by Mark Owens
However, I can only hope that Sather has some sort of prearranged deal in place to lovingly accept Avery back should he wear out his welcome in Dallas in the next 18 months.
Avery was perfect for Broadway. He was a unique combination of entertainment, talent, personality, good looks, and fuck-you attitude that New Yorkers love. In my 30 years following the Rangers, I have seen Ranger fans embrace players like Staten Island product Nick Fotiu for his fighting prowess, hustle and fan-friendly manner, and Ron Duguay for his flowing locks, model-loving (like Avery) and goal-scoring ability. However, their early 80s popularity was snuffed by the Islanders’ and Oilers’ dynasties.
The Rangers of the late 80s were a boring and mostly inept bunch, until Neil Smith traded for Mark Messier in 1991 (thanks again, Glen), helping Brian Leetch and Mike Richter find their mojo on the way to the Stanley Cup in 1994. That triumvirate – along with Adam Graves – were fan favorites for obvious reasons (e.g., no more chants of 1940!).
However, none of those players embodied the ‘everyman’ persona that Avery did’the undersized guy with the big mouth taking on anyone and everyone while playing the game with enough skill to earn valuable ice time and score meaningful goals, all without taking any shit.
After Sather plucked Avery from the Kings for Jason Ward and a pair of unknown amateur players, Avery immediately showed his moxie in his first game as a Ranger’a road game against the Devils. Avery picked up an assist and introduced himself to Hall-of-Famer-to-be Marty Brodeur as only Avery can. After Marty shoved the crease-crashing Avery, Sean the Grate had the audacity to touch the untouchable Marty, belting him square in the NJ logo on Marty’s chest. Marty responded by dropping as if felled by a cannonball, touching off a melee and serving notice that Sean was here to ruin Marty’s life when the Rangers were around.
Do not underestimate the Avery Factor in tilting the Rangers-Devils rivalry in the Rangers favor this past season; Avery was clearly in Marty’s head!
Besides taunting Brodeur over the course of his 15 months in New York, Avery also engaged Flyers’ leader Mike Richards in two fights during this time, including one in his first game back from his early-season shoulder injury (Av-er-y! Av-er-y!). Other Avery ‘victims’ include Ilya Kovalchuk in the 2007 playoffs (I’m going to get you Sean, even if my team gets swept) and Darcy Tucker in Sean’s home Ontario province (damn, Sean, you ARE better at this than me), in a memorable Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight) and resounding Rangers win.
I hate to think that Sather had no intentions of bringing Avery back. I only hope that he made Sean a fair offer of at least $3 million per year, given Sean’s unique ability to tilt games in the Rangers favor, distract opponents, entertain fans (and sell tickets), and attract attention from the press. Let’s face it, any press is good press for the NHL (except the stick-swinging variety garnered by the likes of Chris Simon, who has now taken his act to Russia; apparently they ARE really desperate to get their league off the ground at any cost).
Brett Hull gets it. He and Les Jackson did a remarkable job transforming the Stars into a Stanley Cup contender this past season; Hull played with Avery in Detroit, worked for NBC televising games in 2007 and understands Avery’s entertainment value. No problem discarding a player like Niklas Hagman with similar offensive numbers but nowhere near the ‘x’ factor and entertainment value that Avery brings to the table. As co-GM of Dallas, he gave Avery the salary he wanted AND a no-trade clause, which he may come to regret should Avery’s act not help the Stars progress as a team. Team captain Brenden Morrow has already gone on the record saying that Sean will be accepted as long as he adheres to the Stars’ team-first mentality, despite his past ‘hatred’ for Avery.
Filling Avery’s shoes in Manhattan will be an impossible chore. Is there anyone on the current roster who will come close to earning the fans’ love? I can’t think of anyone, but from all accounts Aaron Voros may come the closest, should he make the team. (Goodbye, Ryan Hollweg?)
Avery left New York before he had a chance to wear out his welcome. I can’t wait until he returns to MSG this season or next. Start saving your money now so you can buy tickets on StubHub and take part in a welcome home like New York has not seen since Messier and Leetch left town. Thank you, Sean. We will miss you!