Sean Avery, rebel
without applause, is on double-secret probation. � The new general manager of
the Los Angeles Kings, Dean Lombardi, aping Animal House's Dean Wormer,
pronounced the sentence last summer after the team re-signed Avery to a
one-year, $1.1 million contract. And instead of crashing the homecoming parade,
the emotional winger, who has roiled hockey with his play and his mouth, who
became the most hated player in the game--at times, even in his own dressing
room--has been a good boy ever since. � Well, pretty much. � Although he has
assumed his customary place among the NHL's penalty-minute leaders--he has
topped the league for each of the last two seasons--his malfeasance has left
the Kings shorthanded just nine times this year. And although he still jabs
opponents on the ice with sly and scabrous comments that have been scripted for
maximum effect ("You didn't deserve your gold medal," he once told Eric
Lindros, who underperformed on Canada's team in 2002), Avery now clearly seems
more intent on playing than on stirring the pot. Take the night of Oct. 23.
Colorado was thumping the Kings, scoring three goals on five-on-three power
plays, staking a 6--1 lead. If ever there were an engraved invitation for
hockey idiocy, this was it. But Avery didn't RSVP. He kept skating hard,
hounding the puck. "At the end of the game where our team deteriorated, you
could see the frustration in Sean, but he held it together," says Kings
coach Marc Crawford. "Our trainers talked to the refs afterward, and both
said, 'Boy, has he changed.'"
like [being] an alcoholic," Avery says. "I don't think alcoholics can
have one drink, then take a couple of days off. I've got to keep myself in
check, or it'll be a snowball effect. At the point I'm pissed off, I want to go
off the deep end, and make [someone] pay for something, somehow. In the past
the voice [in my head] was saying, 'All right. Should I grab this player or
that player? What can I do to blow them up and make them want to kill me even
more next game? I don't think I can do that any more."
Program, wearing a black polo and black slacks, sits at a corner table of a
hotel dining room spooning a bowl of Lucky Charms. This is a minor miracle. No,
not a 26-year-old eating kiddie cereal but that the interview is unfolding here
at all. The Kings wanted it restricted to the rink, before relenting. Giving
Avery a forum has been like handing a grenade to a monkey. Maybe nothing will
A disciple of the
Brett Hull school of outspokenness--in 2001--02, as a rookie, Avery lived with
Hull in Detroit, which ex--Red Wings teammate Brendan Shanahan says "is
like giving a guy who has a whole lot of guns a whole lot of bullets"--he
has, at various times, called Phoenix captain Shane Doan "the NHL's most
overrated player," trashed Nashville star Paul Kariya as "a diver"
and derided Anaheim center Andy McDonald as "an arrogant little
been spared his commentary," says Montreal forward Mike Johnson. "There
hasn't [even] been respect for the stars or some of the older players."
time and a place for everything," says Kings captain Mattias Norstrom.
"Last year it was always the time and always the place for Sean." In a
sport that accepts a level of bad behavior, Avery forged a new frontier in
2005--06 when he: a) belittled French Canadian players by saying that then
Coyote defenseman Denis Gauthier, who had leveled Avery's teammate Jeremy
Roenick with a check, was "typical of most French guys in our league, with
a visor on, running around and playing tough and not back[ing] anything
up"; b) was accused by then Oiler Georges Laraque, who is black, of calling
him a "monkey" ( Avery denies it); c) ridiculed a $1,000 fine he got for
diving and excoriated the NHL executive who levied it; d) screamed profanely at
Anaheim broadcaster Brian Hayward in a dressing room ("You're an
embarrassment.... You're a horses--- announcer") days after Hayward had
suggested that Avery "needed a beating" for cross-checking a Ducks
rookie in the back of the neck, then avoiding Anaheim enforcer Todd Fedoruk; e)
was sent home for the last three games of the season after a verbal tiff with
Kings assistant Mark Hardy, who thought Avery was dogging it in practice; and
f) was yanked as an analyst from Sportsnet, a Canadian network, after the NHL
been medically proven," Avery says, "but I obviously suffer from some
sort of--you know, I don't think this is a cop-out like a lot of kids use
nowadays--but there's some sort of ADD going on."
the acting up, or acting out, is a shortcut to the attention Avery craves. The
truth is, Avery's game might be enough to get notice. Buried beneath the
verbiage, camouflaged by the penalties, is this: Avery can play. "Amazingly
talented," says Roenick, now with Phoenix. "Without question [he was]
the best skater on our team. Good shot. Very good hands." Through Sunday,
Avery, who had 15 goals last season, had two, the same as the number of
publicists he employs. (Even Wayne Gretzky, when he played, didn't have a
personal publicist; Avery says they help "get myself out there in a more
positive manner.") Crawford has been generous with ice time, often bumping
up Avery, who can play all three forward positions, to the second line and the
power play. Avery's also a strong penalty killer. "His ability level is
high for our group," says Crawford of his team, which at week's end was
11th in the Western Conference. "But his issues are the same. They revolve
The Kings have
given Avery three basic rules: respect the game, respect the officials and
respect your teammates. Historically, the last has proved the most problematic,
almost from the moment 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 Shanahan "running him ragged. Sean aggravated a
few guys. But we were a veteran team. Mostly we thought he was
traded him to Los Angeles in 2003, Avery landed on a team less sure of itself.
And if L.A. is fueled by celebrity, Avery was pumping high octane. According to
Roenick, one problem was teammates' jealousy of Avery's life, which now
includes his girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert (24, The Girl Next Door).
"Guys didn't like that he lived among the Hollywood people," says
Roenick, an Avery booster. "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."