For those of you who didn’t catch the news, Sean Avery has announced that he’s going to retire after this hockey season.

Well, “announced” might be the wrong term. In fitting Avery fashion, he was on a talk show on Bravo (Watch What Happens Live), and he gave the following odd, meandering response that sounded like a retirement.

Avery: “That’s…the river..”

Nicole Richie: “I know.”

Despite protests from his agent, who says he’s not officially retiring after this season, Avery confirmed that he meant what he said in an interview given to Larry Brooks of the NY Post, saying:

Tuesday morning, Avery told The Post, “No, that wasn’t a joke; yes I’m retiring at the end of the season, and it’s OK.

“I guess that was my retirement press conference.”

So let’s just assume he’s serious and he’s actually going to pack it in after this season.

I think that’s great.

And I don’t think it’s great in a “Good, he’s out of the game kind of way,” I mean it in a “This is the right decision for him” kind of way.

So many hockey players – SO many hockey players – have no back-up plan after their playing days are done. They devote their entire lives to one thing, and kill themselves for the sport. There are guys in leagues all around the world still pursuing the dream. There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s admirable in it’s own way – but for many who aren’t going to make it, the years are just ticking by. “Real life” happens eventually. (Incidentally, that topic is very popular half-cut bar fodder in the minor leagues).

It’s great to pursue your dream (assuming you only have one, which doesn’t seem to fit Avery’s profile), but there’s a level of necessary realism when it comes to trying to be a professional athlete in any sport.

If you’re trying to make the NHL and find that you’ve been cut a number of times by the time you’re 25 and you see young kids passing you by, you have the option to step out of the game and start a new career. Or, you can battle it out in the minors until you’re 35, never really get ahead financially, and still find yourself starting at the bottom of the totem pole at your new job when you’re done.

The relationships you form over those years help a lot, but you’re likely to be starting from the bottom rung at some point, while the guy who stepped away from the game at 25 is 10 years into his new gig.

I had no back-up plan when I got a puck in the face on my 26th birthday and found myself resigned to the couch for months with my mouth wired shut – that’s when I started a blog. By the time the wires came off and I saw that writing offered me an out – something I was surprised to find for the first time in my life - I took it. I was fortunate to have that opportunity. I was lucky.

With Avery, he doesn’t need luck, because he doesn’t need hockey. In fact, it’s almost in the way for him. I admire people with diverse interests, and he obviously fits that mold.

Whether his options are things you think are “cool” or not – fashion, modeling, design etc. – they’re options. He has the connections, and doesn’t need to toil around on buses chasing the “glory and fame” of the NHL.

It’s not like he went to his first training camp, got cut and quit. He played in the League for parts of 11 seasons and played in 580 games. Been there, done that.

On top of it all, the abuse Avery takes for being different in the hockey community….he doesn’t need that. If he wants to be his usual, flighty self, than he’s free to take it somewhere more peaceful.

Maybe he never would’ve played in the NHL again. Maybe he could’ve worked his tail off this summer and made it back. But for some people, the NHL isn’t everything, as much that kills those who list playing in the league as their ultimate, lifelong goal. If that’s the case for Sean Avery and he’s tired of beating his head against the NHL’s wall when he has other interests, then good for him.

It just seems like his time in the NHL has run its course. It’s time for him to turn to a new page of his curious choose-your-own-adventure book.

If he actually does flip pages, I’ll be happy for him. For some, there’s more to life than hockey.

Comments (17)

  1. I wish the NHL would do something about the fact that so many players have no back-up plan*. It just strikes me as so wrong somehow that as a professional athlete, where your career could end in an instant – people dont ever take a minute to stop and think about what they want to/would do if it ended all tomorrow (as it so easily can). There was an article which talked about how when players finally end their career, many of them end up with substance abuse/financial problems because of not knowing how to deal with not being a hockey player any more/never planning for the future.

    *Apparently they do bring it up for retired players/those close to the end of their career, but I think they should probably push it a lot more.

    • Not NHL, but I recently learned the CHL provides scholarships for players that don’t go on the play in the NHL. I think 1 year of scholarship for every year played in the league.

      • Trouble is, if a player does take up the offer of tuition payment they have to guarantee they won’t then go on to play professionally or repay the money.

        It shouldn’t be an “or” proposition. I wish the leagues realised that it will really help with long-term player welfare/options.

        • The “back-up” plan for professional athletes is how much they are paid during their careers. That’s part of the reason that an entry-level guy gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The idea being that players should be compensate for the risk that their career could end tomorrow and that their career will be much shorter than someone in “the real world”. Yes, they’re also paid lots of money because of supply and demand and it’s a business etc. etc. But if you drop the last zero off the salaries and a lot of guys would (or should) think twice about giving it a shot.

          Having said all that, the money doesn’t help with the other problems retired players face; the substance abuse, depression, emotional issues. The league (all leagues) should be doing more about that. Although, I’m not sure anyone of them know where to begin.

          • The most an entry level contract can be for is $925,000. What is that, like $600k a year after taxes? If you sign a 2 year deal and can’t play anymore on that contract, you’re looking at $1.2mil to live on the rest of your life. You’re probably going to have to find another job.

            I do agree with your point though. As soon as you sign a “regular” contract, you’re probably set for life.

      • But that 1.2 million should be enough to last multiple years while you get yourself trained in something else.

      • Also, the max base salary is “only” 925K, but with bonuses, you could easily pull twice that. Those bonuses are forbidden (except for a nominal signing bonus) on all future contracts, except for single-year deals signed at 35 or older.

        The catch is, guys most likely to warrant the bigger bonuses for their ELC (and more likely to reach the incentive-based ones) are exactly the guys most likely to keep playing and get set for life before they even reach UFA. The guys who struggle and can’t find deals for more than league minimum, or who labor long under 2-way deals, are precisely the ones who most need that kind of safety cushion.

        Full pension vests for NHL players after 400 games, and I think it’s partial after 150 or 160, so they wouldn’t be entirely at sea if they were forced to retire early.

  2. Bourney you also had the privilege of going to an NCAA D-1 School, where you had the unique opportunity to learn about more than just the game.

    More than 85 percent of college hockey players grauate with a college degree, setting themselves up for success after their hockey career. Each year Division I hockey programs award more than $30 million in scholarships, unquestionably the most significant education program in the sport.

    Even for those players who reach the highest level, very few play in the NHL past their mid-30s. That leaves decades of life ahead – and college hockey prepares its athletes for both the NHL and what lies beyond.

  3. This is a really well written post. i find it nearly a laugh that so many people think this ‘retirement” is somehow a victory for the NHL- or even a defeat for Sean Avery. How many undrafted, under 6′ 200lbs free agents ever make it to the National League, let alone play over 500 games? Not too many.
    Avery made millions, dated models, and played on the biggest stage in North America- and that somehow equates with failure?!?
    As Bourne noted too, unlike most of his brethren, he won’t be stuck coaching the Tier Two apple bottoms for the rest of his life. Dude did alright. Cheers.

  4. Always a great read Bourne! After focusing on sports all my life I have to appreciate how he has set himself up to succeed in other areas. These sports consume so much time and effort I think as an athlete it is very easy to just “forget” about real life.
    I was very fortunate to open my own business and do very well over the last year but in doing so I have fought with the feelings of accepting I may never reach my sky high goals in the sports I do compete in.
    I think sports in general teach to you never quit and you have to be mentally strong so it doesn’t give you much room to allow the idea of “what if I don’t make it?” creep into your thoughts. Its been refreshing for me to shift focus and I am very lucky I am not in a situation where when I did step away I was “at the bottom of the totem pole”.

  5. I gotta be that guy and say that I am glad he’s leaving. He’s outlived his usefulness to any team and was attracting attention to the league for all of the wrong reasons.

    • I think he just doesn’t fit in with the Rangers (and wouldn’t fit in with a bunch of teams). He’s certainly good enough to be on the 3rd line on a lot of teams though. Whether he wants to play for them or not is an entirely different story. I can’t see him playing in a smaller city like Buffalo, Columbus, Winnipeg, etc. That really limits the teams that could actually use him.

  6. Avery sucks, ugly little troll. I’m glad he’s gone.

  7. Who’s that weird looking dude sitting next to Avery?

  8. The amount of hate this guy garners is astounding. Nice job Bourne stepping up and writing an article highlighting some of the things he’s done right.

    It would be interesting to hear more about the topic of “real life” as it pertains to the minor leaguers that you mentioned at the beginning of the article.

  9. little cocky sunbitch can say this and that about post-nhl life cuz he thinks he made it “avery style.” the huge difference between him and the real world is there is a thing called mutual respect, honesty and trust to produce something worthy. if avery can become successful at whatever he pursues i will applaud him but i doubt it cuz we have seen how his brain works/doesn’t work when it comes to reality. he was good enough to be a pain in the ass 4th liner. big deal.

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