Over the last 3 games, Sean Avery has been the best player on the Rangers. Not all-star goalie Henrik Lundqvist who wrote history by sealing his 4th consecutive 30 win season in his fourth season in the NHL. Not Chris Drury or Scott Gomez who are each earning more than 3 1/2 times the much maligned winger's salary. Not Nik Zherdev. Not Nik Antropov. And certainly not Wade Redden.
Sean (A.K.A. Most Hated NHL Player) Avery
And there is only one man to thank. You see, if not for the comments made by Sean Avery about ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert and Phaneuf while he was a member of the Dallas Stars organization, GM Les Jackson would never have had an excuse to cut Avery loose while retaining half of his salary. He may have wanted to because of locker room problems caused by Avery (see Dallas' 6-10-4 record with Avery), but he would not have gone so far. Instead Avery was put on re-entry waivers and the wacky chain of events landed him in the only city that has ever loved him, albeit at a reduced $1.9 million yearly salary. And he has rewarded us.
What has Avery done to deserve such praise so very early in his second tenure with the Rangers? Well, aside from the fantastic 51-23-16 record that the Rangers enjoyed in prior seasons while Avery was in the lineup, he also produced 23 goals and 30 assists in 86 games. That is more than a point every two games. He didn't do that in Dallas but then again, his success in New York is unrivaled by his performances in other cities. Let's just say Sean has a New York state of mind that encourages antics that would be intolerable in more button-down hockey cities like Montreal or in more unstable dressing rooms such as the one in Dallas. But of course none of my ponitificating about Avery's past performance guarantees success for NYR Avery 2.0
That is what makes his current success so refreshing. He has scored 4 goals in the last 3 games while playing on the top line, which says something for the Rangers skill up front but says a lot more about Avery's skill and effectiveness. Heck, he has more goals in 6 games with the Rangers than he had with Dallas in 23 contests. This is not to mention his presence, which, for once, has taken a front seat to his mouth, making him just as effective but much less harmful. He keeps drawing penalties just by being on the ice, and is a distraction to the other team but never his own. The mere fact that he is logging first line minutes under firm reward-oriented coach John Tortorella is extremely impressive. Couple that with the fact that the head coach bashed Avery while the former was an analyst at TSN and it becomes almost unbelieveable. Rangers GM Glen Sather said Avery would grow on Torts but who listens to what Slats says nowadays? Maybe we should start listening.
Speaking of Sather, the man who has taken the most flak (whatever that is...sounds crunchy...) of any man in the Rangers organization, we seem quick to criticize him but slow to give praise. When he did not bring back Avery for 4 million a year, it was the right move. It would have been a waste of cap space and Rangers fans would be more pained to look at the cap hit than they already are. Instead, Sather let him walk, hit the jackpot when his stock fell like Lehman Bros. and got him at half price. He came at the deadline again, like he did in 2007, and he is having the same effect. Add a scorer in Nik Antropov who has 3 sniper goals in 6 games with the club, and solid defenseman Derek Morris who is a major improvement over impediment Dmitri Kalinin, all for the price of underachievers Prucha and Dawes, and you have a stellar deadline job.
All this has the Rangers back in the playoff race and full of hope for a deep run. With 13 games left in the midst of an intense playoff race the going is starting to get tough. And the Rangers better hope Avery can continue to help the tough get going.