Agitator Sean Avery has been out of hockey since 2012 after retiring to pursue his other interests such as food and fashion, and will compete on Dancing With the Stars this year. Yet, one has to wonder if Avery could be still be an effective hockey player with the New York Rangers, the only team that he has ever truly fit in with in the NHL.
While there are a lot of “ifs” and hypothetical scenarios, seeing what John Tortorella has done to the Vancouver Canucks plants a seed of doubt that Avery was done in the NHL.
After completely dismantling an annual playoff team and Stanley Cup contender, Tortorella may be one of the worst coaches when it comes to getting the highest production out of players. Both Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are on pace for their worst seasons since the 2004-05 lockout. Alexander Edler, one of the best defensemen in recent years, has struggled.
Probably the most comparable player to Avery, Alex Burrows is currently mired in the worst season of his career. Burrows has not had a sub-20 goal season since 2007-08, excluding last year’s shortened season where he scored 13 and was on pace for 23 if he played a full 82 games. Burrows is an agitator, plays a physical game and likes to get under the opponent’s skin similar to Avery. Burrows thrived under Alain Vigneault, the current coach of the Rangers.
While Avery’s NHL career is mired in controversy, there is no doubting he was an effective player. If it had not been for Tortorella and Avery bashing heads and Avery’s inability to effectively play while on Tortorella’s leash, he might still have a career in hockey.
Vigneault takes a much different approach than Tortorella, laying back and letting his players play their game. He also allows his team to develop chemistry together by keeping consistent lines, as seen with the Rangers for several months this season. While Tortorella would change the lineup every other game and put under-qualified players such as Ruslan Fedotenko and Ryan Callahan in the crucial points of the game where the team needs to score, Vigneault plays his top players and trusts the players with the most skill to get a goal. This is evidenced by the third line, a combination of skilled players, getting power play time for the Rangers while players such as Callahan struggled.
Avery is only 32 years old, which is prime age for many veteran NHL players. He fueled the Rangers to victory with his antics, physicality and style. While he was controversial, he was never suspended for any on-ice actions. He has also been unfairly labeled as a dirty player. He was an effective player who could score 15 goals a season and get the opponents off of their game.
This Rangers team lacks a physical edge which Avery could provide. It’s a shame that Avery’s career came to a premature halt at the hands of Tortorella.