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October 4, 2011
Stats and Fury
Defending Sean Avery

by Kent Wilson

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The New York Rangers put Sean Avery on waivers today. The always infuriating agitator has been on thin ice ever since John Tortorella was hired as the Blueshirts bench boss, but his poor output last season seems to have sealed his fate with the club permanently. Avery has always been a useful player on the ice, something that is rarely mentioned or noticed due to his, uh…interesting personality.

He's stuck around the NHL in part because of his ability to put pretty good numbers as a middle-tier support player. That disappeared last season with Avery accounting for just three goals and 24 points in 76 games. With the vanishing output disappeared any reason for Tortorella to put up with Avery's antics anymore. His ice time gradually fell and apparently he was unable to convince the Ranger brass to keep him around this preseason.

Avery's terrible counting stats aren't necessarily indicative of the player, however. He has managed 10-plus goals four times in the past, often in injury- or suspension-shortened seasons. What sank him last year (aside from falling confidence from his coach) was a career-worst shooting percentage of 2.2. That's below the average rate of most defenders let alone forwards in the league. Although Avery has never been a terribly accurate shooter (hovering around 8.0% previously), there's no reason to think he'll continue to score at the same rate as someone shooting from the neutral zone going forward.

Avery's on-ice shooting percentage at even strength was also below average last season at 6.4%. If both ratios regress towards the mean, Avery's new club could have the 15-goal, 30-plus-point player he's proven to be in the past.

Another strength Avery brings to the table is penalty differential. Although he's well known for doing stupid things on the ice, Avery has actually never taken more minors than he's drawn in his career. Since joining the Rangers, for example, Avery has drawn an average of 23 minors per season. To put that number in perspective, Ryan Callahan led the Rangers in penalties last season with 24 at even strength.

Naturally, Avery also comes with a giant warning label. Being abrasive on the ice and the dressing room, he often manages to agitate both opponents and teammates alike. He wore out his welcome in Los Angeles and was subsequently run out of Dallas after landing with the Stars. With the Rangers giving up on him, it's clear Avery has a brief expiration date.

The good news for any interested teams is that Avery has just one year left on his cap hit, which is just $1.938 million. The commitment is a relatively minor one, particularly for clubs at near the salary floor looking for NHLers to firm up their depth chart. If Avery can behave himself enough for a single season, he could be turn out to be a worthwhile gamble.

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