It’s a pretty safe assumption that not many players divide opinion like Sean Avery.
Is he a legitimate offensive threat? Is he a threat to the safety of the opposition or is he just a threat to his own team? This coming season is one of transition for the Rangers and despite the likelihood of minimal change to personnel (at least to start the season) it’s not clear where the ‘Grate one’ fits.
Without debate Avery can provide a unique dynamic to the Rangers and when he’s on he’s a valuable tool that a lot of sides cannot deal with. Avery has a healthy scoring total of 96 points in 144 games for the Rangers over parts of four seasons. That equates to a 54 point season if you crudely looked for an average and we all know about the famously banded-about stats of the Rangers with Avery in the line up and Avery out of the line up during his first run on Broadway. The way Avery arrived in New York in ‘07 (scoring 20 points in 29 games) showed what he can do offensively. The way he drove Martin Brodeur to despair in the playoffs showed what he can do antagonistically. So why could Avery not do it for Tortorella? Offensively, last year was a poor one for Avery scoring just 0.44 points per game compared to his Rangers average of 0.66 p/g. Too often he played what seemed timidly and this is a direct consequence of fearing the coaches’ backlash. Too often we didn’t see the abrasive element of his game and this badly affected the Rangers. However we also saw how valuable he can be to the Rangers. In the game 82 decider in Philly – with both Avery and Callahan missing – the Rangers simply couldn’t establish a fore-check, get sustained pressure in the Flyers end and therefore allowed the Flyers the chance to bombard Lundqvist and the Rangers. If it wasn’t for the heroics of the ‘King’ the game would have been over much earlier than it was. Avery’s presence in that game (assuming he was in ‘Avery-mode’) would have helped.
I’ve said before that this upcoming season is a critical one for Tortorella as a head coach. The lustre of a Stanley Cup only lasts so long, and if Tortorella fails in NY this season he’ll be in the damaged goods section of NHL coaches. He won’t just stroll into another job so putting up with Pierre McGuire in the TSN studio may be his best bet – Urgh. Sean Avery could be the X factor for Tortorella. He may be the player that can get the Rangers and the coach’s path on the right track. It is in Tortorella’s interests to get the best out of Avery; get him on ‘the edge’, getting him driving to the net, get him drawing penalties and get his personality overflowing on the ice. You don’t have to like Avery you just need to appreciate what he can bring.
So assume Torts recognises the need for a full dose of Avery, where does he slot him in? I think Avery needs solid minutes to be effective. He needs a while to get opponents ‘attention’ and then he needs time to capitalize on it. 9-10 minutes a night just won’t cut it. It’s this reason why Avery needs a top 6 role. He needs 15+ minutes a game. Avery has proved he can contribute offensively and is by no means a liability on a scoring line. Once there, he brings his unique brand to the party which should allow for space and time for his line mates. Depending on where Torts plans on using Brandon Dubinsky I’d like to see Avery on his line; a line featuring decent size, skill and a genuine willingness to work the corners. Throw Ryan Callahan on the other wing and you have a fore checking line that is an offensive threat. Will Torts recognize this? I sure hope so.
(Is it a coincidence a post on Avery amounted to 666 words? Maybe, maybe not…..)