The good Sean Avery is a solid 3rd liner but is skilled enough to fill in on a scoring line from time to time too. He can skate well and has the hands necessary to pot 15 goals for a club. He is an effective forechecker and can cause havoc in the opposition’s defensive zone. Avery is constantly yapping at both the referees and the opposition. There may not be anyone better in the NHL at getting under the skin of opponents and thus drawing retaliatory-type penalties.
In fact, when he was playing his best hockey, Avery drew about one more penalty per 60 minutes of ice time than he took according to penalty data found on www.behindthenet.ca. If we assume 12 minutes of ice time for Avery per game and a PP converting at 20%, Avery’s ability to draw infractions would be worth more than three extra goals during a full season. That may not sound like a lot but in reality it could have meant the difference between winning or losing a game or two.Those extra points might have resulted in making the playoffs or earning a higher seed in the postseason tournament.
When he is going well I compare Avery to another former Ranger, Esa Tikkanen. Tikkanen was part of five Stanley Cup championships during his career; four with Edmonton and the fifth as a member of the 1993 – 1994 Rangers. He netted 20 or more goals in six seasons and at least 30 in three during his career. Tikkanen skated in more than 180 postseason contests and was traded for by teams at the deadline that were headed to the playoffs on multiple occasions.
Tikkanen was a very good defensive player and often was tasked with shadowing the opponent’s best players. Like Avery, Tikkanen was known for using his mouth as much as any hockey-related skill. In fact, his use of some hybrid form of English and Finnish was dubbed by teammates and opponents alike as “Tikkanese,” and was rarely understood by anyone. That fact didn’t prevent Tikkanen from taking great pleasure in whatever trash-talking he was engaged in and the disruptions he caused on the ice. We all remember the kisses directed at Dale Hunter and Keith Jones of the Capitals in the 1994 Conference Semifinals. Esa Tikkanen is the perfect embodiment of the good Sean Avery in a nutshell.
Meanwhile the bad Sean Avery is the one we saw for most of the 2009 – 2010 and 2010 – 2011 seasons. According to penalty data, again from www.behind.thenet.ca, Avery took essentially as many penalties as he drew. Many of the penalties he took were unnecessary and hurt the team. Since we did the math already, the bad Avery costs his team three goals over the course of the season.
The bad Avery also has a propensity for preceding the puck into the offensive zone causing his line to go offside. With the Rangers typically employing an aggressive forechecking style to create scoring chances Avery going offside would kill any chance of getting into the zone quickly to generate pressure on the defense and potentially steal puck possession.
The bad Avery also doesn’t produce offensively. Last season Avery scored just three goals despite cranking 137 shots on goal. His shooting percentage of 2.2% was the third lowest of any NHL forward that scored a goal and appeared in at least 50 contests. Say thank you to Adam Mair and Todd Marchant. Shooting percentages can fluctuate wildly from season to season and seem to be in part a product of luck. Still, 2.2% is simply abysmal and having watched the Rangers closely last season it wasn’t like the opposing netminders were robbing him on quality shots.
The bad Avery is what John Tortorella had seen enough of and it’s why Avery was demoted to the AHL to begin the season. Also a contributing factor was Avery’s cap hit and the fact removing that cap hit from the ledger enabled the Rangers to keep rookie D Tim Erixon up. With Staal ruled out and Sauer hobbled by a shoulder problem, it was necessary to keep Erixon up to start the season.
Avery handled the demotion well and showed up to Hartford ready to go. After a handful of games with the Whale and with the Rangers lacking a certain spark, the decision was made to recall Avery from Hartford. Despite limited minutes (7:28 per game), we’ve seen mostly the good Sean Avery in his return. He’s drawing 2.0 penalties per 60 minutes while taking just 0.7 for every 60 minutes of ice time himself. He has three goals already on 12 shots. He isn’t making the dumb mistakes on the ice that he’s been prone to make the last couple of seasons. Simply put Avery is contributing in a positive way and the team has won 12 of their last 14 games. That run nearly coincides with Avery’s arrival back to New York.
Sean Avery is proving he is still worth a roster spot on this team and in this league. However, as we all know, it is a fine line he must walk between the good and bad Avery and whether he is able to do it for the balance of this season is the big question. If he is then he might warrant a spot on the team beyond this year. If he can’t then it’s likely off to a forced retirement for the controversial winger. For the sake of the Rangers on-ice fortunes, let’s hope we continue to see the good Avery.
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