February 06, 2009
Larry Brooks of the N.Y. Post has frequently called the New York Rangers a vanilla team devoid of passion and personality. He's also made it no secret that the removal of Sean Avery from that Rangers locker room during the offseason was one factor in its homogeny, and has candidly advocated for his return.
Friday, Brooks broke the news that the Rangers "appear to be on the verge of allowing Dallas to send Hockey's Public Enemy No. 1 to Hartford" in the AHL, which he sees as the first step in the reacquisition of Avery by the Blueshirts as the Dallas Stars forward prepares to return from exile.
There are some very, very good reasons why Avery's reunion with the Rangers is a smart decision for both the player and team. But like all things Sean Avery, there's a treacherous and potentially disastrous aspect to that decision, too.
Please recall that Avery's league-mandated anger management therapy is about done, and he's getting back into hockey shape. From Brooks, here's how the Avery-to-the-Rangers scenario might play out:
GM Glen Sather, who accompanied the Rangers to Dallas for tonight's game, is expected to speak to Stars' co-GM Les Jackson today about a timetable under which Dallas would put Avery on waivers and then, presuming that he clears, assign him to the Wolf Pack.
Before accepting Avery in Hartford on waivers, Sather will need to reach an agreement with Jackson about the Stars then placing the winger on re-entry waivers at the Rangers' request. That would be the final stage of the three-step process under which the Blueshirts would re-acquire Avery for one-half of the remainder of the four-year, $15.5 million contract he signed with Dallas in July.
That means the Rangers would be responsible for $1,937,500 in salary and cap charges for the next three seasons, and the pro-rated percentage this year from the date Avery would join the team. The Rangers would have to acquire Avery on re-entry waivers by the March 4 trade deadline in order for him to be eligible for the playoffs. But if Avery were to go to Hartford by early next week, the Rangers would likely want Avery in New York within a couple of weeks.
It's amazing that the Hartford Wolf Pack weren't seen as the obvious AHL team for Avery as these discussions about him began. The fans would embrace him, it's in a comfortable part of the world for Avery and the ties to the Rangers organization would create a clear path back to the NHL. The Wolf Pack players, more than another AHL team, would understand the dynamics of his being on the roster. It could work on a Claude Lemieux/Worcester Sharks level.
Of course, there's a basic difference between Avery and Pepe, which is that Claude Lemieux didn't spend the last several months talking smack about the San Jose Sharks. When Avery and the Stars played the Rangers, he flapped his yap at former teammates and had an incident with an MSG Network commentator. He was critical of the signings of both Wade Redden and Markus Naslund from afar. Also keep in mind that one of his greatest advocates in that Rangers locker room, Brendan Shanahan, is now playing across the river.
At the end of 2008, we explained five reasons why the Rangers don't need Avery. Many of them still stand: the team has other holes; the length of the contract, if not the money; and the potential distraction rather than motivation in the locker room. Steve Zipay of Newsday wonders whether the pitfalls outweigh the benefits, and whether the Rangers are just floating the trial balloon to pop all trial balloons:
Could Sather simply be discussing this to light a spark under his charges, who are in a playoff spot but have a tendency to drift? The Rangers also would have to clear some cap space.
Should the Rangers reacquire Avery---who hasn't played since Nov. 30 after being suspended for an inappropriate televised remark about former girlfriends and would first have to pass through waivers twice---it could pretty much detour any other significant deals before the trade deadline.
I think the Rangers could be kicking the tires---team execs speak a lot---but I can't believe this is anything but a long shot for this season, especially after Avery's remarks about some current Rangers as a Star.
The notion of Avery playing again this season does strike one as being a long-shot; because there's really no way a few weeks in the 'A' qualifies as a healthy sample for the "rehabilitation" of Sean Avery.
That said, never lose sight of what Sean Avery can mean for a team on the ice: He's a tenacious offensive player, the ultimate pest and a game-changer when his head is actually in the game. He was playing his best hockey of the season before Sloppy Seconds Gate. If there was a way to add him to the Rangers without creating a full-on locker room revolt, Brooks is correct when he writes that Avery could give that team a necessary kick in the rear.
Then again: God forbid Avery does anything in the next three years that Gary Bettman has to explain to his daughter ...