Remember back when Sean Avery was the most important piece of the Rangers' puzzle after Henrik Lundqvist? When MSG Network would post the team's record when Avery was in the Rangers' lineup? Ranger fans loved their pest, and rightfully so.
In Avery's first game in Blue in 2007, he took out public enemy No. 1 in New Jersey Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur. It was love at first sight.
Months later, he got inside of the entire Atlanta Thashers' lineup as the Rangers made quick work of them, sweeping them in four games for their first playoff round win since 1997.
A year later, who could forget the "Avery Rule" in the opening round of the playoffs, when Avery used some questionable methods to screen Brodeur in Game 3? The Rangers would beat the Devils in five games. The chants of "Re-sign Avery" reverberated throughout Madison Square Garden.
These days, though, Avery's importance to a team with an established identity has dwindled down to being used as a healthy scratch. The Rangers are just a better team today then they were years ago, and the NHL has gotten wise to the former Vogue intern. It's easier for Derek Boogaard to score a hat-trick than Avery get a questionable call from officials.
It isn't a secret that coach John Tortorella isn't Avery's biggest supporter. Before becoming the Rangers' coach in 2009, Tortorella said on TSN that Avery doesn't belong in the NHL. Strong words.
Tortorella has given praise to Avery, but has never seemed to let him out of the dog house, even though Avery has blossomed into a strong forechecker. He's recently used the excuse that Avery's play has been 'inconsistent.' That could be because his role has been inconsistent.
Avery has spent time on the third and fourth lines at times, then elevated to play alongside Marian Gaborik. He's been given 16 minutes a night, and then relegated to six. It could be difficult for a player to know his role on a team with roller coaster minutes.
With that said, Avery has a tendency for taking the dumb penalty, like he did against the Washington Capitals when he threw a blatant punch to a Washington defenseman. A week ago against the New York Islanders, Avery got his hands up against an Islander player off a faceoff, leading to a minor penalty that the Islanders cashed in on.
Through it all, Avery has been a professional. For a player known as a locker room cancer, he's been hush-hush on his disappointing lack of ice time. "I'm disappointed I can't help the team win, but not discouraged, no, I had a good skate out there, worked on some things," he said after learning he would be scratched for the game against the San Jose Sharks two weeks ago. "I've played too long to get discouraged...I hope that we get two points, that the guys play a great game and go back to work on Monday and just work hard again."
Sean's importance to the team has surely diminished, but he still has a place on this team. He's been an enigma his entire career, and that's part of the reason the Garden faithful still love him.
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