Sean Avery is back -- again.
The controversial winger cleared re-entry waivers at noon Tuesday and was recalled to the New York Rangers for his third stint with the team. Whether he makes his season debut on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks at Madison Square Garden, however, remains to be seen.
"If I look at the tape and I think the guys have done their job, you stay with your team," Rangers coach John Tortorella said after New York's 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. "I just don't know what the lineup is going to be for next game."
According to Tortorella, the Rangers placed Avery on re-entry waivers because of a knee injury to center Mike Rupp, who missed his third straight game Monday night. Another team could have claimed Avery and blocked the Rangers from getting him, but it was unlikely to happen and did not occur.
"Rupper has a lot to do with this. We're concerned about that," Tortorella said before the game. "This is the right decision. It's a hockey decision and it's the right decision now. It was the right hockey decision when we sent Sean back.
"Sean's biggest strength are his legs. He's a terrific skater and obviously a big part of his game is his forechecking ability, his play underneath the hashmark. We want him to play to his strengths and also work on the other parts of the game away from the puck."
Avery went unclaimed after being placed on waivers earlier this month, and in multiple recent interviews, expressed a reluctance to play anywhere else besides New York.
The 31-year-old, who carries a $1.9 million salary cap hit, was waived on Oct. 4, three days before the team opened its season in Sweden. He was then assigned to the Rangers' minor league affiliate -- the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League -- but was kept off the ice for almost two weeks while rehabbing a shoulder injury.
After his first practice with the Whale in Hartford on Oct. 19, Avery told ESPNNewYork.com that he didn't think he would ever wear a Rangers uniform again.
"Probably not," he said. "I doubt it."
Less than two weeks later, his fortune appears to have changed. The Rangers (4-3-3) have struggled with consistency and maintaining the blue-collar identity they cultivated last season and could use the feisty forward's energy and forechecking ability.
Fans certainly think he can help the middling team find their way. One fan in Section 427 erected a huge banner that read: "AVERY 16 SEND TORTS TO THE WHALE" during the team's home opener at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Chants of "We want Avery!" also have become a rallying cry over the past two games for Garden faithful displeased with the team's current state.
Avery played his first game of the season for the Whale on Friday, scoring an empty-net goal and earning a 5-minute fighting major immediately afterward. In the Whale's 3-2 shootout win over the Worcester Sharks on Saturday, Avery scored the game-winner.
Katie Strang covers the NHL for ESPNNewYork.com. Mike Mazzeo is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.