One intriguing subplot of this year’s Rangers training camp is who John Tortorella will choose to serve as the team’s alternate captains to Chris Drury. Now, this may seem like a trivial matter, but I do think it’s worth discussing who will comprise the all-important “leadership group” on the Rangers this year. We all know that in hockey, strong leadership, among other things, can take you a long way (see: Messier, 1994).
With a bevy of new players joining the roster, it is imperative that the Rangers form a strong core quickly. This starts with Tortorella distinguishing two players from the rest of the squad and deeming them worthy of an “A” on the left shoulder of their sweaters.
That said, I’m going to nominate a player for the alternate captaincy that will surely stir some debate among our loyal and knowledgeable contingent of Boneheads: Sean Avery.
Those of you who post here often know that I’m an ardent Avery supporter. But I also know that this is a player who’s not without his shortcomings. Last year, John Tortorella benched Avery in the playoffs for taking two inexcusable penalties in the third period of Game 4 vs. the Washington Capitals. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, but I saw Tortorella’s reasons for doing it. Avery has a penchant for crossing that invisible line that superpests like him must constantly walk. Sometimes he gets selfish and it costs his team.
Sounds like a pretty silly choice to be a leader of your hockey club, right? But let’s not forget some of John Tortorella’s criticisms of this hockey team when he took over in late February last year. He said that his players were not well-conditioned. He said they were soft. He said they lacked identity. Sean Avery serves as a response to all of these criticisms.
When Avery came to the MSG Training Center a few weeks back to run some youth clinics, I was excited to watch the interview that he gave; I always look forward to Sean’s interviews for their entertainment value, but this one caught me off guard. I saw a focused and energetic Avery speak candidly and critically about his team’s upcoming season. I thought to myself: “He sounds like a leader.”
There is no doubt that Tortorella would be taking a huge risk by giving Avery an “A” to start the season. If he acts up, stripping him of it would cause a great controversy and provide the type of distraction that can derail a team. But Tortorella has repeatedly stated his desire for the Rangers to have a discernible identity. They were about as vanilla as an NHL team can be last year (reflective of their standard-bearers: Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund). If Avery can focus, as he did for 95% of his Rangers stint last year, I think he could play an important leadership role on a team with a plethora of new faces and help shape the identity of the 2009-10 New York Rangers.