The NHL career of a player whose time in the spotlight far outstripped his talent appears to be finished.
Sean Avery, 31, was placed on waivers Tuesday as New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella decided the team’s last forward job would go to centre Erik Christensen, who is four years younger. For Rangers watchers, this was not a big surprise.
As a player who was in the gossip columns or in the middle of a controversy thanks to his mouth as often as he was on the sports pages of newspapers, Avery was never Tortorella’s kind of player.
The coach said Avery would fight it out for the last roster spot on the team but it was clear as training camp went on the decision was already made. Avery did not get much ice time and he was scratched from the lineup for the team’s last two pre-season games.
Avery’s agent, Pat Morris, told ESPN.com his client is looking at all his options, including playing in Europe, and indicated Avery would report to the Rangers’ American Hockey League farm team if necessary. The Rangers may try to place him with a European team rather than put him on their farm team.
There is one year left on Avery’s contract at $4-million (all currency U.S.). The Rangers are only charged $1.93-million against the salary cap for Avery because they claimed him on re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars in 2008. The Stars are responsible for the other $1.93-million of Avery’s total cap hit because they put him on waivers.
The whole Stars episode sums up Avery’s career in the NHL – he was signed away from the Rangers as a free agent in hopes he would add some grit to the forward ranks but all he brought was unwanted media attention for tasteless remarks about Dion Phaneuf’s girlfriend, whom Avery once dated. After less than one season with the team, the Stars were so eager to be rid of Avery they took the cap hit so the Rangers could bring him back to New York.
Avery’s second go-round with the Rangers was never satisfactory for either the player or the team. He did find public approval by supporting gay marriage in a public-service ad but he was never more than a fringe player.
Tortorella, judging by the harsh criticism he levelled at Avery after the Phaneuf incident, was never an Avery fan. But bringing Avery back was Ranger general manager Glen Sather’s idea and when Tortorella was hired as head coach in February of 2009, he was hardly in a position to demand Avery’s release.
His best NHL season was 2006-07, split between the Los Angles Kings and the Rangers, when he compiled a modest 48 points. But Avery’s value was never about scoring. Although challenged many, many times, the native of Pickering, Ont., was not much of a fighter either. He was a skilled agitator, a player adept at getting under the skin of opposing players, driving them to distraction with his prickly play and active chatter.
An inability to govern what came out of that active mouth kept Avery at the heart of one controversy after another. A final controversy came 10 days ago when Avery accused Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds of directing a homophobic slur at him. The league was unable to substantiate the charge.
Given the size of his salary and the headaches that come with him, it is unlikely any NHL team will claim Avery from the waiver wire.