While we here at “The Garden Faithful” consider ourselves “Torts Guys” and agree with the direction of this team, there is one situation that is difficult to ignore: the treatment of fan favorite and left-winger Sean Avery. I may be biased in this argument; let’s not forget that my man crush for Avery began in high school, lasted through college and still exists to this day. But after six years of watching him play, I know what kind of player he is and I know where he stacks up against some of his fellow Blueshirts.
The truth is that many people around the league who think he shouldn’t be in the NHL either just hate him because of his reputation or they haven’t seen him play enough. From watching Avery the last six years I can tell you this much: he’s a skilled player who is a physical presence, a distraction for opposing teams and a reason to watch the Rangers religiously. The Rangers record with him in the lineup and without him the last 6 years alone shows his effectiveness. He brings a swagger to the ice that few can.
However, in his final year of a four-year contract signed in 2008, it appears that the player with the worst reputation in the league is running out of options. When the Rangers sent him down to the Whale at the beginning of the season, and called him back up again weeks later, all 29 other teams had a shot at claiming Avery off waivers for a quarter of his original salary (just 1 million). The fact that no team even showed interest in the 31-year old pest, shows just how disliked he is and how his talent and work ethic have been overlooked by the rest of the league.
Unfortunately, one hater of Avery’s game is his coach, John Tortorella. The two obviously don’t get along and don’t like each other. Tortorella said it himself when he sent Avery to the minors at the beginning of the season. “We have better players than Sean Avery.”
When Avery was recalled weeks later after injuries and a bumpy start, the Rangers were reignited. Avery’s presence obviously isn’t solely responsible for the Rangers upswing to first place but players on the team including Lundqvist said the team missed him while he was gone. But in the 15 games Avery suited up with the Rangers he wasn’t given a chance by Tortorella. Avery could never really establish himself, playing on the fourth line averaging five to ten minutes a night. He managed to score three goals until ultimately being a healthy scratch. He has remained out of the lineup ever since.
Despite the criticism, Avery has seemed to have no trouble finding chemistry with top line forwards throughout his career, not only with Gaborik last year but Jaromir Jagr as well. The well-respected future Hall of Famer and former Ranger had this to say about him from their time playing together: “He is a good hockey player. Believe me: speed, flair, he goes to the net — he’s got all that in him. In a lot of matches Avery was the best player on the (Rangers). If the club trusts him, he’ll always play well.”
Avery has not changed since then. He’s not washed up; he simply hasn’t been given the same opportunity. I’m not lobbying for Avery to play on the top two lines but we all know he is better and more valuable than Boyle, Fedotenko, Rupp and Christensen are. He should be in the lineup every night and playing more minutes than them.
Despite Torts’ stubbornness to play him, Avery hasn’t helped resolve the issue either. Avery told the NY Post recently that he is frustrated with his role, doesn’t know when he will play again and also said that he doesn’t speak to the coach. Talking to the media is clearly not the way to go.
Yes, the Rangers are in first place and are having success without him in the lineup. But if the Rangers plan to make a run deep into the playoffs they are going to need him. Like Jagr said, the coach must learn to trust Avery. If he shows that trust then Avery will respect Tortorella. In his final year of his contract and with no other teams interested, Avery must understand that he needs the Rangers, too.