Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Avery Era Coming To A Close

It looks like the end for Sean Avery. The controversial superpest will be placed on waivers tomorrow. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when he didn't play the last two exhibitions, including an eye popping 8-4 blowout defeat at the hands of Swiss' EV Zug Monday.

Lost in all the chaos is that the 31-year old Pickering, Ontario native carved out a solid career despite not being drafted. Sure. He's an easy target due to the antics on and off the ice. Whether you agreed with Avery's recent allegation that Wayne Simmonds used a homophobic slur in the heat of battle, the two-time Ranger was an engaging personality who was viewed differently by a league that held him to a different standard following his off color commentary- prior to a Dallas/Calgary match that earned him a six-game ban and sensitivity counseling. His mouth eventually cameback to bite him, making it doubtful another team will claim him.

Ironically, for all of Avery's shenanigans (ie Avery Rule), he never was suspended for anything outside of the references to ex Elisha Cuthbert, who was dating then Flame Dion Phaneuf. Understand Sean pushed the envelope during scrums but never delivered any controversial hits that have become a league-wide epidemic thanks to borderline players such as Matt Cooke, who at least in preseason has gotten Brendan Shanahan's message. In fact, Avery was an asset when he used his speed and grit, while agitating foes including favorite target Martin Brodeur and recently Ilya Kovalchuk.

The trouble for Avery was his inconsistency under John Tortorella, who once called him out on TSN following the Phaneuf/Cuthbert incident, hinting that he didn't belong in the league. That's what made them such an odd couple once Tortorella replaced Tom Renney. At times, Avery was still a solid player, always coming to the aid of teammates and playing with the edge that earned him the nickname Grate One. Another of New York Post writer Larry Brooks', whose King Henrik has become a Blueshirt favorite for Henrik Lundqvist. Other instances, you hardly noticed Sean, which led to benchings with Tortorella wanting him to be more engaged.

In their '09 first round series against Washington, Avery was one of the club's best players. However, a controversial benching in Game Five allowed the Caps to regain momentum. When he returned for the last two games, it was Avery who was the most effective Blueshirt, factoring in on their only goal in a crushing 2-1 Game Seven elimination. One ponders if Tortorella gaffed despite the 22 penalty minutes in Games 3-4 that led to the benching. Guess we'll never know.

Despite not the best relationship, Avery managed to put together a good '09-10, registering 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points with a career best three power play goals, along with 160 penalty minutes. It was the fourth time he registered at least 10 goals and third instance he hit 30 points or better. He also missed a dozen games with the Rangers losing out on the playoffs the final day to the Flyers.

Last season, he started quickly with four assists in the club's first three games with seven of his 24 points (3-21-24) coming during October. However, his production along with his play slipped particularly in the second half, leaving skeptics. One of the issues under Tort is you never knew what Avery's role was with it frequently changing games to game. If he was going good, he could see first line duty. But if there were a couple of poor shifts, his ice-time dwindled probably leaving the loquacious left wing at a loss for words. Often, he took the high road, refusing to criticize Tortorella. A point that gets lost among critics.

Perhaps Avery's salary ($1.93 million) was too much to justify keeping him even if he could still provide a boost. With the Rangers blueline questionable without anchor Marc Staal, they likely had no choice but to sever ties with a player who fell out of favor. With Mats Zuccarello impressive all camp earning a spot and Tortorella opting to retain shootout ace Erik Christensen, there was no room for Sean. Overlooked was the improvement of ex-Ranger Dale Weise, who outplayed both but still didn't make the cut. The Canucks picked him up today. It also is apparent that prospects Ryan Bourque, Carl Hagelin and surprise Andreas Thuresson passed him on the depth chart.

With Staal still in limbo due to headaches stemming from a concussion suffered last February on a hit from brother Eric, the back end could use another addition. Especially with both camp revelations Brendan Bell and Stu Bickell on waivers. That could be encouraging for Mike Sauer, who has sat out with a right shoulder sprain. Perhaps he'll be ready for Friday's opener in Stockholm against the Kings, strengthening the blueline.

Currently, the Rangers have Ryan McDonagh taking Staal's place with Dan Girardi while Sauer, Mike Del Zotto and Steve Eminger, who all played last year. That's five minus Staal. Are the Blueshirts preparing to sign someone or make a trade? Nothing would surprise me. This is usually where Glen Sather does his best work. If it turns out like Eminger, that works. The organization already reassigned Tim Erixon to Connecticut, which is why it's a bit perplexing that they didn't keep Bell or Bickell, who have to pass through waivers. I'm sure there's a good reason behind it.

As for Avery, if it is indeed the last time we'll see him in a Blueshirt, he was a good teammate and a fan favorite. Even if Avery Part Deux wasn't as fun as his Broadway debut, I still liked what he brought. Anyone even on the other side of the Hudson who despised him, has to admit he energized the rivalry. Though we're certain Brodeur, Kovalchuk and nemesis David Clarkson are popping the champagne.

Whatever his future holds, I wish Avery the best of luck. Hope he keeps his head on straight.

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