So now Sean Avery is a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack and, with a little luck, will be back on Broadway before the end of the month.
This is Glen Sather’s first step correcting the mistakes of last July. In the off-season makeover, Sather decided to change the heart of the team. Sure he got the squad younger, but in the process he lost some personality.
Avery was a big part of that, but even larger though was Jaromir Jagr. And more than The Grate One, No. 68’s presence is missed on 33rd Street.
Yes, we know why he’s no longer here. Failing to score 84 points last season to kick in the option on his contract, he became a free agent and looking to continue his $8 million-plus salary. Not willing to pay a 36 year-old that kind of money with a full cap hit, Sather passed, sending the Ranger captain off to Russia to play for Omsk of the K.H.L.
Looking back, Sather probably wouldn’t have signed Wade Redden and Markus Naslund, and paid Jagr his king’s ransom, because the future Hall of Famer is what the Rangers need right now.
Forget the 25 goals and 43 assists last season, No. 68 brought a presence on the ice that’s missing from this year’s Ranger team. With Jagr, the Blueshirts had a true No. 1 finisher, who commanded the opposing team’s checking line against him on the ice. This meant the other Ranger lines went against lesser defenders. Last year, that meant the No 2 line of Scott Gomez, Brendan Shanahan and Avery, which opened them up to some scoring opportunities.
If Jagr was still on the team this year, he would have Brandon Dubinsky as his pivot, with Gomez and Nikolai Zherdev able to open the ice up on their pairing.
Also he always had two men on him, which allowed some free looks for some fortunate left winger. Usually it was Marty Straka, but just look back and take a look at the production of all the wingers on Jagr’s line in the last few years. Avery joked about it, while Nigel Dawes scored at his best pace. Heck, playing with Jagr made Marcel Hossa look like his brother for a short period of time.
Then there’s the leadership. By all accounts Chris Drury is a quiet captain, who leads by example. Not a bad thing, but this Ranger team seems to need something more. Jagr was very vocal in the dressing room, at least the European players on the club. Sure Brendan Shanahan would be gone, but Jagr would be fully entrenched in the captaincy. With Drury and Gomez taking the alternates a smoother transition of power would probably have happened.
And he is still productive with 25 goals with 26 assists in 48 games for Omsk this season. It is a lesser league, but if he was on Broadway, you would figure the Rangers would score a few more goals and also have a better power play.
Sure Jagr seemed to mail in parts of last season and by his own admission, he saved himself for the playoffs. And when the quest for the Cup started, he was the best player on the ice. Although the Rangers went out in the second round, Jagr single handedly carried the Rangers on his back, scoring five goals with 10 assists in 10 games. He outplayed both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, spurring a Garden cheer for the superstar.
And that’s what’s missing. No one on the Rangers offense right now can carry the team like Jagr could. Avery will certainly help if the Rangers can get him in a few weeks, but it won’t solve what’s really missing from this squad.
Although there are rumors Jagr wants to come back to the NHL, the Rangers will lack the cap room to sign him, if he is able to get out of his Omsk contract. And that means not signing Jagr will be a mistake, the Rangers and their fans will continue to rue.