Archive for October 2011

Why Sean Avery Is In Hartford

October 27, 2011

New York Ranger Coach John Tortorella has never been a big Sean Avery fan, to put it mildly.  After Avery’s unfortunate “sloppy seconds” comment concerning a former girlfriend, Tortorella, working for TSN at the time, said “He doesn’t belong in the league.”  Now a couple years later, Tortorella has made it happen.  Avery is out of the NHL after being placed on waivers.  He is now plying his trade for the Ranger AHL team in Hartford.  Both Tortorella and GM Glen Sather are painting all this as a pure hockey decision.  The facts seem to indicate otherwise.

When the Rangers signed free agent Brad Richards from Dallas to team up with Marian Gaborik, the only thing missing was a grinding winger to get them the puck.  Richards is a fine passer and sees the rink well.  Gaborik is a pure shooter who doesn’t like the dirty work.  When he comes to play, Gaborik is a legitimate 50-goal scorer.  But both of them need someone to go in the corners and get the puck.  Neither of them are grinders.   Avery’s skills seemed well-suited to precisely this kind of role, at least for several shifts per game.  But the job was given to Wojtek Wolski; a peculiar choice, and one that has not, to this point, borne fruit.  Last season, when paired with Gaborik in games against Toronto and the Islanders, Avery had two of his best outings of the year.  In the Islanders game, Gaborik had a hat trick and an assist, while Avery picked up three assists.  Against Toronto, Avery picked up three more assists.   MSG commentators Sam Rosen and Al Trautwig both voiced their feeling that Sean Avery had been the best player on the ice.  Yet Tortorella has given Avery no chance to skate on the Richards-Gaborik line.  Not a one.  Sound curious to you?  It would seem he’d want to try all the options and see what clicks. In a recent preseason game against the Flyers, Avery and Brian Boyle were paired together for their first shifts and produced a solid forecheck, controlled the puck and got a goal.  There was definite chemistry.  Yet Tortorella opted not use them together again.  The only reason I can think of is Avery played too well!  Avery brings energy, aggression and speed to every shift.  Although playing limited minutes under Tortorella, Avery led the Rangers in assists per minute played last season.  He backs down from nobody and always has his teammates back.  Avery comes with baggage, and that baggage obscures an essential fact.  He is a good hockey player.  Not a superstar, a good solid player.

Make no mistake, Sean Avery’s fate had been decided long before he reported to training camp.  Throughout camp and in the preseason games in Europe, Avery played limited minutes on lines with minor league kids.  The company line says that Avery lost out on the thirteenth and last forward position to Erik Christensen.  I love Christensen…..for shootouts.  This implies twelve forwards were better than Sean Avery.  Let’s look at this.  Gaborik, Richards, Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Brandon Prust are all viable choices.  So far, no argument.  Mike Rupp gets the nod as the new enforcer, replacing the late Derek Boogaard.  Every team should have a big tough guy.  Derek Stepan is just 21 years old and the kid has real potential, so he’s a go.  Artem Anisimov?   Here’s another young guy with size who has had flashes.  OK, we keep him.  That’s nine forwards.  From here things get much murkier.  Erik Christensen is great on shootouts, not so much anywhere else.  Do you keep a guy just for shootouts?  Wojtek  Wolski with his 3.8 million dollar salary?  Ruslan Fedentenko?  I’d rather have Avery.  Kris Newbury?  Who?  Having never heard of him, I did a little research.  Almost Avery’s age, it appears Newbury has never played in the NHL.  His resume is all minor league teams and he’s no kid.  My guess is he is probably a quasi-goon, and not a great one.  I hope I’m wrong and he is a pleasant surprise.  But this is a no-brainer.  Avery all the way.  In announcing the waiver, Tortorella said Avery takes too many penalties.  He’s right.  But he draws more penalties than he takes.  I guess that explanation doesn’t really fly either.

No doubt there are people all over the hockey world saying good riddance to Sean Avery.  Tortorella was not the only guy Avery did not endear himself to.  But make no mistake, the Garden crowd loves Avery.  They want him back.  I have been attending Ranger games since my father took me to the old Garden to see Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and the like.  The Rangers have never had a player that ignites the fans as Sean Avery does.  In the pregame warm-ups, it is fun to see him head to the red line to “socialize” with that evenings opponents.  He adds spice to between-period interviews, usually the airwave equivalent of Ambien.  He is an interesting, complex and highly-intelligent guy, certainly not your average jock.  I’ll concede sometimes his judgment could use some work, but who’s perfect?  For that matter, John Tortorella is hardly a master of restraint.

Avery is in Hartford, so he is still Ranger property.  They are paying him a lot of cake to toil in the minors.  Here’s hoping someone will play himself off the roster, and Avery will get called up to the big team.  Until then, I will go to the games and wear my Sean Avery jersey pictured below.  I like several other players, but those jerseys are expensive and I will not be buying another.  So I’ll be wearing number 16.  But I’d much rather see Sean Avery wearing it again.  He didn’t deserve this.  The Garden will be less interesting without him.

In closing, you will no doubt continue to hear Tortorella and Sather spout the company line when asked about Avery.  They will say it was strictly a hockey decision.  Don’t be fooled.  This was personal.


George’s Dilemma

October 18, 2011

George had no idea he even had a problem.  At least not yet.  His alarm had gone off at the usual 5:45 AM.  He rose, showered, shaved and selected one of his Wall Street pinstripe uniforms.   Ready for the day, he entered the kitchen, put on coffee and went to the front door to retrieve the Wall Street Journal.  Something seemed out of the ordinary, but he couldn’t immediately put his finger on it.  Ah, the cat!  Binky always bothered him to be fed and watered first thing.  Not today.  No sign of him.  George went into the living room where Binky slept peacefully on the carpet.  A little too peacefully.

George called to the cat, asking him to come and eat.  Nothing.  Approaching the kitty, George stamped his foot.  There was no reaction.  Bending down, George stroked the cat, feeling for a heartbeat, pulse, anything to disprove what he was dreading.  Binky was late, among the departed, no longer with us.  Dead. While George felt badly, he had always been pretty much a dog guy.  His Wife, Debbie, had wanted the cat, and five-year old George Jr. absolutely adored the cat.  George was considerably more concerned with how this should be handled than in Binky’s demise.  Binky had been an adequate cat, as cats go, but George was not devastated.   Little George knew nothing about Death.  That’s what was eating at George.  He dreaded being the one to tell his boy that nothing is forever. Things die.  As he sipped his coffee, he ran through some alternate scenarios.  He could always just get rid of the body and tell little George the cat must have run away.  That seemed convenient, but cowardly.  Maybe he could get Debbie to take the reins here; worth a try, for sure.

Running quietly upstairs, George gently woke Debbie and explained the situation.  He had been hoping for some guidance.  Actually, what he had really been hoping for was a transfer of responsibility.  It did not happen.  Debbie suggested a proper burial in the backyard after George had explained to the child about Life and Death.  After he had done the explaining; definitely  not the desired response.  She deflected the issue as if she were Teflon-coated.

George picked up Binky from the carpet, carried him to the kitchen and found a large brown paper bag.  Once he had Binky in, he put the paper bag in a large white plastic bag and went out to the car for the short drive to the LIRR.  He contemplated just putting the bag in his garbage can out at the curb, but balked at the idea.  The garbage guys knew him.  Maybe he could put the bag in the garbage can at the station.  Again, he couldn’t do it.  Parking his car, he boarded his crowded rush hour train to Manhattan.  As he found a seat, he placed both his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.

George was unable to concentrate on his paper.  He could just discard the bag in a Penn Station garbage can, but his conscience was kicking in.  That was no way to treat a family pet.  Binky had not just been an average cat. He’d been a damn fine cat.  Any cat that’d had to suffer the name Binky shouldn’t just have a grave; he ought to have a mausoleum.  No, George was going to face the music and do the right thing.  But obstacles still remained.  He had a whole day to get through and he could hardly keep the bag in his desk drawer.  At some point not too far in the future, Binky was going to get a little aromatic.

The subway ride was uneventful and George entered his office a few minutes early.  Good thing, too, because the Department refrigerator, though big, could get very crowded.  George put the Binky bag on the bottom shelf, as far to the back as possible.  Barring something unforeseen, Binky should “keep” until quitting time, right alongside everyone’s salads and sandwiches.  Nice. George hoped the Department had no closet “frig foragers.”

The day seemed to go on forever.  George made umpteen clandestine visits to the Kitchen to check on the bag; so far, so good.  When quitting time came, George grabbed the bag out of the refrigerator and was among the first to the elevator.  The subway came immediately and he arrived at Penn Station in time to catch the train before his usual one.  Again he placed his briefcase and the Binky bag on the overhead metal shelf.  Binky seemed to be noticeably less limber. Sort of stiff, no pun intended.

As George got off the train, his briefcase and bag in tow, he made a beeline for his car.  Leaving the lot, he cut off some guy in a Lexus, who flipped him off.  Following protocol, George returned the gesture.  Minutes later, he was pulling into his driveway.  The sun was setting and the backyard was dark.  Figuring he could get the grave dug before Dinner, he grabbed a shovel from the garage and went to work.  Though not yet Winter, the ground was hard and the digging was harder.  George comforted himself by imagining how difficult this could have been were Binky a rhino.  He got the grave finished and went in to eat.

Over Dinner, George was somewhat distant, wrapped up in what he would say at the burial.  After the plates had been cleared, George explained to his Son that all beings, people and animals, face a time when their Life on this Earth ends.  They go to join God in Heaven, a much better world than the one they left behind.  While we will miss our departed one, we must be glad for them and send them off with good, loving thoughts.  Little George, though very sad, seemed to understand, inasmuch as any five-year old kid understands.  It was time.

The family went out to the small grave, and held hands while George did his best impersonation of Minister delivering a graveside eulogy.  Some tears were shed, and Debbie and little George held hands as George brought the bag to the graveside.  They all bowed their heads as George opened the bag, knelt down and gently shook it over the grave.

Out of the bag and into the grave tumbled a cellophane-wrapped leg of lamb.