Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Avery's Ranger Career Comes To An End Just How John Tortorella Wanted It
I try not to be overly critical of the New York Rangers management and roster on here because I've tried to keep this blog strictly about news as it pertains to the team. Furthermore, since I started this blog I really haven't been given much of a reason to be very critical of the Rangers and the way they've handled things. I thought the Rangers had a fantastic offseason and improved the team vastly with the moves they made and felt like it was silly to nitpick at little things until the team actually hit the ice.
All that being said, I just have to vent on the news that came today that the Rangers have waived The Artist Formerly Known As Page Six Sean. Sean Avery has not only been my favorite Ranger ever since he was first acquired from the Kings - he's been amongst my favorite athletes in all of sports. I just loved his attitude, his style, his swag - it was something of a rarity to see from professional athletes in this day and age, and especially in the NHL, where Gary Bettman has always preferred his poster boys to be the prototypical straight-laced, monotone Canadian with no personality (I'm looking at you, Sidney Crosby). Avery is the polar opposite and was what I always thought was a perfect fit for playing in New York. Avery isn't a New Yorker, but he just played like one. The way he carried himself from day one just made him a natural fit here and gave the team something Rangers fans hadn't seen in a long time. Ironically enough, Avery became a fan favorite for all the reasons that everyone else hated him - kind of like how New Yorkers are looked at by people outside of New York.
Look, I won't sit here and write about how Sean Avery has enough skill that he should be opening the season on the first line. I couldn't possibly justify that considering he's coming off the worst season of his career. But can anyone really say that out of everybody at camp this year, Sean Avery was only the 14th best forward on the team? I know I can't. If you think John Tortorella really gave Avery a chance to win a roster spot in camp this season you are sadly mistaken. The writing was on the wall when Avery opened camp on a line with John Mitchell and J.T. Miller - two guys who had no chance of making the Rangers. Torts may have claimed that Avery had a shot at making this team, but there was simply nothing Avery could've done to remain a Ranger. He wasn't put in a position where he could succeed and even though he clearly outplayed Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen (two guys who were also supposedly on the roster bubble when camp started, according to Torts) that apparently didn't matter. John Tortorella has preached repeatedly since he's gotten here about how players will have to earn their roster spots and if they perform well they would play. That applied to everybody except Sean Avery. Tortorella went on the record when he was an analyst with TSN when he called Avery an idiot and said he should be sent home following his "sloppy seconds" comment that got him suspended by the NHL and even though he's never said it since he's come here, it's clear that the guy just flat out didn't like Sean and didn't want him here.
When Torts was hired as the head coach of the Rangers the wheels were already in motion to bring Sean Avery back to Broadway following his exile from the Dallas Stars. Even if Torts didn't want Sean here, that sure as hell wasn't going to be a deal breaker for Tortorella when he was negotiating a new contract to return to coaching. Even in the past few years when Sean enjoyed some success and put together some good games, Torts never entrusted him with much responsibility for very long. He was given no Power Play time and really only had an increase in playing time if there was an injury and John Totorella needed bodies to pick up more ice time. The few games Avery spent last season on the first line with Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik, he actually played quite well. Yet, whenever he began to do some positive things it seemed like Torts would always pull back his leash and stick him right back down on the fourth line where he'd get his eight minutes of ice time a game. Let's face it, Sean Avery has always been a Glen Sather and Jim Dolan type of player. Avery has been known to be somewhat close to Dolan, or at least closer to him than any other hockey player on the Rangers since Dolan first bought the Rangers. Larry Brooks reported that Dolan actually visited Avery in the hospital when he ruptured his spleen in the playoffs against the Penguins, and Avery has also gone to see Jim Dolan's band play at various charity events over the past few years, too. Glen Sather has also talked publicly about how much he likes Avery's game and the type of player he is. It seems like ultimately Glen Sather sided with John Tortorella, and it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering Torts is Sather's head coach and will be with the organization for the foreseeable future versus Avery, who would've likely been playing elsewhere next year even if he did spend this season with the Rangers. I think Sather just felt like it wouldn't be worth fighting for, especially when you consider the fact that from everything we've all heard/read points to the fact that Torts and Avery just flat out don't like each other. But still, John Tortorella's job as head coach first and foremost is to assemble the team that he thinks has the best chance of winning. If Avery was a better choice for the 13th forward role - and he clearly was - and Torts let his ego get in the way of things, then perhaps that's the most troubling part of this whole ordeal.
The Rangers now become a team with a very vanilla personality much like every other team in the NHL, which I guess is the way they wanted it. This isn't a knock on the leaders of the team such as Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist; they just don't have the same type of character and personality that Sean Avery has. The situation is kind of ironic, too, considering we will be getting a behind the scenes look on the team on HBO's 24/7 series this year, and now their once most personable player will no longer be in the dressing room with them. The Rangers tried this situation in the past going with a business-first dressing room without a lot of character in it in 2008 and it didn't work out well - Scott Gomez and Chris Drury both had their leadership qualities questioned by Tom Renney after he was fired by the Rangers during the middle of the season, and Glen Sather eventually made the move to bring Sean Avery back to add a spark to the dressing room. It's hard to say for sure why the Rangers think it'll work this time around. My personal opinion on the matter is that there was only room for one of John Tortorella and Sean Avery to remain with the team, and there was no doubt Torts would be the last man standing. Tortorella and Avery have similar personalities and two big egos that didn't clash well. I have no doubt there were conflicts between both men and I sure would love to hear about it if Sean comes out and speaks about his relationship with Tortorella once he is no longer a part of the Rangers organization.
The biggest slap in the face to me wasn't even that John Tortorella made it sound like Avery had a real chance of making the team when he really didn't, but the fact that the team actually flew Sean to Europe with them when it was clear the decision was already made that Avery wasn't going to make the team. The Rangers and Torts, of course, will claim that Avery was still being evaluated and given a chance to win a roster spot even though Rangers fans are smart enough to realize that wasn't the case. It was clearly a situation in which Avery was doomed from the start. It's not right to do that to a veteran athlete. Stringing him along is bad enough, but dragging him to Europe considering how much Avery has given to this franchise just wasn't fair to Sean or other players that may have really had a better shot at making the team than Avery. The Rangers should've cut Avery loose during the offseason if he didn't have a chance at continuing his NHL career with the Rangers. Now, with every team's roster pretty much set, Avery will have a hard time getting a shot with another NHL team and may be forced to spend this season playing in the AHL or in Europe if his agent can work out a deal for him to play there.
I'll miss the things that Sean Avery brought to the New York Rangers both on and off the ice. Yes, he was a distraction. Yes, he would give you moments that would make you shake your head in disbelief. But you can't say it wasn't an adventure with him. Sean left a lasting impression on the Rangers and their fans and I think he'll always remain a cult hero in the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere. Avery's agent Pat Morris said today that Avery is still fully committed to continuing his hockey career beyond this year, and I certainly hope he's able to get an opportunity elsewhere. I've met Sean a few times in the past and he was always down to earth and a standup guy off the ice who was always willing to chat and make time for fans.
So, thanks for the memories, Sean. New York will miss you and your crazy antics, even if every other hockey fan never had the chance to truly appreciate them like we did.