When Sean Avery was wearing New York Rangers' red, white and blue -- which was for three full seasons, parts of two others -- he was a fan favorite. The 31-year-old get-under-your-skin agitator was an entertaining player for fans and played with relentless energy. Tuesday, he was effectively cut from the Rangers' squad and placed on waivers -- leaving the 13th forward spot to Erik Christensen -- and possibly ending his NHL tenure. While the Blueshirt faithful have no say whether a player is kept, this is the case where "our" perception may be warranted.
Don't get me wrong, I realize Avery comes with a lot of extra baggage: from his "sloppy seconds" comments to in-ice antics to his love for fashion to his video endorsement of gay marriage. But this is about the team and what he can bring to the ice.
When Avery was traded by the Kings to the Rangers in February of 2007 -- before Tortorella was hired as coach -- he had 20 points in 29 games and the team went 17-6-6 with him in the lineup. That season and the one after were the only ones the Rangers have made it past the first round since the 1996-97 season. (I'm not saying Avery is a direct reason of that, I'm just mentioning so because he was a part of the success.) In the 2007-08 playoffs, Avery had 12 points in eight games. His play in his inaugural season and the year after earned him a four-year deal from the Stars, but general manager Glen Sather re-acquired him about two years later. Two years ago Avery had 31 points in 69 games, with 160 penalty minutes, while playing just over 13 minutes a game. Last year, Tortorella basically buried him in the lineup by the end of the year -- he had 24 points in 76 games -- scratching him in six of the final 12 games and getting less than 10 minutes of ice time in 12 of the last 14 games he played. It's obvious that Avery's play (and style) didn't jive with Tortorella and putting the "leash" on Avery never worked for him, either.
Avery gets the bad end of this deal. Tortorella said that he thought there were better players on the roster than Avery (which I agree) and that Christensen is more versatile than Avery is. I don't get, then, why Avery was used on the top line for parts of last season with Marian Gaborik and looked to be effective, and then became a spare part.
OK, so maybe Christensen is a shootout wizard, can play the wing and center, and shows some offensive flair. The reality is he's often invisible more than he's noticed. He's a decent skater, but he's soft on the puck and is not a battler by any stretch of the word. He and Avery are both terrible defensively, so that's a moot point. Christensen has the better scoring ability but rarely has the "on" switch flicked on, it seems. Avery is more physical, provides more energy and has an underrated ability to set-up scoring chances, which is all masked by the other on-ice extracurricular activities he gets himself into.
I disagree with Tortorella that Christensen fits better with the current roster construction. The Rangers have two legitimate enforcer-types in Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust. What happens when one of them gets injured for a few games and the Blueshirts play against a nasty team like the Flyers? Instead of using Avery in a game like that, the Rangers now have Christensen -- or the ability to call up a youngster in Carl Hagelin or Ryan Bourque, both inexperienced and without the same edge as Avery. Dale Weise was placed on waivers and claimed by the Canucks, so his shot at filling Avery's "role" on the Rangers is gone. The type of players in the minor leagues are more of the scoring type like Christensen than Avery ... thus, to me, seem easier to fill.
In addition, Avery was the Rangers' second-most effective player at drawing penalties as he drew 1.4 per 60 minutes of ice time, which ranked 23rd in the NHL. There's a lot of value in that. However, the problem is that he took 1.3 penalties -- whether deserved or because he had a target on his back -- per 60 minutes.
I understand that this battle was for the 13th forward spot and Christensen not be playing every game. The problem is that I heard the coach wondering in press conferences all too often last year where Christensen was when he was in the lineup. You at least knew when Avery was in there -- and that that he would be forechecking hard and making something happen. Now, the Rangers will go with the up-and-down 27-year-old who may (or may not) show up on any given night.
I'm a big Tortorella supporter, and fully realize (and appreciate) what he's done to turn this team into contenders. And while this roster move won't have a major impact on the team's chances this season, I will say it's the first one in Tortorella's time as coach that I don't agree with.