John Tortorella and Sean Avery on Collision Course

JerseySenior Analyst IMarch 1, 2009

The Rangers are in flux. They got off to their best start in history, but quickly fell back to earth, their terrible offseason catching up with them soon enough. Fans soon realized that their first-place ranking had been chiefly due to their exorbitant amount of games played, while their division rivals in Philadelphia and New Jersey had many games in hand.

As the schedules evened out, people began to realize that the Rangers just weren't that good. They sorely miss Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, and Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev haven't filled their skates as planned.

So Tom Renney was fired.

No, it wasn't Glen Sather, responsible for the awful offseason that saw their leading scorer walk away and the signing of Wade Redden for six years at 6.5 million per. It was Renney who got the ax, and he was replaced by the fiery John Tortorella.

Tortorella's Rangers weren't very different from Renney's Rangers at first, scoring a grand total of two goals in his first two games. They finally exploded for six goals last night, but it was against lowly Colorado, so Rangers fans shouldn't put too much stock into this game.

It's a start, but don't expect a sudden barrage of goals.

And now to the point: Sean Avery has been making his way back to the Rangers. For the past few years, he'd been their soul, a bit of nastiness that made them a less-than-flat hockey team. Sure, the scoring helped, but every hockey fan knows that hockey isn't only about scoring goals; there has to be an enforcer or two on the ice. Avery was that and more.

A quick glance at the stats shows that the Rangers were far better with Avery in the lineup than without. His acquisition two years ago sparked them into the playoffs, and his fire continued burning throughout all of last season.

With Avery gone, the Rangers have sputtered. He won't fix the Rangers' scoring problems, but he does give the team a certain sense of composure. He's an agitator, and it keeps opponents wary. No one likes to face him, and that could be a huge boost for the team.

But the Rangers only tried half-heartedly to re-sign him in the offseason, and he ditched them for Dallas. Apparently, though, he's not only someone you hate to play against: he's someone you hate to play WITH. He immediately became a cancer in the Stars' locker room, and after making some comments deemed inappropriate, was jettisonned off the roster.

While I don't think Avery's comments were at all problematic, I am well aware of his abrasive personality, and can understand why his teammates hated him. But it wasn't just his teammates who took issue with him: it was other people in hockey as well. One such person was John Tortorella, who said Avery "doesn't belong in the league."

With Avery set to hit re-entry waivers soon, it's likely the Rangers will bring him back. Only it's not Tom Renney behind the bench anymore. Avery and Tortorella would likely clash, regardless of Tortorella's comment. The scream-happy coach would not take kindly to the agitator's antics, and their union would not be a holy one. Tortorella's personal opinion of Avery doesn't help matters either.

Would Avery really help the Rangers anymore? In a vacuum, I'd say yes. He definitely brings SOMETHING that makes the team tick, and at this point, he really can't hurt. But with the Rangers in a state of uncertainty at the moment, adding a combustible personality might not be the best idea. A coaching clash would not go over well, and I believe such a conflict is inevitable.

It's possible that Avery brings a little attitude that the Rangers have been missing, and this pushes them into the eighth playoff seed. But he won't help them put goals into nets, and they won't get far in the playoffs even if they do make it. His risk probably isn't worth the potential reward.

More likely is that he'll get into a huge conflict with Tortorella, and the whole team will suffer because of it. Sather may eventually decide to chalk Avery up as a failed experiment, but with three quarters of the season already gone, that may not come until after the Rangers are on their premature vacation.

I don't think the Rangers should bring back Avery at this point, but as a Devils fan, I hope they do. I hope they bring him in and he gets into a huge confrontation with Tortorella, and that he doesn't mesh with Naslund, one of the league's oldest veterans.

And I hope Avery gets blacklisted once and for all. No one wants him at this point besides the Rangers; once they're fed up with him, he won't be able to find a job in the NHL.

But I think they will bring him back, because Sather is desperate. Renney's firing didn't satiate Rangers fans, who continued chanting "Fire Sather!" during their recent 2-1 loss to the Panthers, a team that allowed seven goals last night against the Devils. Sather has got to realize his job is on the line. After years of bad contracts and poor decisions, it's about time he got the ax.

But until Rangers owner Jim Dolan figures this out, I'll happily laugh at their misfortune, while my Devils run away with the division.