Thursday, March 3, 2011

Does Sean Avery Deserve More Ice Time?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Among New York Rangers fans there are few subjects that cause the kind of response as talking about Sean Avery does.  There is a loyalty to Avery among many fans that dates back to how well he played when he first arrived in New York over four years ago.  Fans always love players who play hard, those who fight and then on top of that Sean Avery was the best agitator in the game back then.  The talk about Avery is much different this year because he is not playing that agitating style anymore, at least not to nearly the same degree, and the argument is about how he is less effective for it. 

The argument from Avery supporters is that he deserves more ice time, but he is not getting it because of issues with John Tortorella.  I openly admit to not being a huge Avery supporter, but today I will go beyond the visceral reactions to look at the numbers and answer the following question: Does Sean Avery’s production actually merit more ice time?

To his credit Avery has been the good soldier this season and taken on any assignment the coaching staff has given whether it is on the top line with Marian Gaborik or the fourth line with Kris Newbury.  Avery has been among the best partners with Gaborik, but with each returning body for the Rangers he kept getting shuffled back to the third or fourth line.  This has shown itself considerably in the amount of ice time that Avery is being given.  On the season Avery is averaging 11:48 of ice time, but has been under the 10 minute mark in 24 of the 65 games this season.  Rage over his ice time was at its strongest point this past Sunday when Avery only played 4:14 for the entire game and 54 seconds for the final two periods against the Lightning. 

In terms of production supporters will justly point out that Avery does rank fourth on the team in assists with 20.  On the other side of the argument there are serious production deficiencies for Avery which get brushed aside by his supporters.  In 65 games this season Avery has a lousy two goals.  You can try and blame that on his ice time, but he is seventh on the team with 124 shots, which leaves him at a horrific 1.6% shooting percentage.  That shooting percentage is a full 6% below his career average and ranks him 647th in the NHL this season. 

When looking overall point production as it relates to ice time Avery ranks 11th among New York forwards getting one point for every 34:46 of ice time.  The only forwards that are lower than Avery are: Chad Kolarik, Alex Frolov, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Derek Boogaard, Todd White, Chris Drury and Kris Newbury.  With the exception of Prust and Fedotenko this is not a list that you want to be on and even then the clear argument is that these players are third or fourth liners and not guys that need to be elevated in the lineup.

Passing has been the most effective weapon for him this season and is what allowed him to be effective when he was paired with Gaborik.  The problem is, as Rangers fans have frequently pointed out, this team struggles to finish and Sean Avery certainly does not help that problem.  I believe there is a level of truth to the perception that there is an issue with Avery and Tortorella, but his ice time or at least his assignment to the fourth line is justified by his overall lack of production with the ice he is getting and Avery’s supporters have to admit that side as well.  He has been an effective player for the Rangers this season with his energy, forecheck and ability to cycle the puck, but on a team that lacks upper level talent, having Avery higher in the lineup or eating more minutes when he is not producing will not solve the offensive problems.

Tell me what you think.