Once upon a time, Sean Avery was one of the most important players on the New York Rangers. His mere presence in the lineup was a huge factor in every game and even led some Rangers fans to truly believe the motto, “Can’t win without Avery” after the Rangers went 33-14-10 with Avery in the lineup during the 2007-2008 regular season and 9-13-3 without him. No matter what he did, Avery could seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of New Yorkers.
Sean Avery was the center of controversy and never shied away from any type of conflict – in fact, you could even say he welcomed it. Fast forward to five years later since Sean Avery made his triumphant debut on Broadway, and the story has changed a bit. This past season Avery had the worst season of his career, was relegated to fourth line duties and was even a healthy scratch for seven games, including once in the playoffs. Avery is entering the final year of his contract and is set to earn $3.875 million this season, although only $1.937 million of his salary will count towards the cap since he was claimed by the Rangers on re-entry waivers. Avery has struggled to regain his old game ever since his Gary Bettman-ordered anger management sabbatical during the 2008-2009 season, and time is running out for Avery to figure it all out.
I won’t hide the fact that I am a big fan of Sean Avery and think that he’s just tailor-made for playing in New York. Sean has always loved being in the spotlight, and the lights don’t get much brighter than Broadway. He’s always been a throwback, in-your-face hockey player that’s hard to find in the NHL today, and Avery seemingly represents the exact opposite of everything that the NHL wants the league to stand for. Avery’s cult following in New York has come with a price, as he’s constantly scrutinized by the NHL for everything he does. There’s no doubt that there is an obvious bias against him by the referees, who are never willing to give Avery the benefit of the doubt on any call and flat-out just inexplicably miss calls when other teams commit a penalty on Avery. This is water under the bridge now, but I always thought for the longest time that the NHL dropped the ball with the potential marketing campaign they could’ve capitalized on with Avery. Every league in professional sports has at the very least one guy who’s brash and arrogant that people love to hate and see lose (Chad Ochocinco or Ron Artest, anybody?), and the NHL really just doesn’t have that. The NHL has a hard time realizing that not every American hockey fan loves the clean-cut, straight-laced poster boy image that’s embodied by Sidney Crosby. It seems like the NHL often has a hard time balancing how to appeal to their American hockey fans and continue market the game towards Canada, but that’s a whole other issue.
Anyway, ever since Avery’s “sloppy seconds” suspension with the Dallas Stars in the 2008-2009 season he has toned down his antics on and off the ice considerably. He never says anything that could be construed as controversial anymore and often times doesn’t even do interviews at all. There are no more classic Sean Avery moments, and Rangers fans know that there were more than plenty of them during Avery’s first tour of duty on Broadway. Avery has always managed to find a way to be in the news no matter what he does and where he does it. Whether it’s the Avery Rules stick-waving play in front of Martin Brodeur in the playoffs, talking about his dislike for Canada, interning at Vogue during the summer, calling Brodeur fatso or flipping off the media, Avery loved being the center of attention. But it seems like those days are long gone. Every once in a while we’ll see flashes of the old loose cannon, such as the brawl that ensued at Madison Square Garden this past season when Avery punched Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid. Beyond that, though, it seems like Avery has finally learned that he can no longer play with reckless abandonment, doing and saying whatever he wants. Sean said several times after the Rangers claimed him on re-entry waivers that he knew this was his last chance to be able to make it work in the NHL.
This has been a different Sean Avery that Rangers fans have seen since 2008-2009. He’s gone long stretches of games where you had to check the box score just to make sure he was actually in the lineup because he was so invisible. Those instances never used to happen the first time Avery was a Ranger, and it seems like ever since he was scratched in the playoffs against Washington in 2009 by John Tortorella, Avery has played the game afraid. Avery and Tortorella have talked time and time again about Avery’s ability to play with an edge without crossing the line, but Avery has struggled to figure it out and put it all together. Torts has insisted that he wants Avery to play his game and doesn’t want him to change too much, but it’s hard to ignore the facts. Avery has never really been given a real chance to succeed under John Tortorella the way he was with Tom Renney. Avery’s Power Play time has been almost non-existent, his total ice time has dropped dramatically and this past season he was even a healthy scratch in several games. I’m not saying Avery’s play didn’t warrant him being scratched, but there were several instances where players such as Chris Drury, Mats Zuccarello and Erik Christensen were in the lineup over Avery when their play was just as bad, if not worse.
It was clear from the very beginning that bringing Avery back was a Glen Sather move that was already in the process of being completed when Sather made the decision to fire Tom Renney and hire John Tortorella in the middle of the 2008-2009 season, and I’m not sure if Torts had any say in having Sean Avery on this team when he became the Rangers head coach. But even Tortorella would have to admit that Sean Avery played well when the Rangers originally claimed him on re-entry waivers. In 18 games Avery recorded 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points with 34 penalty minutes and two Power Play goals. Avery was his active and pesky self when he first rejoined the Rangers, but it all seemed to go downhill when Torts made him a healthy scratch in the Rangers’ eventual first round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals later that season following two ill-advised penalties that Avery took in Game 4. Avery has certainly had some bright spots since then, but if I had to point to one specific point in time where things could have started to go south for Avery, this would seem to be it. Since this incident I’ve noticed a much more tentative Sean Avery who is afraid of roughing it up and doing anything that Torts may deem to be a “stupid penalty.”
But make no mistake about it – Sean Avery is still responsible for his own game and the way he plays has been completely unacceptable. John Tortorella has claimed that he doesn’t have a leash on Avery and that he wants him to play his game, and, to Avery’s credit, he has also repeatedly taken responsibility for his play and said he needs to be more aggressive. Even though I think there’s more to this entire situation than that, it’s still up to Avery to improve his play. This past season Avery recorded the lowest shooting percentage of his career at an abysmal 2.2 percent. He recorded just 3 goals in 76 games, although his 21 assists were good for the 8th most on the team, which is somewhat surprising considering Avery spent a majority of the season playing on the fourth line. To put Avery’s awful shooting into perspective, he took a total of 137 shots this past season and scored only 3 goals, while his best season came in 2007-2008 when he scored 15 goals on just 125 shots with the Rangers (good for a 12.0 shooting percentage). Whether you want to chalk it up to bad luck, bad shot choices or somewhere in-between, Avery struggled mightily and had the worst offensive season in his career. Avery also recorded 174 penalty minutes this past season, which was the most in a season for him since the 2006-2007 season when he also had 174 PIMs with the Kings and Rangers. A high number of minutes in the sin bin is never a good thing, but for a player like Avery it’s a somewhat good way to measure how engaged he was throughout the course of the season.
I don’t think we’ll ever truly see the return of the old Sean Avery, who quickly became a Rangers fan favorite after his first game when he crashed the crease against the Devils and began his feud with Martin Brodeur, but that doesn’t mean Avery is a completely useless player. The Artist Formerly Known As Page Six Sean needs to go back to being the best agitator in the game. If Avery plays with an attitude and mixes things up, I have to think his points total will increase. Avery needs to have confidence in both himself and the coaching staff that one screw up won’t automatically result in a week long hiatus in the press box. Let’s not forget that Sean Avery spent the majority of his first two years as a Ranger playing on the top two lines, whereas the last three years he’s spent the majority of the time playing on the bottom two lines. Simply put, Avery needs to produce. If he’s not going to score goals he needs to at least be able to draw penalties and sucker teams into falling for his trap. But John Tortorella also needs to reward Avery, or any other player for that matter, with more ice time and more opportunities to play with better players and in bigger spots if they’re playing well. Each year Avery does seem to fall out of favor with Tortorella faster than just about any other player on the roster, but if he’s playing well Torts will have no choice but to play him. I don’t think either guy really likes each other, but this isn’t about a feud between a player and coach. Avery needs to give Torts a reason to play him and he needs to give Rangers fans a reason to remember why the Garden Faithful loved him so much that they once broke out a chant of “RE-SIGN AVERY!” during the season of his impending free agency.
This season could be the most important of Sean Avery’s NHL career. Barring a strong bounce-back campaign, it’s hard to imagine the Rangers bringing Avery back after his contract expires due to the large influx of kids they have waiting in the wings to push for roster spots. It’s certainly not out of the question, but I’d imagine Avery would have to have a strong season and be willing to take a pretty large pay cut to remain in New York beyond the upcoming season. Avery will need to impress the Rangers and other NHL teams to prove that he is worth signing to a contract. We all know that Avery has way more enemies than he does friends in the league and I can’t imagine many teams out there who would be willing to sign Avery with the baggage he brings with him. This is pure speculation, but I think there’s a distinct possibility Avery could simply choose to retire if he fails to earn himself another contract with the Rangers after the upcoming season. Avery already owns a restaurant in New York and co-owns another with Henrik Lundqvist and we all know about Avery’s interest in fashion. He’s always talked about how much he loves New York and it seems like he has settled down here, so if he doesn’t have any offers on the table that interest him I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to venture into business outside of hockey. But right now, No. 16 needs to have his sights set on the upcoming season and reclaiming his fame on Broadway.
Filed Under: Rangers
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.