One of the most disappointing aspects of the 2009-10 New York Rangers season was the overall performance of superpest Sean Avery.
When you strip away the layers of Sean Avery, when you remove the personality , the celebrity , the fashion designing intern , and the subject of a sure-to-be terrible Hollywood movie , what you should be left with is something pretty good, actually. What you should have remaining is Sean Avery: The Hockey Player, and that player happens to be a pretty solid one.
For all of the nonsense that Sean Avery brings to a hockey game, the thing Avery-haters always fail to acknowledge is the fact that the owner of Warren 77 down in Tribeca is actually one of the smarter players in the league. Avery has a good deal of hockey sense. Watch him play, and pay close attention to his instincts, his positioning. Aside from the instances when he loses control of his senses or his aggression, he tends to always be in the right place on the ice at the right time.
Unfortunately, if this season showed us anything about Sean Avery, it’s that you may not be able to have one without the other.
It seems as if Avery’s ability to play smart, efficient hockey comes as a package deal with all of the extracurricular activities Avery likes to bring to the rink. Just take a look at this season, when he scored just 11 goals and 31 points.
There’s no doubt that the most recent edition of Avery was a toned down one, to say the least. There’s no secret that head coach John Tortorella was not a fan of Avery’s prior to becoming the Rangers’ bench boss, but we were promised this summer that whatever issues the two had were settled. Maybe they have been, but that certainly didn’t extend to the way Tortorella approached Avery and his role on the ice this season.
Here’s my guess: Tortorella told Avery that he had to clean up his act and tone himself down and focus solely on playing hockey, instructions that Avery took to heart.
After all, it isn’t just Tortorella that Avery has to fear, it’s the league itself. The NHL clearly has it out for Avery, who got a harsher punishment for making an inappropriate joke than other players get for dirty hits that cause other players serious injuries.
I also have no doubt that Avery LOVES playing in New York, and would rather play here than anywhere else.
So what happened? Avery was, more or less, neutered, and he played that way for most of the season. We got the worst of Sean Avery (160 PIM in 69 games, 10th highest in the NHL) without much of the best of Sean Avery. He also made some comments that drew the ire of Tortorella, despite the fact that the comments were not just spot on, but called for, as well.
“…It’s a lack of competitiveness … we do not play hard enough … it’s a lack of respect for our organization and our fans … it’s a joke.”
That’s what Avery told Larry Brooks of the New York Post on January 23, following a 6-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Tortorella’s response? “Shut up and play.”
Why? If you recall that dreadful and embarrassing performance, Avery was absolutely right.
Then, of course, there was the healthy scratch incident on March 12, when Avery was scratched prior to a game with the Atlanta Thrashers. It was the first time Avery had been scratched for a regular season game in his time with the Rangers.
“We’ve asked him for a while now for more engagement, and honestly, we just haven’t seen it,” Tortorella said following the morning skate in preparation for tonight’s match here against the Thrashers. “[That's in] all facets.”
What happened the next game, a home date against the Philadelphia Flyers? Avery scored twice, leading the Rangers to a 3-1 victory, playing exactly the same way he’d played prior to the coming of Torts. He was a nuisance to the other team, he was in their faces, he played aggressive, and he was energetic. Best of all, however, he was smart.
So, what’s the deal? It doesn’t seem like John Tortorella knows what he wants from Sean Avery, so it’s pretty hard to expect Avery to play well, when he keeps getting mixed messages from his head coach, with whom he was on shaky ground to begin with.
Sean Avery could be a 15-18 goal, 25 assist-per-season player, but only when he is playing his game and when he’s playing in the right role. I have to think he’ll be back with the team next season. He’s still got two years remaining on his contract, with the Rangers responsible for 50% of his salary ($1,937,500 per season) as a result of them claiming him on re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars a year ago.
Hopefully, next season, Tortorella will have figured out that you don’t mess with a good thing, and Sean Avery was a good thing for this team. He may not have been this season, but he can be again.
Sean Avery Grade: C