New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella made a controversial decision to bench Sean Avery in game five of the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals between the Rangers and the Washington Capitals, a series that New York could taken with a win, in order to "make a point."
Tortorella was apparently unhappy with Avery taking six minor penalties and a misconduct in the last two games of the series, and the tip of the iceberg seemed to be the two questionable penalties that the 29-year-old took in game four against Capitals defensemen Milan Jurcina and Brian Pothier.
That sounds more like the Avery we're familiar with.
It's a well documented fact that Tortorella isn't Avery's biggest supporter, and there is surely some reluctance in having him on his team. Then again, which coach or player would invite him onto a team with open arms given his notorious reputation? When he's on the ice he's vile, aggravating, and really just an overall pain in the ass.
But it works.
In 86 career regular season games, the Rangers went an impressive 50-20-16 with Avery in the line-up, and a measly 9-13-3 in the 25 games in which he did not dress. Not to mention in 18 playoff games with the Rangers during his first stint in New York, Avery recorded a respectable 12 points in addition to 33 penalty minutes.
I'm not pro-Avery by any means, but tell me this guy doesn't make a difference.
Of course there's the locker room cancer aspect of the situation. Avery is a loner who's also not keen on taking orders from anyone, and that often times results in him creating his own agenda. His attitude also makes him a liability and his teammates often keep their distance from him because of it (Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco in Dallas come to mind).
Here's the million-dollar question: is it right to leave a player in who has a positive effect on the outcome of games, but a negative effect on the individuals on his team?
Debatable, but hockey is a team sport.
I don't blame Tortorella for scratching Avery. He did what he felt was right for his team, and wanted to send a message to the troubled agitator that if he's going to play like that, there will be consequences. But at the same time, the playoffs are not the time when you're suppose to start messing with your line-up unless your team is down in the series or in players.
The Rangers were none of the above.
In fact, with the Capitals as the favourites going into the series, the Rangers have really surprised people with their lead over the second-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. While this lead that can be largely attributed to Henrik Lundqvist's magnificent play between the pipes, if Washington does manage to make it to game seven, the Rangers will face the danger of elimination.
Of course, if the Rangers don't allow that scenario, there won't be any problems.
We'll never know if the result would have differed had Avery been in the line-up against the Capitals in game five. Perhaps it was just the sheer desperation that Washington played with that won them the game, and having Avery there for New York wouldn't have made much of a difference. As I said, we'll never know. But one thing that is for certain is this: the Rangers are a better team with Avery wearing the red, white, and blue.