No way back for Sean Avery

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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By all rights, Sean Avery ought to be in uniform today for the NHL’s New York Rangers as they play their regular season opener against the Los Angeles Kings in Stockholm, Sweden. When he’s on his game, Avery is one of the game’s premiere pests. There’s simply no other player in the league who knows better how to get into the head of his opponent and make a mess of things — just ask future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur.

But instead of enjoying the spotlight in Stockholm, Avery is somewhere in North America still absorbing the news that not only did his current team not want him any longer — the Rangers waived Avery earlier this week after all but burying him during the exhibition season — but the rest of the league doesn’t want any part of him either.

Every other team in the NHL, all 29, passed on acquiring Avery for just a fraction of the current value of his contract. If he wants to stay in North America, Avery’s only choice at this point is to report to the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League.

That Avery has become so radioactive is a tribute to just what sort of distraction he’s become off the ice. Already known as one of the league’s bad boys when he was acquired by the Rangers during the 2006-07 season, Avery staged a career revival once he got to Broadway. The following season after he was traded, Avery reminded the hockey world just how good he could be when he supplemented his typical agitation with 15 goals and then followed it up by helping to lead his team to a first-round playoff upset of the New Jersey Devils. All the while, Avery kept the off-ice distractions to a bare minimum.

His reward came in the form of a 4-year, $15.5 million contract with the Dallas Stars. Unfortunately for Avery, his stay in Dallas was short and disastrous (among other things). Instead of disrupting opponents on the ice, Avery did nothing but help divide his new team’s locker room. Then came a few choice comments about his former girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert, before a game in Calgary where he was set to take the ice against her new boyfriend, Dion Phaneuf.

Not wanting to risk a televised furball, the NHL took the unusual step of suspending Avery for acting like a high school student. That was enough for the Stars, who released Avery not long thereafter, more than happy to be rid of him. Eventually, after a stop with a minor league club, Avery was back in New York, saying all the right things and keeping his mouth shut.

Unfortunately for Avery, the results on the ice simply weren’t there anymore. It didn’t help that New York’s head coach, John Tortorella, was no fan of Avery and had been openly critical of him while working for Canadian television. And as the Rangers started to develop younger and cheaper talent, Avery found himself getting pushed further and further to the end of the bench.

So what’s next? His agent has already said that Avery will pursue all of his options, including playing in Europe. That’s a shame. Despite all of his antics, Avery remains one of the game’s more compelling personalities. Like it or not, players who mix it up off the ice and date models and actresses help promote the game as much as 50-goal scorers. He will be missed.

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.