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31 July 2007

Rangers' Avery Strategy Shortsighted

I applaud the moves made so far this off-season by Rangers GM Glen Sather. The moves for Drury and Gomez certainly were expensive long-term commitments. But, they were the right moves for a team looking to both make a cup run before Jaromir Jagr retires and establish a foundation for the post-Jagr years. The salary cap forced them to trim some of their depth at center by trading Matt Cullen back to Carolina. But, the impetus for that move was a mistake Sather made last off-season when he paid a third-line center in Cullen a second-line center's salary. A mistake you could live with in the days before the cap, but not now.

It could be argued (as I did) that the Rangers gave Lundqvist too much in the one-year deal, when they could have given him less now and more in the long-term contract they are expected to complete in January, but he's the Franchise goaltender, and they got him locked up for this season, so it's hard to complain.

Up to this point, I'd argue that Sather has had a strong off-season. But, now comes word from Larry Brooks, in the New York Post, that he is playing an extreme version of hardball in the club's arbitration proceedings with forward Sean Avery.

According to Brooks:

The Post has learned that in addition to referring to Avery as, "a reasonably effective player as well as a detriment to the team," in the team brief that was presented to the arbitrator, Ranger management also said:

"Avery is not a mature player. He plays, at times, like an individual rather than a member of a team. This is sometimes referred to as an inability to see the ice, and in Avery's case this seems to fit with his overall approach to the game."

Understand. These are the words chosen to represent Rangers management's view of Avery's worth.

Apparently forgotten were all the testimonials delivered to Avery from the Rangers' hierarchy last spring when the winger was repeatedly lauded for the intangibles he brought to the team both on and off the ice upon his Feb. 5 acquisition from the Kings.

Apparently forgotten as well were similar testimonials delivered by teammates including Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Henrik Lundqvist.

"I have no idea what to say," Avery, who went into the hearing seeking $2.6M, wrote in an e-mail to The Post following the hearing in Toronto. "I don't know what this was about.

"I'm shocked."

It's shocking that GM Glen Sather, who attended yesterday's hearing with VP Cam Hope, would have directed this type of strategy. One can only wonder what coach Tom Renney, who will be left to reassemble the pieces once camp begins, makes of all this.

If the assault works, if the Rangers were convincing enough in tearing down their player, maybe they'll wind up paying Avery - eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer - $1.8M rather than $2.1M when the decision is released tomorrow or Thursday.

But at what price, and at what ultimate cost?

Brooks is right. I'm sure Avery is not going to get a lot of sympathy from players and fans around the league. But, he will get support from two of Sather's critical constituencies: Ranger players and Ranger fans.

They are the ones who know how much different the team played after e was acquired in a trade from the Kings on February 5. And, they understand that his presence in the lineup will be key to the team's success this season.

This has been one of Sather's fatal shortcomings in his tenure on Broadway. He throws around money on free agents, but consistently nickel and dimes his own players. For example, the Rangers had an $80 million payroll the final season before the lockout, yet they refused to make bonus payments to three of their players during the lockout. They were the only team in the league to take that stand. The payments totaled less than a million dollars. That's being penny-wise and dollar foolish. They are making the same mistake with Avery. They just threw around $85 million on Drury and Gomez, but they are attacking one of the key players from last season, in order to save $500,000.

The Rangers had a close room last year, but how does Slats expect team chemistry to develop this season when management is throwing bags of cash at a few players and badmouthing other players to save a few bucks?

This is the kind of gaffe that can erase all the good Sather has done to this point. I just hope Tom Renney will be able to repair whatever damage Sather has done.

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