‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Back in May 2010, roughly 200 Rangers fans gathered outside Madison Square Garden in an attempt to convince owner James Dolan to part ways with president and general manager Glen Sather.
Armed with Barack Obama-election-style posters that read “Failure: Fire Sather” in place of “Hope,” these vocal fans vented their frustrations at Sather’s track record since his hiring in 2000.
A sizable portion of the fan base held the opinion that Sather was living off a legacy built at Edmonton and had made numerous high-profile blunders since arriving in New York. The widespread feeling that Sather was holding the franchise back from Stanley Cup contention stretched to less vocal fans, who simply hoped Sather would eventually resign.
That’s because in reality, Dolan has given Sather the keys to an unchecked, life presidency. The only person who can remove Sather is himself.
IS THE END OF SATHER’S REIGN ON THE HORIZON?
Since last summer, there has been a steady wave of speculation that Sather could step down following the 2013-14 season, or at the very least relinquish some of his power, handing duties over to current assistant general manager Jeff Gorton.
In a four-month stint as interim GM of the Boston Bruins in 2006, Gorton pulled off a savvy deal that sent struggling goaltender Andrew Raycroft to the Maple Leafs for Tuukka Rask, who eventually established himself as an elite, Stanley Cup-winning netminder. Gorton was also responsible for the signing of powerhouse defenseman and current captain Zdeno Chara. In addition, Gorton presided over a draft that netted two cornerstone wingers in Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic.
Should Sather step aside and Gorton emerges as his replacement, the long-term future of the Rangers would certainly be in good hands.
HOW WILL SATHER’S TENURE BE REMEMBERED?
If this is the end for Sather, how will his legacy as Rangers GM be remembered? Will he be viewed as the reviled figure who traded fan favorites Brian Leetch and Adam Graves, selected draft bust Hugh Jessiman over the likes of Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Brown in 2003 and handed out albatross contracts to the likes of Wade Redden, Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez, among others?
Or will he be remembered for his shrewd dealings in recent years? Sather completed a masterstroke trade in 2009, dumping Gomez to the Montreal Canadiens and stealing away franchise defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the process. Some of Sather’s other slam-dunk moves include trading up to select shutdown defenseman Marc Staal at the 2005 draft, parting ways with injury-prone, declining scorer Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire two former first-round high-ceiling talents in Derick Brassard and John Moore.
Importantly, Sather was able to pry two offensive weapons in Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis from the Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning without parting with low-cost, high-upside talents. Sure, Artem Ansimov and Brandon Dubinsky are enjoying fine seasons in Columbus — but neither possesses the game-changing ability of Nash.
While some Rangers fans prefer that Ryan Callahan remained with the Blueshirts for one last playoff push, it was clear that top dollar and the security of a full no-trade clause was his main motivator. Callahan refused to adequately scale back his demands in negotiations, forcing Sather to have little choice but to deal away his all-effort former captain.
The jury is still out over whether trading Callahan for 38-year-old Martin St. Louis was the wisest move. St. Louis has endured an eight-game goal-scoring drought during the infancy of his Rangers career.
Throughout recent years, one of biggest complaints levied against Sather was his inability to stock his roster with two elite scorers. The Blueshirts now have two bona fide goal-getters in Nash and St. Louis. Rangers fans are yet to see the best from the duo, but both are capable of grabbing a playoff series by the neck and dominating.
SATHER HAS BECOME A CLEVER SALARY CAP MANAGER
Sather also deserves credit for his improved cap management in recent years. This past summer, Sather signed McDonagh to a six-year, $28.2 million extension that might soon be recognized as one of the best bang-for-your-buck contracts in the league. He also stocked the Blueshirts’ penalty kill with two cost-effective, yet highly reliable penalty killers in Dominic Moore and the criminally underrated Brian Boyle.
The swapping of struggling defenseman Michael Del Zotto for affordable, mistake-free blue liner Kevin Klein was an outright robbery. Del Zotto has fallen into the same bad habits in Nashville that frustrated Rangers fans. Predators head coach Barry Trotz admitted on Wednesday that Del Zotto’s “game has slipped” and scratched Del Zotto on Wednesday night. Klein, meanwhile, is pretty much a Dan Girardi clone and is locked down at a cap-friendly salary of $2.9 million through the 2017-18 season.
Sather also kept the faith with Mats Zuccarello, whereas other GMs might have parted ways with the diminutive winger given his prior struggles to lock down an NHL roster spot. This season, Zuccarello has taken tremendous strides forward and has become a key contributor on the power play due to his outstanding vision.
SATHER MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE IN VIGNEAULT
It would have been easy for Sather to cave to the popular choice of naming franchise legend Mark Messier as head coach. Instead, he opted for Alain Vigneault’s proven track record of deep playoff runs and uptempo hockey. Vigneault’s coaching style has complemented the evolution of the Rangers’ roster.
The “Fire Sather” chants that were once commonplace around the upper bowl of MSG have gone all but silent in recent years. Perhaps, Rangers fans are finally realizing that Sather’s recent successes far outweigh his past blunders.
If Sather really does step down at the end of the season, he will leave having built a strong core for his replacement.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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