Avery's off-ice future key to success of Rangers deal

If Brendan Shanahan thought the referees had it in for Jaromir Jagr, just wait until Sean Avery's act hits Broadway.

Actually, to be fair, the combustible forward, whom the New York Rangers acquired Monday for the equivalent of two Eddie Giacomin hockey cards, has toned down his act. Still, that's like saying "The Sopranos" is less violent than it used to be.

It's all degrees of mayhem.

And who knows, maybe that's what the moribund Rangers need to lift them out of a season-long funk that threatens to see them slide right out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Indeed, at his best, Avery brings something of a spark to the proceedings wherever those proceedings happen to be.

A swift skater who has better-than-average hands, Avery has been known to drop in the odd goal or two, as well as drop the gloves. The 26-year-old is on pace for a career year with 10 goals and 18 assists on a very bad Los Angeles Kings team. He can kill penalties and has a knack for getting under an opponent's skin.

The problem for Avery is he has a tendency to get under his teammates' skins, too. The Kings dismissed him from the squad a season ago after he ran off at the mouth one too many times. New GM Dean Lombardi read Avery the riot act and, for the most part, Avery has been a good citizen this season.

Rangers fans have watched their team slowly dissolve from a Cinderella division leader a season ago to an inconsistent group that simply cannot gain any traction this season in the ultra-tight, ultra-ordinary Eastern Conference.

Heading into Monday night's tilt against Detroit, the Rangers were 7-13 in their last 20 games and were 11th in the conference, five points out of the last playoff spot. The good news is they have three games in hand on the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

The question for Rangers fans is whether Avery is the main course or just the appetizer as the clock ticks toward the Feb. 27 trade deadline. No doubt fans won't confuse Avery with the highly coveted Peter Forsberg and, presumably, Rangers management will continue to beat the bushes for a scoring center and puck-moving defenseman.

Still, until the main course comes along, one has to assume Avery will get a chance to play with Shanahan, who is stagnating on the Rangers' second line and searching for a pivot to get him the puck.

Shanahan, who earned headlines this week when he suggested referees were turning a blind eye to fouls committed against captain Jagr, has seen Avery's act up close. The two were teammates in Detroit before Avery was shipped off to Los Angeles at the trade deadline in 2003 for Mathieu Schneider.

If Avery can get Shanahan the puck without driving everyone else crazy in the process, that will be a feat in and of itself.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.