Sixteen days until the Opener.
16: Whitey Ford. Joe Montana.
16: Pat Hickey. Pat LaFontaine. Pat “Little Ball of Hate” Verbeek. Brett Hull.
And of course, 16: Sean Avery.
The lightning rod. Today’s topic of conversation. And not just because it guarantees we will do big numbers.
First, for those who know how I feel and felt, or those who don’t know or can’t remember, here it is for the record: The first time around, I wasn’t a big Avery fan. He had done some things on and off the ice that made me dislike him. I knew he was extremely high maintenance in the lockerroom and for his coaches, and not universally beloved by teammates.
Then he changed my mind. He became an extremely valuable player. A difference maker. And certainly gave the Rangers that element of sandpaper, that Esa Tikkanen combination: An annoying-as-heck pain-in-the-rear-end who had enough skill and skating ability to play second or third-line minutes.
But when he went to Dallas, I thought the Rangers made the right call, especially given the price. And when he came back, I thought they were making a mistake, even at half price, and that became doubly so when John Tortorella, who obviously didn’t like him, became coach.
And then Avery was a difference maker again down the stretch. You know the rest. He was sat down in the playoffs for some idiotic behavior, and he came back to what is popularly believed to have been too short a leash by Tortorella — which the coach completely denies — and had a miserable season, afraid to cross the line, afraid to be the player he is. Or at least confused as to who he should be.
I was having this conversation with somebody at the rink the other day. Do you think it’s possible that Avery will not be on the team Oct. 9?
Given how bad he was last year, and how Tortorella might feel about him — not to mention some teammates, although he clearly is on the good side of some of the most important players — do you think he makes it?
Let’s do numbers first: Forwards coming back — Anisimov, Avery, Boyle, Callahan, Christensen, Drury, Dubinsky, Gaborik, Prospal, Prust. That’s 10. Of those, a minimum of eight will definitely be on the team Opening Night (minus one, Drury, who will probably be out injured, but should be back soon).
Forwards brought in — Boogaard, Fedotenko (a Tortorella favorite on a tryout), Frolov, White, Zuccarello. Boogaard and Frolov are locks to make the team The others sure have a good shot. Prospects knocking on the door — Grachev, Stepan, possibly others.
OK, count ’em up. Figure out who makes it. Now figure there are going to be only 13 forwards on the team Oct. 9.
The next part of the equation is, if Avery is not in Tortorella’s plans, what do you do with him? No other team in the league wanted any part of him at half price last time he went through waivers. And now he’s coming off a bad year. You could dump him to Hartford, theoretically.
I am just not sure where No. 16 fits, especially if Tortorella isn’t convinced that Avery had figured out where the line is, and how and when he can cross it. Because if he can’t play that way, then he’s surely expendable.
And if he leaves, the Rangers will surely have trouble finding the things he can bring when he’s right. I’ll tell you something else. The fans love Avery. But the Rangers have one of the rare coaches who really doesn’t care what the fans think.
I don’t think it’s far fetched. Do you?
Going to MSG later today. We’ll talk all day and night.