February 16, 2009
In MSG last weekend, the fans showed their disdain for the current incarnation of the New York Rangers, chanting for the removal of Coach Tom Renney and GM Glen Sather during a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's generally assumed that when (and if) the Dallas Stars bring Avery back through recall waivers, the Rangers will claim him and Avery will have the opportunity to help salvage the Blueshirts' season. But, exactly, would Avery change about this Rangers team? Where would be fit in? What are the inherent risks in adding a player with three years left on his deal who's also on Gary Bettman's most wanted list?
We decided to ask a variety of the Rangers' top bloggers and columnists about New York's struggles and what Avery's return could mean for the team. Joining us for this roundtable are Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin; blogger Scotty Hockey; from Kukla's Korner and several other sites, Patrick Hoffman; blogger The Dark Ranger; from 5-hole.com, Eric Roitman; NY Sports Day editor-in-chief Joe McDonald; and from the terrific Beyond the Blueshirts, Laurie.
Our conversations range from specifics about Avery to broader questions about the direction of this Original Six franchise in a time of managerial uncertainty.
1. On a scale of 1-to-10, with one being a smart, emotionless hockey move and 10 being complete and total overcompensation, where would the reacquisition of Sean Avery by the Rangers rank on the desperation scale? Why?
SILVERSTEIN: Five -- The Rangers' desperation comes from their need to light a fire under a team that is devoid of personality both on and off the ice. Any catalyst would do -- Avery happens to be the most readily available, and he happens to be someone who has accomplished that for the Rangers in two successive seasons at exactly this juncture.
SCOTTY: This really a tough question. After the 10-2 loss to Dallas and the 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Flyers, pretty much any move that that the Rangers make will look like desperation. But for Glen Sather to welcome back Sean, after Sean spurned him for more money, this would end up ranking around an eight. Sather has never minded basket-cases, but for him to include a player that is sure to piss off his other big money signings -- not to mention his pocket coach -- means that he is indeed desperate.
HOFFMAN: I would have to say that this is would be a three on a scale of 1-to-10 when it comes to the desperation of reacquiring Sean Avery. First off, the team needs a spark. They're not playing with enough energy, urgency, grit and even passion. Every game is the same for the Blueshirts: try and score one or two goals and then rely on defense and goaltending to win the game. That's just not going to cut it come playoff stretch drive-time, and right now the Blueshirts are in desperate need of someone who can get them going.
DARK RANGER: Eight. As I see it, though Sean would not be greeted in the locker room with open arms (Stephen Valiquette, Wade Redden, Marcus Naslund to be specific -- they hate the guy); and though Avery's stats and stints are not that of any all-star -- no one can overlook THE FACT that when Avery played in the lineup as a Ranger, the Rangers won games. Some would say he was the spark plug for veterans Brendan Shanahan (his father figure) and (under-working) Jaromir Jagr of last season, but our current roster is emotionally looking for something that betters their game -- the way they are playing lately gives them no reason not to welcome with arms wide the most hated guy in hockey. Avery will not improve these players. Avery might not win games for us, but this guy is the Barnum & Bailey of the NHL -- people watch him, the players watch him, even Gary Bettman watches him. This is good for hockey (and the New York Rangers) because everyone interested in hockey will be looking in to see how the experiment ends. THIS raises the players' and franchise game level.
ROITMAN: I'd say it's about a nine on the desperation scale. Around the time Avery was gathering a group of reporters to discuss the finer points of what it means to be first (and not second), the Rangers were 17-7-2 and the general consensus towards Avery was "Good riddance... not our problem anymore." Now, the Rangers season is starting to slip away, and the team looks like a soulless bunch of "I'd-rather-be-golfing" free agents. Suddenly, nobody seems to mind if Avery threatens to fight Garth Snow as long as he injects some sign of life in the lineup. So, yes, this move reeks of desperation. Can Avery play the role of savior again for the Rangers? I guess we'll see.
MCDONALD: I would say five, because the Rangers are desperate and don't have much room to play with, but if things were going well, I can still see them re-acquiring him. Aaron Voros, who was supposed to be Avery's replacement, has been nothing but a disappointment and he makes $1 million a season. Now you can get Avery, who is a tremendous player compared to Voros for a little less than two. I always thought if the Rangers got Avery at their price they would sign him. Through re-entry waivers the cost would be just below $2 million a season, which is what Sather wanted him for in the first place.
LAURIE: Trading actual assets for Avery and taking on his full contract would be a total overcompensation. Claiming him on re-entry waivers at half price -- as much as it pains me to say -- has an element of "smart" to it. Especially when you consider that Sather was said to have tried to sign him for the same term last summer and was simply outbid. Slats must be rubbing his hands in anticipation of the thought of getting what he wanted to begin with, but at slightly more than half the price he was willing to pay to begin with. That said, the move does little to solve the Rangers' scoring woes and seems a bit like putting a Band Aid on a gaping wound. I'll give it a six, and pray that a better use of the Rangers' limited cap space becomes available between now and whenever Dallas place him on re-entry waivers.
2. Specifically, where would Sean Avery fit into the Rangers' lineup? What kind of line would he play on, and what would his game provide the Rangers that they're missing?
SILVERSTEIN: Tom Renney has taken a lot of heat for playing Boggle with his lines this season, but there is a method to his apparent madness, and it's one that allows him to slot Avery in easily. He has always structured his lines around a center and right winger -- through all the juggling, Gomez-Naslund, Dubinsky-Zherdev, and Drury-Callahan have been near-constants on what are essentially three second lines (there is no bona fide top line). As of this moment, the apparent opening is on Dubinsky's line, which would be the first place to try Avery, as he had his best success last season on a line with Dubinsky and Jagr.
SCOTTY: He wouldn't fit into the lineup well, or into the locker room at least, but that is what they need. On the ice itself, he could work well on a 'persistence-pays-off' line with Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury and, of course, on the power play.
HOFFMAN: I could see Sean Avery playing on a line with Nikolai Zherdev and Brandon Dubinsky. Avery could help provide room for these guys and could even help Dubinsky get going as Avery is not afraid to put pucks on the net.
DARK RANGER: Well you could always go to the Tom Renney line generator. If The Dark Ranger was in charge, I'd see an AVERY-GOMEZ-CALLAHAN first line, moving Naslund down to the second line with Drury-Zherdev. Sean is familiar with the level of play of Gomez-Callahan and is willing to throw himself into the goalkeeper for those whacky Gomez feeds. He's a dirty goal scorer -- he's a dirty kid at heart.
ROITMAN: Sean would most likely take Aaron Voros' place in the lineup, since Voros was basically his replacement (look how well that turned out!). Ideally he'd end up on a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. With those three on a line together, we might have a checking line that can actually score! On top of that, Dubinsky and Avery played on a line together last season. I'm not going to bother saying that he would bring any sort of offense to the Rangers because it wouldn't be true. Not because of Avery's skill level, but because of the defense first system that Tom Renney uses. (As long as Tom Renney is behind the bench, this team will not be and should never be considered an offensive threat.) What Avery would definitely bring is his personality and hopefully he could help the Rangers find their heart.
MCDONALD: Well, if you scratch Voros and put him next to Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev, that may be a good place to start, but Avery can play left wing on any line. I could see him replacing Nigel Dawes next to Scott Gomez as well. Lauri Korpikoski has been playing well with Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan, so Tom Renney may leave that lone for now.
LAURIE: I could see him on a line with Scott Gomez; the two had some success together a year ago. But my guess is that he would end up with Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev, providing the edge that his presumed replacement Aaron Voros was meant to supply. As for what he'd bring to the Rangers ... apart from added scrutiny from the league, unnecessary drama, and an increase in off-sides calls (a bad habit of his), he'd offer some grit, the occasional goal, and something for the fans at the world's most angry arena to focus on when they're not booing Wade Redden or chanting for Tom Renney's head.
3. Reading his comments since coming to Hartford, there have been numerous references to "The Old Sean" by Avery. Are you at all concerned that the NHL-mandated therapy has rewired the guy, and would that necessarily be a bad thing?
SILVERSTEIN: Meet the new Sean, same as the old Sean -- but maybe not in the obvious way. Having had the benefit of talking to Sean in the Ranger locker room and practice room over the past two seasons, I can tell you that he is nothing if not smart, calculating and shrewd. He may very well have orchestrated this whole scenario to get himself back to New York. Right now, he is saying all the right things by design, and he will behave himself at least through the end of this season. But I can tell you something else from talking to Sean -- he cannot be an effective player without agitating. In his most controversial games, he not only agitated the heck out of opponents, he also scored or set up huge goals, and afterwards never failed to say that the nastiness pumps him up. When he behaves himself, he is a non-factor, an ordinary winger with skills that are average at best.
SCOTTY: Not in the least. You have to walk the company line if you want to be invited back to the picnic.
HOFFMAN: Sometimes, players need wake-up calls to realize that their bad habits are not only hurting themselves, but also hurting the teams they are playing for. May be he is finally ready to be a well-rounded player both on and off the ice. Again, it's not that the NHL wanted to rewire his on-ice play. They just wanted him to change his off-ice antics and if he was able to do that, this could end up being a much better Avery.
DARK RANGER: What's that parable about the snake: "What did you expect? I'm a snake!" Sean is playing rehabilitated Sean for the cameras. The only OLD SEAN is that guy that once played for The Dallas Stars. Therapy doesn't change anyone in an 8-week period, that's the hypocrisy of it all -- this guy's legacy is tied to instigation and getting on people's nerves. Gary Bettman's punishment was harsh - yes, and everyone knows it -- but he still knows that Sean is good for the NHL; just as long as he keeps his words tied to the NHL and not celebrity girlfriends of NHL players. Avery is a New York Ranger at heart because the fans love him here. All of Canada hates the guy. Where else can he go in hockey? He loves fashion. He loves models. Before we know it, Avery will be back to his old tricks and pissing off anyone that listens. (Unless he's an Islander???? Eek).
ROITMAN: I wouldn't say that they've necessarily "rewired" him. But if he has changed at all, I don't think it would affect his play on the ice. Perhaps the therapy taught him the right and wrong places to say things. And just in case he hasn't learned that, the Rangers always had a PR person sitting near him when he spoke to the media. They even sent John Rosasco to watch him when he first joined the Wolf Pack.
MCDONALD: Are you trying to say he's Pedro Cerrano in "Major League 2," after he found Buddha? I think once he gets back on the NHL ice and one or two players say something to him, Avery will be back in form. The question is if he can separate the off-ice with the on. And that's the question. Avery won't have Jaromir Jagr or Brendan Shanahan to protect him, so he will be working without a net.
LAURIE: Sean's time in Hollywood has served him well. He's reading the recovery script perfectly. I don't believe he's been re-wired any more than I believed he needed "anger management" therapy in the first place. Some guys are just jerks. It has nothing to do with being angry, and a handful of sessions with a psychologist doesn't cure them. Avery proved on the ice in Hartford on Saturday's that little has changed. He was his usual self, engaging opponents verbally and physically in post-whistle scrums and spending breaks in play at the end of the Wolf Pack bench, jawing at anyone who'd listen. Only time will tell if the threat of losing his livelihood has really convinced him to tone it down off the ice.
4. It's certainly a risk/reward situation with Avery. What are the best case and worst case scenarios that you can envision for Avery's return?
SILVERSTEIN: I see a clear set of scenarios for Avery, should he in fact return to New York: He behaves himself but is as a result no more than an ordinary player, failing to achieve the desired catalytic conversion the Rangers need. Or, he behaves himself in public but agitates discreetly on the ice and, more importantly, within the locker room, where the team needs a wake-up call, and he either gets them going or alienates them entirely -- remember, they didn't want him back in the first place, threatening a mass mutiny if he was re-signed. Finally, there is the distinct possibility that at some point he just explodes, does something ridiculously stupid, and disappears forever.
SCOTTY: Best case, we get a repeat of last season where Avery drives Mmmmmaaaaaarrrrttttyyy crazy. Worst case would be someone finally kicking his ass and putting him on the IR.
HOFFMAN: Best case-scenario: He comes back and the team goes on similar runs they had in the past two seasons (17-6-6, 17-5-5). In this scenario, he plays hard, goes to the net, stands up for his teammates and produces. Worst case scenario: He comes back, doesn't produce, doesn't do all the things that make him an effective player, does something stupid to garner off-ice attention and the Rangers end up kicking him off the team.
DARK RANGER: Worst case is that we get a damn good hockey player for under $2 million a year. That's 1/3 of what Drury, Gomez or Wade Redden each make per season. Best case scenario is that he brings 'passion' back into this team -- plain and simple. We miss him and it could work.
ROITMAN: Of course, the best case scenario would be a repeat of the conclusion of the 2006-07 season where Avery was the catalyst that sparked the Rangers' resurgent second half. The worst case scenario would be if Avery comes back and is ineffective and the Rangers continue their slide down the standings. Oh, and then he knocks up a stripper, sets fire to city hall, and then punches an old lady in the face.
MCDONALD: Best case is if Avery lights a fire under the Rangers and they go and win a Stanley Cup, obviously. He did light a fire on the team a few years ago and right now things can't get worse for the club if he is here. So I guess the worst case would be if players demand to get traded. Maybe Wade Redden will retire in protest. Yet that would be in the best case scenario.
LAURIE: Best case: He provides the same spark he did two seasons ago, the Rangers get on a role, and they win a playoff series or two. Worst case: He destroys the precious locker room chemistry that's developed since the room has been purged of actual personalities like Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, and the team continues its downward spiral.
Scratch that. Perhaps the best case scenario would be that Avery's presence so upsets a couple of overpriced, under-performing vets that they waive their no trade clauses and beg to be booked on the earliest flight out of town.
5. Finally, in three years, who is most likely to still be in the Rangers' locker room: Tom Renney, Scott Gomez, Sean Avery, Chris Drury?
SILVERSTEIN: If there was any justice in the world, Renney would still be there as GM and the others would be gone; Avery after he reaches his next expiration date, Gomez and Drury after management finally realizes how overrated and overpaid they are and find some way to get rid of them. But in the real world of the NHL, Gomez and Drury will still be there because they will be untradeable, while Avery and Renney will be long gone -- Renney possibly within three days or three weeks, let alone three years.
SCOTTY: I was about to say Gomez, since there is no one else stupid enough to take his contract but that goes doubly for Drury unless he somehow puts up a Conn Smythe before your three years are up. Gomez could have an incredible Olympics next season and that would show people that he just needs a change in scenery. Avery isn't here so he can't be picked ... but at the end of the day, I can't see Renney being fired. Let's face it, he has the third-best winning percentage (.577) of any Ranger coach in history and has made the playoffs three years in a row. Given the Garden's tendency to hold onto management, the Quiet Commander seems to be in it for the long haul, unless he pulls an Isaiah with a member of Garden management ...
HOFFMAN: I would say that Gomez has the best chance of being with the team in three years. yes, he's been fairly inconsistent in his tenure with the Blueshirts thus far but I believe that he can still produce a lot of points and is extremely effective with bringing the puck into the offensive zone.
DARK RANGER: Wade Redden ... he eh eh e eh eh hhe. For the love of Christ, where's Marek Malik when we need him?
ROITMAN: Gomez and Drury are equally likely to still be around. If Avery starts producing--and the Rangers are only paying half his salary--there is no way that the Rangers would trade him. As for Renney, he might not even be around another week if the Rangers don't start winning some games.
MCDONALD: Tom Renney could get fired at any time, and if he doesn't could get kicked upstairs over the next few seasons as general manager, with Sather just being president of the club. So he is unlikely. Avery, at less than $2 million is a very tradable contract, so he can be moved if he waives his no-trade. Drury will be finishing up his five year deal and could be dealt towards the end of the contract. So that leaves Gomez with two years and about $15 million left on his deal. Smart money says he's still a Ranger. As will Redden.
LAURIE: Chris Drury. His contract, with its price tag and no-trade and no-movement clauses, is the most restrictive. Barring a collapse of epic proportions (the current slide doesn't qualify... yet) Renney's job is safe through the end of the season. Scott Gomez's contract includes only a partial no-trade clause, and is front-loaded, making it a potential option for a low-budget team with cap space a couple years down the road. And Sean Avery, if reacquired, will be lucky to make it through the remaining time on his contract.