Sean Avery

Oh Grate

Many sportsmen who have come to New York have struggled to live up to their previous success. The bright lights and distractions, the added pressure and the increased media attention, have helped derail many a career. For Sean Avery though, it appears the opposite is true.

After being traded first from Detroit and then Los Angeles after each team found it difficult to deal with the outspoken forward, Avery seemingly found a home in New York helping to lead the team out of mid-season doldrums and into an unlikely playoff spot in his first season. His antics in the post season that generated the “Avery Rule” (an interpretation of the unsportsmanlike conduct rule that was extended to include trying to distract the goaltender) was just one of a number of incidents that helped Avery cement a big following amongst the faithful.

After an acrimonious arbitration hearing in the summer of 2007, Avery finished out his one year awarded contract with the Rangers and signed a lucrative four year 15.6 million dollar deal with the Stars. Despite expressing a desire to stay in New York, it appeared that Rangers GM Glen Sather was not close in terms of what he was offering.

As it turns out, neither side appeared to benefit from the “divorce”. The Rangers have struggled through the mid point of the season, resulting in the departure of Tom Renney, while the Stars first struggled with the volatile personality of their free agent signing, and then almost looked relieved that the league suspended him from the game following some personal slurs against his former girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert.

The Stars ultimately suspended Avery indefinitely, while they attempted to figure out what to do with him, and as it turns out, that would be to return him to New York (albeit at a subsidized rate).

With the claim today, the Rangers have effectively taken over Avery’s contract at half the price of what the Stars signed him for. The Stars will continue to pay $1.9M per year towards his salary and the Rangers will have the option to keep him on the roster, or send him back to the AHL if they so desire (although they will have to continue to pay their portion of his salary.

As for the new coach, well sometimes things you say come back to haunt you. While acting as an analyst for TSN in Canada, Tortorella called Avery and embarrassment to the league, and suggested he find other employment. When asked about the potential conflict last week, Sather suggested that Tortorella would get to love Avery like “we all do”.

Which begs the question…how much of Avery’s success was the result of having the relatively positive and constructive Tom Renney behind the bench? How much help did Brendan Shanahan provide in the lockerrom, to ensure that Avery’s personal quirks didn’t take control of the team? And how will players like Brandon Dubinsky and Stephen Valiquette react to the return of the player that they spoke out against after his departure.

And that’s not even to mention the likes of Wade Redden and Markus Naslund who drew criticism from Avery earlier in the seaosn.

There’s certainly a good case both for and against Avery.

On the plus side, the Rangers have shown a distinct lack of passion and spunk this year (the win against the Avalanche aside). Avery is the type of player that can get his team going, with a well timed hit, some borderline legal (or illegal) play in front of the opposing netminder or a well timed goal.

On the negative side, he’s also shown a lack of discipline at times…both in taking penalties, but also in his defensively play. His sometimes caustic personality could also have a disruptive effect on a team that might finally be starting to feel some confidence again.

The immediate impact on the roster appears to be fairly minimal. The recently acquired Mark Bell was sent down to Hartford to clear space for Avery, and the placement of Aaron Voros on waivers today also removes confusion over the roster.

The primary roster players who will likely be impacted (if they are not traded) appears now to be Nigel Dawes or Blair Betts, with Lauri Korpikoski potentially a more rounded option for fourth line center, and Avery either slotting into second or third line left wing (Brandon Dubinsky could move back to center, or Dawes could be a healthy scratch).

In terms of what impact he might have on the team? Expect a few goals here and there (he’s not had great success in the AHL since his return to action with the Wolf Pack), maybe a few chances/goals given up the other way too when he elects to stay down low, or gets too fancy with the puck and turns it over, but ultimately his success or failure will likely be how disciplined he remains…particularly towards his own team mates and his coach.

Ultimately the chances of Avery lasting our the remaining three and quarter years with the Rangers seems unlikely, but if the Rangers are successful, then chances are that Avery had something to do with it.

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