December 29, 2008
There are plenty of places we'd like to see Sean Avery end up when his League-supported exile is over. Avery on the Lightning would redefine crazy. Avery on the Oilers would finally give us a Battle of Alberta with actual casualties. Avery as a judge on "America's Next Top Model" needs to happen, like, yesterday.
But there are a finite number of NHL destinations where Avery could actually end up, either during this season or after next summer's seemingly inevitable buyout. There are some financial games that can be played in order to lessen the financial hit during 2008-09, but the real questions deal with the intangibles.
It could take a championship-caliber team that needs the abrasive, aggressive qualities Avery brings to get over the top. And if you think those qualities aren't critical for a contender, then you probably haven't heard how close Claude Lemieux is getting to joining the San Jose Sharks for the playoff run.
It could take another authoritative voice in an organization taking a chance on him, like Brian Burke with the Toronto Maple Leafs, even through his implosion with the Dallas Stars nearly cost Ambassador of Fun Brett Hull his nameplate.
Then there are the New York Rangers.
The notion of Avery returning to his old team is nothing new; Arthur Staple of Newsday suggested it before Gary Bettman even decided what Avery's punishment would be for having to contemplate defining "sloppy seconds" for his daughter. But as the Rangers underwhelm (4-5-1 in their last 10) and can't seem to establish a discernable personality, the reacquisition of Avery is suddenly on the front burner for some media and fans.
Even if, for the 2008-09 season, it would dumbest move in the history of moves and/or dumb.
Sean Avery needs to come back to New York. Hate me for even bringing that up, but this team could really use him. This game is a perfect example-you know he would have done something to turn back the momentum to the Rangers side after the Caps scored their second goal. Plus he does have some offensive skills that can be used on the second line.
But an idea becomes a movement when Larry Brooks of the NY Post hooks up his bicycle pump and inflates the hyperbole, as he did Sunday in his column "RANGERS SCREAMING OUT FOR AVERY." From Brooks:
Nearly halfway through a season in which there couldn't be a greater disconnect between what you see in the standings and what you see on the ice, the Rangers have no identity. They have no go-to guy. They have no force to worry the opposition.
They are a vanilla team three months away from the handholding club that sang Kumbaya in Bern and Prague. It's nice that the team has bonded and that everyone does everything together off the ice. Why, they can put that right in their high school yearbooks. ...
... What happened in Dallas, happened. It's clear that there's one team and one team only for which Avery can play; one city and one city only big enough for him to live; one coach and one coach only - the one behind the Rangers bench - for whom Avery can play.
The mechanics of making it happen are hazy. But those are mere details. The Rangers need an infusion of energy. The Rangers need someone who actually will be tough to play against. The Rangers need Avery almost as badly as he needs them, and if anybody doesn't like it, he should be playing better.
It's hard to argue that Avery might need the Rangers, as it's the only destination in the NHL that offers a comfort level and built-in fan support. (Ask Dion Phaneuf about how the MSG crowd still reveres Avery.)
But the Rangers needing Avery this season? Let us count the ways they don't:
1. The Real Needs. Right now, the Rangers have one defenseman with a plus rating: Marc Staal at a plus-5. Last season, they had five. Sean Avery doesn't change the systemic personnel problems on the blue line, which are of Sather's making. His salary cap space also doesn't allow for high-priced help to arrive later in the season. A change is needed. But Avery might not be that change.
2. What the Stars Want. Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News covered the Larry Brooks column on his blog, and noted that some of the Rangers' problems on defense -- specifically the ones named Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival -- could be solved by shipping those contracts to the Stars in an Avery trade. But if the Rangers want Avery and want to dump a horrendous salary, would Dallas suddenly be in a position to ask for a sweetener like Bobby Sanguinetti back from New York?
3. The Years. Even if the Rangers get a break on Avery's $15.5 million contract with the Stars picking up a portion, they'll still be on the hook for three more years. Which was, of course, what GM Glen Sather was offering Avery last summer. But to say conditions have changed since then would be understating it, no? And by that we mean the fact that Gary Bettman basically threatened the NHL death penalty if Avery stepped out of line again. Besides, as Spector said: Does Sather really want to admit he was wrong not to bring Avery back last summer?
4. The Distraction. The Rangers aren't lighting the world on fire right now, but they're still a division leader with 47 points in 38 games. Sure, Avery could become a factor on the ice and motivate the Rangers like he did when he was in the lineup last season. But adding him during the season would be the distraction to end all distractions. It would be the Jason Blake affair multiplied by a billion. There wouldn't be a Rangers locker room open to the media for the first month of his tenure in which the words "Sean Avery" aren't included in a question to one of his teammates. This factor is lessened if the Rangers brought back Avery in the summer; during the season, and for a team attempting to find its game, it could be quite a detrimental distraction -- ask Dallas about it.
5. Finally, There Is No Messiah for the Rangers. At first, the fans wanted Brendan Shanahan. He's not there. Henrik Lundqvist wanted Mats Sundin. He chose Vancouver. Now, Brooks and a slew of others are asking for Sean Avery ... how long before someone suggests kidnapping Jagr between periods of a KHL game?
Before Aaron Voros stopped scoring and had his ice time cut, the only time you heard Avery's name was in the context that Voros had replaced him. The Rangers need Voros, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky to help create the intensity that Avery can. They need Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to snap out of putrid seasons and create the offense Avery can.
Brooks is right: The Rangers need to play more like Sean Avery. But it doesn't necessarily mean they need Sean Avery to do it.