Thursday, March 17, 2011

Could This Be Sean Avery's Last Season With The Rangers?

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
When New York Rangers coach John Tortorella inserted Sean Avery back in the lineup on Tuesday against the Islanders many expected that we would see an inspired Avery take the ice and make a statement about how he deserves to be in the lineup.  Instead, the performance that Avery gave was arguably his worst of the season as he only played 7:18 in the game and still managed to take three penalties, two in the offensive zone, and one which cost the Rangers a goal.  

I have given Avery credit this year for being the good soldier and his effort in the limited minutes he has gotten over the course of the season, but there is no way to defend Tuesday’s performance.  Coming off that kind of game the upside to Avery playing against the Canadiens in not worth the risk and he should find himself back in the press box with Wojtek Wolski back in the lineup.

The question today goes beyond whether Avery should or will play against Montreal, but if Avery’s spot on this team is in jeopardy for next season.   

At his best Avery brings energy, toughness, agitation and some underrated passing ability.  Those skills have produced three goals and 21 assists in 70 games this year.  While the overall numbers look respectable given his amount of ice time they are also inflated by early season production.  In the first eight games this season, while teamed mainly with Derek Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko Avery had one goal and six assists. Over his past 22 games Avery has only produced one goal and four assists and his impact on the games has been limited.  

There is no denying that part of his reduced production is related to both his reduced ice time and the quality of his linemates, but there is also a statement being made by the coaching staff on how they view Avery now and going forward.  The statement says that he is a fourth line player who will be 31 next month and predominantly plays under minutes a game now.  Is that player worth nearly 2 million dollars next season? I would have to answer no.  

The Rangers have made the movement towards youth and Avery’s spot on the team has largely been replaced by Brandon Prust.  With the Rangers needing to sign key restricted free agents Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Artem Anisimov and Michael Sauer and potentially chase Brad Richards this team will need to free up some money under the cap.  Eliminating Avery’s 1.9375 million will not be a magic bullet to fix the cap, as resolving the Chris Drury situation is more important for that, but it can certainly help.  The combination of the salary, his diminishing role on the team and the obvious lack of trust from the coaching staff in Avery his potential departure has to be considered a possibility.

I doubt that any team would trade for Avery after what happened in Dallas, but he has been very well behaved this year, so maybe someone would take the chance on him and believe that Tortorella has been making him play a calmer game, which has limited his effectiveness.  Yet another storyline to look for in in what should be a very interesting summer.