in a Three Stooges-esque woo-woo-woo arf-arf-arf why-you take-that-porcupine! tussle with Senators enforcer Zenon Konopka , with whom he had exchanged greetings during warmups. Alas, Avery's stay only lasts until Dec. 30, when he is waived again after sitting out nine consecutive games.
As expected, Avery's stay in Connecticut is hardly quiet. On January 12, 2012, the New York Post reports that Rangers GM Glen Sather had turned down a request by two unnamed NHL teams to put the agitator on re-entry waivers and asked instead for a money-saving minor league trade. On January 13, in-limbo Avery is scratched from the Whale's lineup for a game against Norfolk. Deadspin.com reports that Twitter rumors have it that he had spit on coach Ken Gernander. The Rangers deny the rumors and reports surface that Avery had violated a team dress code by showing up in jeans and sneakers when a suit and tie was required.