I can’t imagine anyone is surprised Sean Avery was waived yesterday. Avery has lived in coach John Tortorella’s bad graces since before Tortorella coached the Rangers. It’s vaguely sad, though, since there are things Avery and Tortorella could have done to make the relationship work. I hardly consider myself an Avery fan, but he’s an interesting character who makes the NHL a more interesting place (for better or for worse). It would have been nice if he could have somehow held onto a slot with the Rangers.
What Avery Could Have Done
Get Serious. Avery never figured out how to exist as a serious NHL player. He plays the pest very well. He’s great at drawing attention to himself on the ice. But he never developed a three-dimensional game. He was never great defensively or offensively, which is how he wound up getting waived. But it didn’t need to go down like that. Avery could have worked on his defensive positioning. He could have made more of an effort to backcheck. And he could have made himself useful to the Rangers’ offense. Toward the end of last season and much of this pre-season, Avery was great at working the puck down low, behind the offensive zone net. He could maintain possession for what seemed like minutes. But he couldn’t dish the puck out. He was basically eating time off of the clock, which is sometimes a useful thing to do. But sometimes a team actually needs to score some goals. If Avery could have figured out how to get the puck out from behind the net, he probably wouldn’t have been waived.
Find the Line. Tortorella shied away from Avery because of a general feeling of Avery not knowing the line between tough and irresponsible play. For much of his time under Tortorella, Avery played timidly, like he was scared to play with too much aggression. This did nothing to endear Avery to Tortorella. Avery, instead of ignoring that imaginary line, should have worked hard to explore its boundaries, so he could play aggressively, without taking needless penalties.
Don’t Upset the New Guy. Avery actually played with Brad Richards in Dallas. Although play is a strong word, as Avery was a Star for just 23 games. But given how many Stars seemed to dislike Avery, I’m curious if Brad Richards coming to the Rangers might have hastened Avery’s departure from the team. Avery didn’t seem to love playing in Dallas and his lack of professionalism got him claimed by the team he wanted to play for all along. There’s an interesting symmetry if his time in Dallas also somehow got him removed from the team he wanted to play for all along.
What Tortorella Could Have Done
Communicate. Tortorella didn’t seem to spend much time mentoring Avery. He had an expectation for the kind of game he wanted Avery to play, but Avery never seemed to play like he knew what that expectation was. It’s possible Tortorella was constantly explaining the level of aggression and grit he wanted out of Avery, but if Avery wasn’t understanding the message, isn’t it up to Tortorella to find another way to deliver it?
Coach. Avery didn’t have a lot of hockey abilities outside of upsetting opponents. But he could skate a bit and didn’t have an awful shot. With proper coaching, Avery could have been an energy guy who could occasionally chip in goals. But it doesn’t seem like Avery was ever given any help in terms of evolving his game. Avery was allowed to stagnate, when he might have had the tools to improve his game, given the right coaching.
In the end, Avery didn’t play well enough to earn a spot playing less than 10 minutes a night. It’s unfortunate, in that Avery might have had the potential to become more of a well-rounded player, but in the end, neither Avery nor his coach could make that happen. Avery’s NHL legacy will be that of the class clown who couldn’t get serious enough when his career depended upon it.