Sitting in a suburban Ottawa hotel lobby last month, the plainspoken Hull conceded that the reason he lobbied to sign Avery—he reckoned the Stars needed more "personality"—is also the reason the deal exploded. He acknowledged Avery was not the "fun kid" he remembered when they were teammates in Detroit. With Dallas this season Avery was not even the effective player he had been in New York, where the Rangers were 50-20-16 with Avery in the lineup and 9-13-3 without him. Avery has become an image, a brand. "I think the persona Sean took on"—the Vogue-interning, starlet-dating, crossover celebrity who feigned indifference to the game—"became more powerful than the real Sean," Hull says. "You know the Green Goblin in the Spider-Man movie? Like that. It just overtook him. He decided to be Evil Sean."
Maybe Sean is the future. People say they want to see controversy.... Well, once in a while, this is what you get.
IF AVERY, despite his current ostracism, really is the future—and in 2009 who outside the NHL doesn't seem to want a telegenic, intriguing athlete who mostly plays well, dates A-listers and has a backstory?—ultimately will the hockey establishment be the ones offering an apology? "We spend time psychoanalyzing Sean," Lombardi muses. "Maybe we should be doing it to ourselves."
Sometime, somewhere, there will be a comeback. Avery will do the requisite scraping and bowing because, as Calgary's Michael Cammalleri, Avery's friend and former Kings teammate, says, "Without hockey Sean would just be some guy doing some crazy stuff." An e-mail message to SI from Nicole Chabot, Avery's publicist, late last month read, in part, "We at this point are just trying to weather the storm as best we can. The comeback story will be amazing, but we are a ways away with all the details still to be sorted out."
Oprah, schedule some couch time.