The NHL suspended Sean Avery yesterday for an “indefinite” period.

Allegedly, the penalty was dealt because the Dallas winger slandered his celeb ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert, and her latest flame, Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf, by telling interviewers that “it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds.”

But any other player in the league could get away with saying much worse without having to sit out even two minutes. The stiff sentence is really a result of years of Avery giving off-color quotes to reporters, plus payback for all the publicity he attracted during last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs by coming up with a gimmick to frazzle goalies.

If there was a Nobel Prize for poor sportsmanship, Avery earned it in Game 3 of the New York Rangers’ series with the New Jersey Devils. Avery, then with the Rangers, stood in front of New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur and waved his stick and arms like a madman, while not even caring about the action taking place elsewhere.

Try not to giggle or appreciate Avery’s genius as one commentator after another says, “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

And then he scores. (I’ve watched these clips a hundred times, and I’m still in awe.)

Avery’s tactics were obviously tacky and wrong, but just as the spitball was once legal in baseball, his routine was also so novel that the referees couldn’t come up with anything in the rulebook to penalize Avery at the time.

Yesterday, that penalty was finally handed down.